July 2010 »

2 posts from July 2010

23 July 2010

Stone Robots Rock

I always say that when designing a home the first thing you must, must, must address before you get into all that gorgeous fabric swatch and paint colour bit is electrics and plumbing and water tightness and A/V and heating and ventilation and security and basically all the things you don't see and some might think are quite boring but are still very important to get right or you'll have to undo all the gorgeous stuff to get it right.

The cool thing about moving into a new house, whose name you subsequently change, is that the first thing you must address is the house sign or all the electricians and plumbers etc. etc. won't be able to find where you live to do their essential work.


Enter Mike Orchard of carefully-crafted, heritage-oriented Orchard Stonemasons (www.orchardstonemasons.co.uk)  and also, the grooviest of groovy, Stone Robots (www.stonerobots.co.uk) making Mike the perfect choice to carve our new house sign out of limestone from the Forest of Dean using a Eurostyle typeface in high relief. We love it. And Mike and wife Jo, who are based just down the road in Silverton, Devon - were a delight to work with. Let's hope this is a taste of things to come!

14 July 2010

One Giant Leap

“Thermalon” was developed by the NASA space programme in the mid 1960’s to insulate space-craft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, so protecting them from fiery disintegration. 

Well this is the stuff that was used to insulate my new house, a house built in 1968 by a Dr. Gilson (who was part of the team who established the link between asbestos and asbestosis – you would have thought the clue was in the name right??) and his artist wife, and what gives my home u values (or in other words insulation values) far in excess of those required by current building regulations let alone those of over 40 years ago.

Other “eco home” features include under floor heating throughout and a solar thermal panel, that still provides hot water, bought in the early1980’s for the enormous and even now not insignificant sum of around £4,000. I know this because along with the house has come the entire archive documenting it’s creation. And which proves that home-owners arguing with suppliers over bills is absolutely nothing new. HemburyHill_Before-8

The orientation of the house and the design of the window openings were all also carefully considered to make the most of the warming sun – not to mention the views.

Style wise the house is un-compromisingly Modern, with a decidedly capital “Mmmm”, variously inspired by American case study houses and the Scandinavian architecture Dr and Mrs Gilson clearly marvelled at on their extensive travels – the experience of which they documented in their careful notebooks. HemburyHill_Before-28

The British architect Francis Pollen, Lutyens protégé and architect of Worth Abbey Church (http://www.worth.org.uk/guides/h5.htm), was another influence and I have a rather precious hand written letter from Daphne Pollen, Francis’ Mum – for whom he designed a house called Cray Clearing in 1963, located in a natural clearing in a beech wood, in response to a request from Mrs Gilson to take a peek. “Approved by Pevsner”, Cray Clearing was substantially altered after Pollen’s death in 1987 and when advertised for sale in 1992 it was described as “long and low, made of honey-coloured bricks, and has an enormously overhanging flat roof.”The then £1.25 million price tag included a helipad, swimming-pool complex, tennis court, gym and sauna.” Becomemonk

By 1995 it had been demolished, which is a shame, as Francis Pollen’s biographer Alan Powers describes Pollen as “part of an alternative narrative of British architecture in the postwar years; one little celebrated in the architectural press during their lifetimes.”

I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

Talking of which the part of East Devon in which we sit had a lucky escape: before we came along there was a plan afoot to replace our cherished expression of post war innovation and intellect with some ghastly Quinlan Terry “Toad Hall”. I love Prince Charles, I really do – so sexy, especially that little scar on his cheekbone – and I am “down” with most of his beliefs and all of his passion but when it comes to architecture while I agree new buildings must reconcile modernity with humanity and beauty “neo-neo classicism” is not the answer.

Well I’ve probably gone on for long enough now so I’ll just end by saying that after 40 years the flat roof needs replacing, the windows too, the electrics and plumbing – mostly installed by Dr Gilson and an eccentric German tool maker – look like something out of the mad professor’s house – and there’s a helluva a lot to do. Considering I’m about the same age I have to say I sympathise.

Yes, I’m a designer, and I’m used to remodelling and all the joys of the building site – but every building project is a prototype so I’ll be documenting, in this blog, all the pain and the pleasure of it all in the hope that a problem shared is a solution shared too.