Built on protected land close to one of Britain's oldest abbeys, this home, which appeared on Grand Designs back in 2017, had to pay respect to the history that underpins its foundations.
Image: It took six years of steely determination, compromise and endless alterations to convince English Heritage and the local council that this house would work. Photo: Fiona Arnott-Walker
Perhaps the most important part of every successful design and build project is collaboration. But the long-standing friendship that led to this inspirational home in south Hertfordshire goes beyond the usual brief. Designer Rogan Gale-Brown collaborated with Chris and his wife Kayo to create a family home on a Scheduled Ancient Monuments site after six years of steely determination, compromise and endless alterations to convince English Heritage and the planning department of the local council that this new house would work. Take a look at the unique design details of this self build below.
Watch the episode: South Hertforhire, 2017
Image: There’s a strong connection between inside and out, created by matching the exterior and exposed interior brickwork, and by the timber beams and the maple-framed sofas. Photo: Fiona Arnott-Walker
For more than three decades, various people had tried to build on the site, with no success. Sadly, this precious area had become a strip of vandalised wasteland between the river and Chris and Kayo’s old house, which was sold to finance their new home.
‘When I want to do something, I don’t like to back down,’ says Chris. ‘So I was determined to sort this out,' says Chris. The unusual shape of the house echoes a zig-zagging ‘H’ in order to respect the surroundings and underlying artefacts, and follows the gentle contours of the sloping site.
Image: The abundant planting scheme reflects both the history of the site and formal Japanese gardens. Photo: Fiona Arnott-Walker
The property is single storey to preserve sight lines to and from the cathedral, and is constructed from light timber cassettes to prevent disturbing the medieval treasures beneath. Distinctive cinder-coloured narrow bricks clad the building, in a style that connects it to the Romans who left their traces on the area. This brickwork is softened with a mass of planting to create both colour and an organic link between the man-made structure and nature.
Image: Japanese influences are evident in the timber screens and columns of this walkway. Photo: Fiona Arnott-Walker
The glazed link between the two wings – broadly, the sleeping area and the living area – gives the impression of invisibility, which pleased the planners. The flat and bio-diverse sedum-covered roof with three roof lights and light tubes, designed to minimise impact on the local environment, provides additional thermal and sound insulation.
‘The design was inspired by the layouts of winged country villas, the formal simplicity of Japanese traditional houses, medieval monastic design, and elements that include ivy-covered ruined walls, fallen logs with moss on top, rough bark, tree canopies and cantilevered mushroom growths,’ explains Rogan.
Image: Handleless cupboards and wraparound worktops create a streamlined look in the kitchen. Photo: Fiona Arnott-Walker
All the fittings and furniture, in maple veneer and produced in Slovakia, and the light fittings, were custom-designed by Rogan to accord with these principles. Only certain dining chairs, the bedroom sofas, and the kitchen unit infills and peninsula unit were chosen by Chris and Kayo.
The overall effect is simple, streamlined and clean. The walls and cabinets, also in maple, provide a seamless backdrop for Kayo’s collection of heirloom kimonos and Chris’ golfing memorabilia. Kayo takes great pride in running a well-organised home and was keen to ensure cupboards in the kitchen fulfilled her requirements.
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Image: Chris's love of golf is evident in the small putting green in the garden. Photo: Fiona Arnott-Walker
While no-one could question the onerous demands placed on this project by planning and conservation stipulations, or fail to respect the dedication to deliver a project so exacting to the site and strict visual principles, this is still a family home.
And in it, there is plenty of space for relaxation and fun. There is a putting green in the garden, and in the kitchen, Rogan persuaded Kayo to cover her collection of cookery books with a selection of delicately patterned traditional Japanese rice papers called ‘washi’. ‘I have no idea which is which now,’ jokes Chris. ‘He never uses them anyway,’ replies his wife. Collaboration can only go so far, it seems.