27 Nov 2019

Park life


Jackie and John Smith had a clear idea of the home they wanted; modern and sustainable in design, modest in size and built to the highest standards. Here, Wendy Perring, Founder & Design Director at PAD Studio – the architect firm responsible for its design – talks i-build through the design and fabrication of the Smith’s new-build project in the heart of the picturesque South Downs National Park.


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The couple had been living in their existing home, located on the same plot, for many years and knew the site intimately. Early in the design stages, the couple looked at options for renovating and extending the existing building. Still, the end result would have been as expensive to build (due to the VAT issues) and would have resulted in a compromised solution on the site. Embarking on a new-build project was the only solution.

The plot is a stunning position for any home, which Jackie and John recognised when they bought the existing house many years ago. It is a sloping, elevated site located down a rural private track in the heart of the South Downs National Park. The stepped site offers uninterrupted views of the adjacent parkland and is surrounded by woodland. The existing house was poorly constructed, inefficient and expensive to run, plus the very linear cellular design did not engage with the site; replacing this dwelling was the only way to achieve the their requirements.

A natural beauty

The vision was shaped around three key points; size, materials and the view. The pair wanted a home that was big enough to accommodate the two of them and their lifestyle comfortably – and no bigger. This meant the house needed to be flexible, adaptable and designed to create a light sense of space within a modest footprint. They did not want a home that was too ‘bling’; rather, Jackie and John liked natural materials and felt this would help incorporate a new build within the rural landscape.

Finally, they wanted to make the most of the view. The elevated site is surrounded by woodland, with stunning views out and over the adjacent parkland and South Downs beyond. The design needed to engage with the setting and blurred the line between inside and out.

Additional to the three essential requirements that shaped Jackie and John’s brief was a wish to future-proof the home. The design had to offer elements of flexibility to the layout to ensure the home could evolve as their needs may change. For example, as the bedrooms are located on the first floor, on the ground floor, the music room is designed so it can be converted into an additional bedroom if needed. Jackie and John had a very particular requirement for a ‘secret place’ to retreat to and were very open to what this could be.

As a result, we designed a hidden day-bed space located on the first floor (near the staircase) where the couple could hide away and read, or relax with a sundowner and admire the fantastic view.

An innovative and collaborative approach

We work in collaboration with our clients – we listen, question and reflect on the possibilities of each site and spend as much time as possible on-site – soaking it up and interrogating what it has to offer. We have developed a questionnaire style of brief, which is helpful for some clients who don’t quite know where to start the process – the document covers everything from how they want the building to feel, to more practical aspects; such as their expectation on finishes.

We always start every project by sketching lots of options by hand (on a very long roll of paper). This is a conscious stream of thought in drawn form and is a useful visual tool to communicate our ideas to our clients – they love to see and be involved in the process. Often, when our clients come back to us for a follow-up meeting, they have identified an idea in a sketch that we may have discarded.

Design is a constant state of flux, communication and reflection. By working through the RIBA Stages, we go from initial ideas, quickly identifying what could work for the site and client and enabling us to progress an approach. PAD Studio worked on this project from RIBA Stage 0 to 5. Our work started at the initial design feasibility of the site, then working with Jackie and John to narrow down the design concepts until we were able to submit the final idea into planning. Once approved, we continued to detail designs, getting the scheme ready for the construction phase.

Main challenges

There are always some challenging aspects of any building project. For Jackie and John’s Lane End project, the hardest aspect was the tight budget, as this makes achieving the high-quality finish they desired slightly more challenging. Jackie was very involved throughout the build and finished the polished concrete floors herself. She worked hard to source some fantastic finishes at competitive prices (scouring the internet for the best value), and she project managed many elements of the construction, working with a small local contractor to ensure that high quality was achieved.

It was considerably straightforward gaining planning permission for the project; we were granted permission on the first submission.

Having worked closely with the local planning authority and liaising with neighbours, we were able to communicate our ideas and listen to any concerns or suggestions they might have had during the design journey. In this way, once we submitted our designs for planning, we were confident they would be well received by all involved.

Local and sustainable materials

The materials that were selected introduce texture to the building, using materials such

as wood, brick and stone in a contemporary way. The scheme avoided materials which could be harmful to the environment. Alternatively, natural materials were selected to harmonise the building to the site, and we were all keen to ensure that these were as locally sourced as possible.

Externally, the cedar shingle roof is a reference to Arts and Crafts buildings locally. The cedar offers a lighter, textured finish that mellows with age. Inside, double-height spaces are lined with limed Douglas fir, exaggerating the feeling of light and reflective of the exterior.

Large windows located on the south elevation create a fluid relationship with the outside, flooding the interior with daylight.

Lane End was produced as a fabric first design, influenced by positive, sustainable objectives. An MVHR system further reduces CO2 emissions by recycling heat from the kitchen and bathrooms and mixing this with fresh air which is circulated to colder spaces.

The house was also built to Passivhaus ideology; however, an official certification was not sought. The approach was to create a building that was as passive as possible in its performance.

In the building’s plan, it was arranged to maximise passive sustainability measures such as solar gain. Large overhangs and a natural trellis of espalier Hornbeam to the south elevation provides solar control and openings have been distributed to maximise natural cross-ventilation which helps with purge ventilation in the hottest summer months.

Merging architecture and natural surroundings

The architectural objective was to develop a building whose form, scale, materials and detail reinforced the unique character, distinctiveness and history of the site both locally and in the wider context of the area. The new design included open-plan living space, flexibility to future-proof the building, a home office area and strong connectivity with the outside. The architecture draws upon local vernacular forms and materiality with an asymmetric pitched shingle roof which wraps down the northern face. The entrance approach is reserved in appearance and contrasts dramatically with the more open south facade.

Once inside, the house opens up dramatically; double-height areas exaggerate this feeling of space. The large windows located on the south elevation create a fluid relationship between inside and outside, with spectacular views and flooding the interior space with natural daylight. Located on the ground floor, the open-plan kitchen and dining area have full-height doors opening onto the large outdoor covered terrace and BBQ area, which can be used in most weathers. A separate living room has been created for colder months, designed on a smaller, more intimate scale and with a feature fireplace.

Connectivity to the landscape was also a key design driver, with large windows located on the south elevation creating a fluid relationship between inside and outside – offering spectacular views of the immediate planting by the house and the expansive views of the surrounding landscape.

The first-floor balcony also incorporates a planted herb garden, and a natural trellis of espalier Hornbeam along its length further enhances the connection to the landscape whilst also offering privacy for the bedrooms from walkers in the parkland beyond. Landscaping was an integral aspect of the design. The existing trees on site protect and shield the house from the outside world, while the immediate landscaping creates a sympathetic and seamless transition between the inside and outside throughout the seasons.

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