An uninspiring pair of ex-local authority cottages have been radically transformed into a stunning contemporary home
Locals refer to it simply as ‘that modern house’. With its sharply rectilinear appearance, frameless windows and slate roof and cladding, Grange Cottage has a kind of archetypal form: like a house drawn by a child, or a Monopoly counter. Architect Jonathan Hendry says that he hoped to gain a sense of the ‘abstract’: ‘We wanted the house to be as simple as possible,’ he says, ‘to be a shape in the landscape.’
You can see what he means, and it is certainly hard to see that Grange Cottage was until recently ‘1 and 2 Grange Cottages’: two Sixties local authority rural dwellings of the type found across the country. Only the old brick chimney exists to remind visitors of the previous houses’ existence.
Jonathan, who runs Jonathan Hendry Architects in a nearby village, lives here with his wife Katie, a chemist, and their two children. He has had a long association with the site and grew up next door in a house built by his father; his parents also own the land to the side and the back of Grange Cottage, including a landscaped pond with a tinkling fountain, beyond which stretches a view onto the Lincolnshire Wolds.
So when one of the cottages came up for sale back in 2001, at a little over £50,000, the couple – then childless – decided to go for it. Jonathan wanted to create an architectural showpiece and, of course, a home.
Fine, but why not find a clear plot? ‘We looked at so many places and quite apart from my connections, this house was cheap,’ says Jonathan. ‘It has views and the location, and there was nothing else comparable on the market.’ Plus, it came with a tantalizing possibility: the eventual purchase of the second cottage. So Jonathan and Katie bought 1 Grange Cottages, imploring their neighbours to consider them first if they ever decided to sell their house. ‘It was a bit of a gamble,’ admits Jonathan.
Thus, the Hendrys suddenly owned a fairly nondescript semi-detached cottage, without the option to demolish. ‘Actually, we did consider it,’ says Jonathan. But it wasn’t propitious on their limited budget, plus the couple discovered that their lending bank preferred them to have an asset. ‘They didn’t like the idea of demolition as they felt their capital was tied up in the property, not the land,’ he adds.
Instead, the couple transformed the cottage; cladding it, re-roofing it, remaking the windows and paving the way towards the eventual acquisition of its twin. ‘The design always considered the possibility of knocking through,’ says Jonathan. Katie, with the pragmatism of a mother-to-be, specified plenty of storage space, so in true Narnia spirit they situated cupboards where the connecting doors would eventually be. So successful was the design that in 2003 the cottage won best semi-detached house in the Channel 4 TV series, Britain’s Best Homes.
Then, in 2003, the second cottage came up for sale. ‘By this point we were better off, but prices had gone through the roof,’ says Jonathan. Even so, the mirror-image house was £89,000 – still joyfully cheap by today’s standards. It was a must.
Without adjoining neighbours, cottage two enabled the family to let rip. ‘In the second cottage we took out everything,’ recalls Jonathan. ‘Essentially, this is a new building with an old shell.’ Also, they had a bigger budget, which they spent on contractors. ‘We did a lot of the first house ourselves, and got a builder for the other side,’ recalls Jonathan. ‘Still, I wish we’d done the second house ourselves. You save so much money.’
Their task was then to unify the two houses. In cottage one, the front door was replaced by a large glass window. Indeed, the windows are a key feature of the house, with the clean, angular aesthetic that the Hendrys prefer. ‘All the window reveals are lined externally with stainless steel, and we decided we didn’t need all the windows to open, so they appear frameless,’ says Jonathan. They also afford the house a lot of solar gain. ‘It’s very warm here,’ says Katie. ‘We often don’t need the heating on, even in winter.’
The new front door went onto cottage two. And what a door: made of cedar by a local joiner, oiled, and flanked by two bay trees, it is worthy of a boutique hotel. ‘We didn’t want it to go silver, which un-oiled cedar will do, so we treated it,’ says Jonathan. Behind it is a double-height vestibule with a neat trick: a skylight painted orange on the inside, so that it appears illuminated.
When the Hendrys entertain, they light the facade with two spotlights, which pick out the colour-through render. ‘It cost about £5,000 and we could have chosen a cheaper render,’ says Jonathan. ‘But it’s good quality, and when light shines on it, it glistens.’ The roof was finished in slate, which they also hung on the sides and the back elevation, and emerging from the whole house is that old brick chimney. ‘We thought it was nice to see a little of the old house,’ says Katie.
Inside, only a trained eye could tell that the houses were once separate. In cottage one, the living room is now the dining room, and the only carpeted room in the house. It’s a uncluttered space with an oak table by local joiner Simon Woods, who also did the front door and most of the woodwork.
More radical is the kitchen, which has a heavyweight table, made while Jonathan worked at Jamie Forbert Architects. ‘A joiner made some display tables for a shop, and I asked him to make up another one. It’s pitch pine and incredibly heavy. I doubt it will ever leave here.’ Similarly, the steel sink unit and worksurface is bespoke. ‘It was made by a friend who works at Grimsby docks,’ says Jonathan, who was delighted to get it for £450. In keeping with the chunky scale of the house, he had it made 700mm deep as opposed to the kitchen standard of 600mm.
In the central living room, now far larger than either of the original cottages would have allowed, is the original chimney breast and a long French window that leads onto the garden. York tiles are used both in the house and in the back garden; a toy-filled rectangle with smooth cement walls. ‘We’re terrible gardeners and just wanted a low- maintenance space,’ says Katie. ‘The boundary is also useful for keeping children in.’
It’s hard to see the imprint of the two earlier houses, but now that they’ve got the whole site, do they wish they’d started from scratch? Not at all, although Jonathan thinks that the layout is slightly compromised: ‘The ceiling heights are lower than we might like,’ he explains. As the design was organised from the beginning, it has been intelligently planned – had the houses merely been knocked through, they’d have been left with lots of circulation space and no rooms.
This is a house that has transcended the sum of its parts. ‘We’ve often said, if we moved, we’d struggle to find a spot like this,’ says Jonathan. ‘It isn’t a mass-produced, modern house.’ Well, not any more, anyway.
Architect: Jonathan Hendry www.jonathanhendryarchitects.com
Slate tiles: Millers Hills roofing contractors 01472 509 944
Render: SAS Render www.sas-europe.com
Oak flooring: EC Forest Products www.ecforestproducts.com
Joinery: Simon Woods 07802 770 846
Kitchen worksurface: APT Marine Engineering www.aptengineering.co.uk
Words Oliver Bennett Photography Jefferson Smith