“The sort of place you’d choose as a picnic site and say: ‘Isn’t this wonderful?’”
Our client’s home is set in stunning countryside on the banks of the river Monnow.
The house was built in the 1930s but was extensively remodelled by our client and her husband when they purchased it in the 1990s.
“If I was going to come to live here as a widow then I wanted it to be a place where lots of people would come.”
Our client’s house was originally purchased as a holiday home but she decided to make it her permanent residence after she was widowed. However, she recognised that she would need to make changes to the house to make it suitable for her new situation.
She decided that two things were needed. The first was a swimming pool where people would enjoy coming and where she could exercise to maintain her mobility. The second, more important, thing was a workshop suitable for wood carving where she could start a project similar to one she had spearheaded in Greenwich for embroiderers.
“The workshop is the most important thing. I’m very concerned that people are forgetting about the stories of Christ because they aren’t being taught in schools any longer. I thought that if I brought people together to carve a crib set then they’d be able to learn the craft and learn the stories but also have something to offer to the local parishes when it’s all complete. Above the workshop and the swimming bath is a place for someone to live who will spearhead the project because I shall shortly be far too old to do it.”
Because the addition would have a community use, our client was keen for it not to interfere with the main house. She had commissioned an architect when she and her husband had had the house remodelled in the 1990s. They had been delighted with the results so she knew that an architect would also be needed to make a success of the new project. She asked friends and acquaintances for recommendations for architects and was given the names of two architects’ practices, one of which was Communion.
“Alex from the start was deeply sympathetic about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. He also took pains to get to know my children, which I was touched by. My idea was just about the use of the building but what Alex produced was much more exciting – ridiculously exciting, in fact.”
Like our client, we felt the new additions to the house should not interfere with the main living quarters. We were also mindful of the site’s beautiful setting and wanted to ensure any new extension would fit quietly into the landscape as well as be subservient to the existing house, both factors that were important in securing the planning permission that the build required.
Our solution adds another gable to the house. On entering the extension, you encounter a gallery space, where our client can display some of the artworks that her husband collected during his lifetime. One of our client’s most treasured artworks – a wooden triptych by Edward Robinson – inspired an important element of the building: a tessellated three dimensional wall of wood. The wall has four doors which sit flush in it: one to the wood carving workshop, one to the swimming pool, one to a toilet and one opening onto a flight of stairs that lead to the upstairs living accommodation. Upstairs is a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen living area.
The extension has solar panels and uses ground source heating because our client wanted the project to be as green as possible and have a minimal impact on the environment. For the same reason, we chose local suppliers wherever we could and used materials from the outbuilding that was on the footprint of the extension to construct a new toolshed for our client.
Once we had secured planning permission for the project, we proceeded to Stage Two of our process, to appoint a contractor through competitive tender and then to Stage Three, the build.
We undertook Stage Two while our client was still living in London and suffering from a period of ill-health as well as grieving the recent loss of her husband. We worked meticulously through the process, consulting our client and her family when necessary.
The build also commenced while our client was in London. She moved to Herefordshire towards the end of the process and enjoyed watching her building come to life.
“The process was one of relationship. My happiness on the project started with my delight in Alex and his lifegiving-ness. Alex’s relationship with the builders was good and I gather sometimes it isn’t. We had a lovely foreman called Clayton who organised us all. I let him know, I don’t know why, that my birthday was the next day. He said ‘Happy birthday’ in the morning, which was very nice and then in the morning tea break he came in to get me and said, ‘You’re wanted outside’. And I went out and all the builders were standing in a semi-circle and they all sang Happy Birthday.”
“I love the sense of almost going into the outdoors out of the kitchen door into the gallery. I love the play of light out there. I love the quality of light that Alex has enabled in all parts of the new building. The quality of light here is magnificent and it’s been exaggerated in the new part.”
Our client is delighted with the new addition to her home. But alongside her delight in the quality of the space and light, is a deeper sense of joy in the building’s purpose.
“It is life-giving to me.”
“There will be a community use of the building and that’s exciting. I have lots of people who will come through the building and enjoy it. It is life-giving to me.”