house of the year shortlist: farmhouse gallery in gloucestershire

House of the Year 2021: The shortlist

The complete 2021 shortlist as revealed on Grand Designs: House of the Year

By Victoria Purcell | 5 December 2021

A home-cum-gallery that took more than 10 years to build and a Thunderbirds-inspired water tower conversion were the first two projects to make the 2021 RIBA House of the Year shortlist. Now a micro-home in London and a future-proofed property for children with a rare genetic disease have joined the ranks.

The shortlisted homes are among 22 impressive self builds visited by Kevin McCloud and co-hosts Michelle Ogundehin and Damion Burrows during Channel 4’s four-part series, Grand Designs: House of the Year.

RIBA has organised its longlist into four loose categories, each of which is explored in an episode. The first was homes that ‘take you by surprise’, where House on the Hill in Gloucestershire and the Norfolk water tower triumphed. The second was ‘materials used in a new and beautiful way’, where The Slot House in London and Theo and Oskar’s House in the Surrey Hills made the cut. The third category was builds that ‘solve problems’, where House in Assynt, Scotland, and The Outfarm in Devon were commended.

In total, seven properties will make the shortlist, with the House of the Year finalist crowned in the final episode, airing on Wednesday 8 December at 9pm on Channel 4. The next episode focuses on ‘the reinvention of our favourite buildings’.

House of the Year 2021: The Shortlist

1. House on the Hill, Gloucestershire

Originally a small 18th century farmhouse, located at the highest point of Gloucestershire overlooking the Wye Valley, House on the Hill has been transformed into a home and a gallery by Alison Brooks Architects. The elaborate project not only made the shortlist, it went on to win RIBA House of the Year 2021.

The home fuses a three-storey, 18th century stone farmhouse with a new two-storey wing to create a seamless new home and vast gallery space for owners David and Jenny and their art collection. The old farmhouse was meticulously restored while the new extension – larger than the original house – has been set back and partially embedded into the hillside, clad in dark wood inspired by the nearby Forest of Dean.

The first phase of the four-phase, 10-year project converted the original farmhouse, uniting three storeys on one side to create a lofty display room for a collection of Indian and African sculptures. The original stairs remain, linking a series of small rooms and culminating in a suspended landing. The extension, larger than the original house, is clad in deep-brown fibre cement to recall the darkness of the nearby Forest of Dean, lifted by small flashes of highly polished stainless steel.

Kevin McCloud referred to it as ‘half traditional Georgian farmhouse, half space-age monolith’, and RIBA judges praised its ‘skewed geometries, which gently lead you on to explore new space in the building’.

Alison admitted that not everybody shared her vision at the outset: ‘It was the first time I had planning permission refused,’ she said.

2. The Water Tower, Norfolk

‘I did watch a lot of Thunderbirds,’ said Dennis Pedersen, who bought a derelict water tower in Norfolk with his partner Misia Godebska and embarked on a mission to create something that wouldn’t look out of place on Tracy Island.

Working with Tonkin Liu architects, he brought the derelict structure back to life as a family home, with a ground-floor kitchen/dining room, bedrooms on the first and second floors, and an upper living/dining/kitchen tank room at the top. The accommodation sits in the north tower, linked to the south tower helical stairwell by a glazed ‘bridge’.

The beautifully crafted stairwell, made from cross-laminated timber (CLT), was praised as ‘delightful’ by RIBA judges. The ‘constant, playful interaction with the sky’ via the glazed bridges, skylights and full-height glass walls also received commendation.

Michelle, who compared the home to ‘a Bond-lair’, was impressed by the efforts to preserve and retain as much of the original structure as possible.

3. The Slot House, south London

The 2.8-metre-wide Slot House in Peckham, south London, was a disused alleyway for years before architect Sandy Rendell and his wife Sally, a designer and illustrator, developed it into a micro home.

The Slot House – which has the footprint of a London tube carriage – is made using a slimline steel frame rather than bricks and mortar, saving them half a metre of wall. Exposing the structural materials and timber cladding not only saves space, it also looks great clean, simple and characterful. On the outside, the pair used brickslips instead of full bricks, which are a third deeper, to save even more space. Plus, the whole rear of the house is glazed to let in light.

The floor plans are simple with a living area and kitchen arranged either side of the staircase on the ground floor, and one bedroom and a mezzanine study upstairs.

‘They’ve used the bare amount of material necessary to hold up the roof, floors and glazing at the front,’ said House of the Year judge Amin Taha, Chairman of Groupwork and a RIBA award-winning architect himself. ‘The consequence is that the structure is a beautiful thing to look at.’

‘It’s a very modest building’, added Kevin.