From a timber and stone highland retreat to a modernist country villa, take inspiration for your own self-build project from this year's wide-ranging RIBA House of the Year award nominees.
Image: Tom Soar
The judges of this year’s RIBA House of the Year Award have a longlist of 20 showstopping buildings, situated all around the country, to consider before they can decide which of them can be awarded the title of best residential building by an architect based in Britain.
The winner will be revealed in the finale of Channel 4’s four-part television series, Grand Designs: House of the Year, which is co-hosted by our editor-at-large, Kevin McCloud.
Modernist inspired new build
Image: Mel Yates
A splendid double-height entrance and dining hall, complete with minstrels’ gallery, open fireplace and 20-foot-tall sliding glazed doors leading out into the landscaped gardens, sets the tone for this impressively detailed new home built in Berkshire woodland overlooking the River Thames. Constructed on the rectangular, sloping site of the childhood home of one of the owners, the Modernist-inspired five-bedroom building has been designed by Gregory Phillips Architects as a carefully considered home for the family of six.
Timber, brick, concrete and glass detailing are used to rich, textural effect, with dramatic spaces arranged for ease of use, as well as aesthetic appeal. Interior fittings as practical and useful as they are timeless and appropriate to their setting complete the finely finished look. Wood-clad steel columns that form the colonnade in front of the south (main entrance) facade are one of an array of intricately designed and beautifully finished details that give the house its unique identity. From the north (garden) side of the house, the glazing of the hall acts as a mirror on to which the surrounding mature trees are reflected, creating a natural and ever-changing decoration.
It also links two non-identical cabins, vertically clad in wood, that are suspended on and overhang the concrete columned and glazed storey beneath. To take advantage of this secluded, private side of the house, the family’s bedrooms and main living spaces.
Reformed Grade II listed villa
Image: David Grandorge
In creating his design for this Grade II listed villa in Bath, it was discovered that the 18th-century architect John Palmer had conformed almost precisely to Andrea Palladio’s design for ‘Villa with superimposed Portico’ and his principles for architecture as laid out in his I Quattri Libri dell’Architettura. The revelation, uncovered during an archive study of the property, was key to the most recent design for the house, created by James Grayley Architects as an extension and reorganisation project for its current owners.
A series of post-18th-century developments inside the house have been removed, and a loggia, which Palmer had intended to add to the east-facing elevation, to resolve the step from the ground floor of the back of the house and the slope that rises up into the garden, has now been built.
The latter was designed using the same geometry that governed the rest of house, but with a contemporary form that is echoed in a further new addition – a free-standing pavilion that replaces an existing structure alongside the garden’s boundary wall. Inside the house, the original plan form has been restored, leaving the rooms (including a new, state-of-the-art kitchen) clean-lined and filled with light.
Pastiche-style surburban home
Image: Andy Matthews
A stylish extension and freestanding garden pavilion at the back of this four-bedroom house in Surrey have transformed the way in which its owners use and enjoy their home. Wraparound glazed walls and sliding doors ensure the new ground-floor kitchen and living area, and a bedroom above, are filled with unrestricted natural light, and with views of the newly landscaped garden that reaches all the way up to the doorstep.
The pastiche-style suburban home stands on a bend in the road, causing the garden behind to meet the building at a 120-degree angle. Turning that awkwardness into an opportunity, Soup Architects designed a Modernist-style rear extension with an asymmetrical form.
One side of the one-and-a-half-storey, sedumroofed building stretches out into the garden; a picture window provides the seating area inside with a full-length vista of the garden and the new studio office. The other side of the extension, with the new bedroom on the roof above, follows the angle of the house and so half-faces out into the garden.
Sliding doors on to a raised terrace give the owners an inside-outside space with views of parts of the garden that were previously hidden. To complement the grey brick walls and wood-decked terrace, the garden has been landscaped by Rosalind Millar Landscape Design, with planted beds set into gravel. Low-growing perennials mixed with taller, supple grasses and shrubs create a soft, undulating contrast to the paths which draw the eye, and the visitor, through the space.
They pass areas of seating that are situated to take advantage of morning and evening sunshine, before arriving at the freestanding studio, constructed to match the extension and which also features a sedum roof.
Modernist country villa
A country villa fit for the 21st century was what the owners demanded of architects Sarah Griffiths and Amin Taha (Groupwork; Amintaha) when the duo won a RIBA-mentored competition to design a family home in place of a 1950s bungalow the owners had inherited, situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by the River Thames in Oxfordshire.
While the exterior of the concrete, S-shaped structure set within newly landscaped gardens is distinctly Modernist in appearance, the layout of the property and the interior in particular was inspired by the owners’ interest in the work of 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio and the English neo-Palladians. Taking as their cue Palladio’s three-bay by three-bay, nine-square formation, as epitomised in his Villa Foscari outside Venice, Griffiths and Taha moved the main entrance (a footpath that leads from a small parking area to the front door) to the north side of the house, which in turn opens into the hall and formal living room. And to take full advantage of the picturesque, south-facing lawns and the river beyond, the more informal living rooms are situated on the first floor of the south side.
While the guest bedrooms and bathrooms are also on this upper storey, the main bedroom, with adjoining dressing room and bathroom, are on the ground floor, with easy access to the gardens. ‘The owners wanted a house that would stand the test of time, be easy to live in, particularly in retirement, and be large enough to accommodate their grown-up children whenever they return with their own families,’ says Taha.
Outside, a rectangular reflection pool and the ever-changing foliage of a ring of mature trees showcases the white concrete and Corten exterior, like a perfectly cut jewel, while pathways and vistas draw the eye and the visitor in and around the site.
‘The design takes it cue from history, in its use of water, its axial side steps, its dramatic views and finely crafted features; it is uncompromising and uplifting,’ says Taha.
Image: Aidan Monaghan
The spectacular rolling landscape of County Down, with views towards Strangford Lough, were an irresistible lure for the owners of this timber-clad home, when they decided to return home to Northern Ireland after living abroad for many years.
The brief that they gave to their chosen architect, John Lavery at BGA Architects was ‘very loose in terms of architectural style’ but they wanted the house to be energy efficient, sustainable, built using low-maintenance materials and, of course, to make the most of the views. Seen from a distance, the design of the house is, as the architect intended, ‘a sculptural object for living in’.
Devoid of any visible utilitarian services (the guttering, downpipes and electric installations are all hidden behind the fibre cement and western red cedar rainscreen cladding), the two wedge shapes are set at right angles.
Timber and stone Scottish Highlands retreat
Image: Richard Fraser
When the owner of this timber and stone house in the Scottish Highlands first saw the site on which the house now stands, she was certain it needed something more considered than the ‘traditional’ home that was allowed for in the planning consent that came with the land.
‘We both had the same love of materials and wanted to do something that would become part of that beautiful landscape,’ recalls the owner’s chosen architect, Tom Miller, of Haysom Ward Miller. ‘The planning officers understood this, and recognised that the house we proposed to build would actually have less impact on the landscape . than a more traditional alternative.’
Obtaining planning was straightforward but the technical design of the house, and the build itself, were to prove much more challenging. The owner wanted to live and work in the house, and to have big views of the landscape; she was also keen that the house could run autonomously for part of the year, with minimal energy use.
The architect’s solution was an energy-efficient modular design of three interconnected, pitched-roofed, highly insulated buildings; each one can be closed off and left unheated without affecting the others that are still in use.
The house is miles from the nearest road so the structural insulated panelled (SIP) walls were prefabricated to keep transport costs to a minimum. The windows are triple glazed, and the roof is integrated with a combined solar, thermal and PV panel system that is connected to a battery array and a thermal store. With a wood-fired stove-boiler and generator as additional heat systems, and an MVHR system to keep the internal air fresh, the house is comfortable all year round.
‘We all knew the build would be challenging, so we took our time in finding a contractor who we felt would be able to cope with the logistical difficulties, hardy enough to work in the Atlantic and hillside winds that buffet the site, and capable of doing the high-quality work we required, for the full length of the project,’ Miller says.
Outside, the house is clad with vertically hung larch boards that were charred to give them a darker tone, and with Scottish stone, while the flat roof that links the three buildings is seeded with varieties of the plants that can be found growing on the rocks along the nearby shoreline. The natural theme continues inside the house, with
Scandinavian-style furnishings and rooms decorated in a subtle colour palette inspired by local beach-found objects.
The project took six years to complete but the end result is a house that is ‘a respectful and natural part of its unique setting within an ancient landscape’, says the architect.
Industrial-style urban building
Image: Simon Watson
When the architects of this one-off London new-build, Sophie Goldhill and David Liddicoat, bought the land on which it stands, in the middle of a terrace of semi-detached villas in a Hackney conservation area, it was with the intention of designing a home for themselves and their young family to live in.
A decision to move out of London, however, turned it into a commercial project. The narrow site is surrounded by heritagelisted properties, and a single-pitched, overhanging roof on top of the mixed-brick building resolved a neighbours’ right-to-light issue. Behind the two/three-storey facade the steel-frame house is arranged with the bedrooms on two upper levels and the ground floor split in two, with a living room on the top level and the kitchen-dining room, a ‘den’, utility room and garden below. An industrial-building style prevails, with open rafters, exposed joists and bare brickwork giving the spaces unique character. Inventive elements, from netting instead of stair rails, and a suspended platform that doubles as an indoor plant display and extraction system, to the double skylight that fills the wet room with light, emphasise the one-off status of this home.
‘We wanted the house to be a living test bed for our studio,’ says Goldhill, ‘and we used materials such as reclaimed marble and parquet mixed with the more industrial metals to give it the atmospheric, crafted quality we’re known for. Before it was sold, we did live in it briefly, which was fantastic.’
Words: Arabella St John Parker
Tune in tonight Wednesday14th November 9pm on Channel 4 for the second episode.
Which house are you most excited about exploring? Tweet us @granddesignsmag or post a comment on our Facebook page.