English Estate Redux - Design Bureau

English Estate Redux

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

By Nalina Moses

Great Britain is known for many things: tea, the Royal Family, always maintaining a stiff upper lip. It’s also known for its traditional neoclassical estates that dot the verdant countryside. Since the 1700s, the upper echelon of English elites have built and occupied these homes, but this kind of construction hasn’t gone on uninterrupted. 

In 1947, the English Town and Country Planning Act mandated that all new buildings had to benefit their surrounding rural economy. Structures like barns, factories, and holiday home sublets made the cut, but building brand new homes in the picturesque countryside became nearly impossible. Unsurprisingly, the architecture of the existing estate homes grew quite dated, and after 30 years, parliament member John Gummer decided it was time for a change. He amended the law to allow new estate home construction—but only if it followed a strict building code that mandated “architectural excellence.” Architects Paulo Marto and Paul Acland were up for this challenge. 

Specifically, “this clause, commonly known as ‘Gummer’s Clause,’ allowed for houses to be built on greenfield sites if they continued the English country-house tradition,” Marto says. The architects, principals of London firm Paul + O, started submitting proposals for a new design they felt would meet the Gummer’s Clause requirements. After the planning committee green-lighted their design, they began work on The Wilderness, one of only 25 new estate homes.

The Wilderness stood out from the crowd of traditional English home proposals because it featured contemporary styling and minimalist design leanings. But despite its modern aesthetic, Marto and Acland’s design does highlight the idyllic English landscape. “We were obsessed with linking the outside with the inside, especially with such a magical site,” Marto says. 

To create this transition, the architects wrapped the first floor in full-height, sliding glass panels, and opened the second floor with smaller panes. “Every window is like a television screen. It’s amazing what you can see outside—herds of deer, foxes, ferrets, and rabbits.” When it came to styling the rooms, Marto says they turned to layering. “We created beautiful light-filled spaces and then enhanced  them by layering with paintings, rugs, lights, etc.,” he explains. Remarkably, the homeowner’s older pieces, like an overstuffed armchair, blend with Marto’s and Acland’s picks to create an updated, contemporary vibe. 

For the interior, Marto and Acland used an engaging material palette. “We used tactile natural materials,” Marto says, “including timber-framed windows, cashmere curtains, and stained oak for the kitchen shelves and library bookcases.”

The Wilderness’ ultimate success is that both the homeowner and Gummer’s Clause enforcers love the estate’s heirloom-meetsmodern look. It’s a turnaround that’s especially satisfying for the architects. “For a lot of people, this house was an education,” Marto says.  “It showed that you can live in contemporary architecture and that it can be quite wonderful.”

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