The house was orientated to take advantage of sunlight on the south side, with the spacious kitchen-living area – the centre of the home – enjoying splendid views across the meadows and down the valley. The Danish dining table and Eames chairs define the eating area, but the eye is drawn to the vibrant bespoke cupboards in the kitchen section, which have been painted to emulate the colours and proportions of a Mondrian painting.
‘We designed the Mondrian-style kitchen, did the drawings, organised the joinery and helped to install on site,’ says Diana. ‘Then we did the painting. It’s this attention to detail and knowing how to realise it that makes the house special. Very little is out of a catalogue.’
The organic tones of wood are used as a theme throughout, with much of the furniture bespoke in design and created on-site. Each piece was devised to complement the architecture. Other materials, finishes and colours were chosen for their practicality and appearance, but it was important to the Aikens that all the elements were in harmony with each other.
‘Internally we used birch ply, veneered yew, ash and sycamore, Formica, and Valchromat in orange and brown in the snug,’ says Diana. ‘It’s all fairly standard, but every surface and corner has been detailed. Nothing has been left to chance. Max worked with the carpenter to ensure that what we had specified actually got built.’
Overlooking the main living area is an office that was also hand made in birch ply. The architect designed the space on a higher level so that anyone working at the desk can look through the window and down the valley, but they cannot be seen by anyone relaxing downstairs. Max has a studio/office at one end of the main living area; at the other end is the snug, a small and cosy room complete with log fire for relaxing on quiet evenings at home. ‘It’s a complete contrast to the rest of the house, which is open, light and contemporary,’ says Diana.
The couple like their family and other visitors to come and stay, so they have designed the property to be very flexible in usage. The snug and studio can be turned into double bedrooms via pull-down beds in the wall. Upstairs, one of the bedroom suites can be turned into a separate family bathroom and bedroom by closing the sliding door between the two spaces.
‘Flexibility is important,’ says Diana. ‘The studio on the ground floor can also be easily converted to a bedroom in our old age when we no longer want to go upstairs. Only one room is not used every day – the guest bedroom.’
The design is also proudly eco-friendly. The extensive south-facing glazing optimises passive solar heat gain for the adjacent rooms, with heat mirror glazing technology and external blinds so that room temperatures are comfortable throughout the year with minimal heating costs. ‘Internal temperature rarely gets above 23°C in the south-facing rooms,’ Diana adds. ‘This issue of overheating via solar gain often seems to be forgotten in modern glass houses.’
Extremely high levels of thermal insulation are provided on the north side of the building by a timber-clad shell or carapace enclosing the main house. The studio is partially lowered into the ground to reduce the exposure on its north and west sides. A bank of photovoltaic and solar thermal panels is situated on the roof and an air source heat pump is used for heating and hot water. Annual energy usage for the house is 9,031kWh. ‘The energy consumption is the same as for our caravan,’ Diana says with a smile.
Overall, the home is a triumph of research, modern materials and craft. Designing a new-build has substantial advantages over upgrading an old house, says architect Back. ‘Due to technologies such as central heating and double or triple glazing, a modern house does not need to be divided into small rooms with small windows in order to keep it warm,’ he explains. ‘That means larger interconnected spaces can be created, flooded with light from large windows and glazed doors that bring the outside into the house. Sometimes it’s difficult to find wall space for pictures – but not at this house.’
Words: Ben Webb, Photography: Mark Bolton