“It’s in a fantastic position with the most incredible views, river frontage and river mooring, which you’re not going to get pretty much anywhere else. But what passed for a fantastic house in 1969 is different to what passes for a fantastic house in 2021.”
Russell’s home sits above a bank of the River Wye and has extraordinary views across the river to the countryside beyond. The house was built in 1969 by a builder with a significant local reputation. It was well-built, structurally sound and had a clear design sensibility. Despite this, Russell knew when he bought it that it would need to be adapted to suit a modern way of life.
Living in the house and getting to know it for a couple of years confirmed to him that he needed another bedroom, more bathrooms, a home office, a gym and a utility room. He’d renovated previous homes himself, but several reasons made him approach an architect on this occasion.
“There was a lot more structural design work needed than just adding something on here and there. And having done houses up in the past or been in charge of the project, I kind of wanted it done properly because I anticipated being away in London at work most of the time the work was going on.”
Russell also wanted to be sure he created the right look and feel. He wanted a clean, modern home that was reminiscent of the best hotels he had stayed in while travelling the world on business. He contacted Communion Architects for help.
The Design Solution
Any changes we made to the house needed to be very sensitive. They needed to respect the strikingly original design of the home, which, while not typical of the area, does reflect wider design trends of the time. We also needed to be mindful that the home sits in a Conservation Area. Although the policies seem largely to seek to preserve the appearance of the substantial older homes in the area, the house was very prominent and, therefore, needed to conserve and enhance the overall character of the area.
Our proposed design sought to upgrade the existing fabric in a number of subtle ways.
At one end of the house it removed an ageing conservatory to the rear of the garage and replaced it with a high quality, full height bay window. Above the garage and new window we would add a new principal bedroom suite leading onto a balcony with dramatic views.
To complement this, at the other end, a matching full height glazed bay would add more space to the sitting room and allow better enjoyment of the striking views of the City of Hereford, the River Wye and, in the distance, the fields and hills of Herefordshire. This addition would also allow us to extend the existing first floor balcony leading from the original principal bedroom.
We also proposed dissolving the external dining room wall to give access to a new sheltered terrace area.
To preserve the character of the frontage, the front elevation would use facing stone to ensure a good visual match. The new window designs would match the existing window designs.
At the back we proposed replacing the steel balcony decoration, which was out-of-character with the overall style of the home, with minimal glazed panels.
Russell found the design process useful because it helped him to evolve his thinking about what was required.
“When you initially think about extending and improving, you think more about bathrooms, kitchens and things like that. What the drawings did was make me realise that the design would create a much newer house. We hadn’t initially intended to remove the original 1960s roughcast render that partially clad the exterior of the house but I saw that the modern windows and glass extensions would look ridiculous against it. So we decided to remove it and replace it with smooth render. In the process, we’d get a much more modern-looking building, which was what I wanted in the first place.”
We worked closely with Herefordshire Council Planning Department to go through pre-application discussions before submitting a formal planning application. As expected, the plans were passed unchanged. With permission secured, we carefully detailed the design to enable it to be priced by an experienced local building contractor. A price was agreed and it was time to move to Stage Three of our process, the build.
The Build Process
When Russell first approached us, his intention was to live off-site in London while building works took place. However, Covid-19 meant that he ended up living and working on-site throughout. This had both positive and negative aspects.
“It would have been much easier to move out, but having said that, there were things I saw as it was going on that I wanted to improve or change. That wouldn’t have happened had I not been here or had I moved out.”
Such changes included removing the hacienda-style arches that connected the downstairs rooms and replacing them with wider, square openings because Russell could see that the 1960s style sat uncomfortably with the modern glazing.
Like many of our clients, Russell also took the opportunity to make other, further changes to his home while the works were going on.
“I’d always planned to make other changes in the future but once we got into the works I realised I didn’t want to live in a building site again. So I just bit the bullet and got it done. I always knew roughly what it would cost me to do all the things I ever wanted to do, we just did them quicker than I’d originally assumed.”
While the additional works obviously meant the final costs were higher than originally anticipated, Russell appreciated the relationship he had with his contractors because it saved him money on occasions.
“The original kitchen was very good quality but more country cottage than new modern house. I had an incredible painter who said: ‘If I paint the cabinets gloss white and change the knobs to chrome, it’ll look fantastic.’ So I went away for two days and it was like a new kitchen that cost almost nothing.”
The final result has given Russell the home he always wanted.
“If it’s anything other than cold and raining I get up in the morning, open all of the doors, both roof terraces, the bedrooms and all of those downstairs. The terrace is a sun trap so we eat, if at all possible, outside. I have spent a bit of time in LA, and it is like a house up in the Hollywood Hills where everything is glass at the back and everything opens out into the sun and the views. That’s what I had in my mind and it’s worked out really, really well.”
It’s now a light-infused, contemporary home where the inside and outside spaces work seamlessly together. The house now makes the most of its extraordinary setting and enjoys 30 mile, 270 degree views.
“I always thought it was a really good house. Now it’s an incredible house.”