This house might be a new-build, but it certainly isn’t short of history
Although Susie and Uli’s house was completed less than a year ago, the story behind its inception goes back more than 50 years to when Susie’s parents moved to the area and bought the plot on which Long View now stands. They built a house on a corner of the land, and Susie grew up there with her sister, Jane. In 2000 each daughter was gifted her own plot of land on the six-acre site, prompting Uli and Susie to up sticks from London in 2003, with dreams of building a family home.
Sitting on the same site as Susie’s parent’s now Grade-II listed home (Past Field House, they still live there), meant the new building would have to be sympathetic to its neighbour. With this in mind it made sense for Susie and Uli to approach the architect who designed her parent’s home, Patrick Gwynne, to come up with a suitable proposal for their project. By now in his late eighties, Gwynne felt that it would be necessary to work in conjunction with another architect who could realise his plans. He suggested Avanti Architects as he had already worked with them on the restoration of his own modernist house, The Homewood (now owned by The National Trust). Sadly, although Gwynne visited the site and formulated some initial ideas, he died before the project really took off. ‘He was very practical,’ recalls Susie. ‘He asked us lots of questions about how we lived, that really got us thinking about the sort of space we were after and how it could work for us.’
Avanti Architects came up with a design for a spacious brick and timber-clad home with double-height living spaces, glazed expanses to create a fluid relationship between indoors and out, and several touches which mirrored that of Past Field House. But key to the design was the positioning of the house. ‘Patrick had this ability to know where to place a house on a site,’ explains John. ‘It’s what unifies all his projects, so we felt a huge responsibility to do the same here.’ Long View would sit on a rectangular, sloping plot, with the design following the land’s contours and changes in levels marking sections of the house.
Susie and Uli’s hopes for their new home came crashing down around them when the planning department rejected their proposals. ‘We were devastated,’ says Susie. ‘It was a case of bad timing. A developer had bought a plot adjoining that of my parent’s and was seeking permission to build a number of houses. Our project seemed to be dealt with alongside that, even though the proposals bore absolutely no resemblance to one another.’ After a long (and expensive) struggle, they won on appeal and the build could get underway.
One of the building’s main characteristics is the striking zinc roof. There are actually five separate roofs, all pitched at different levels, which create interesting angles from around the site. Giving Long View a very definite roof form helps to link it to Past Field House, which has a very prominent roofline. The steel frame used for Long View mean the corners of the roof appear unsupported. As for other materials, the dark brick and cedar cladding are separated by pressed metal trims, while the window frames are powder-coated aluminium; all of which combine with the zinc roof to create a hard-wearing, low-maintenance outer shell.
The colours of the building’s exterior reflect the hues of the surrounding garden: purple mosaics on the south elevation echo the vibrant shades of the heather in the garden, while the north side has softer green mosaics to pick up the colours of the trees lining the edge of the plot. The mosaics are an interpretation of those on the exterior of Past Field House, a style that was particularly prevalent in the Fifties. ‘Mosaics have a timeless appeal,’ says Susie. ‘The ones in my parent’s house haven’t dated at all so I knew they would work here.’
The house itself has three separate wings, each of which pivot around a central entrance area. A curved hallway welcomes you into the central wing, with several bedrooms and bathroom off to the right. At the end of this main hallway is Uli’s workroom – one of Susie and Uli’s main design briefs. As a piano restorer for Steinway he needed a large space where he could work from home. ‘It had to be big enough for me to have a full-size concert piano in here, which can be wheeled in via a set of double doors that open onto the driveway,’ says Uli. ‘The floor-to-ceiling corner window means it’s a quiet, relaxing space to work in.’
Music is an important part of their family life, as shown by the beautiful grand piano in the open-plan living area. ‘It was essential to have an area dedicated to music in the centre of the house,’ says Susie. The piano is raised up above the living room below; with daylight cascading down from the lightscope, it has the feel of a miniature concert hall, just waiting for its next musical soirée.
The couple’s request for a functional, adaptable home is clear to see in these open-plan living areas. A huge expanse of glass across the rear elevation creates a link to the garden, whether the doors are open or closed. ‘There are framed views in all directions,’ explains Uli. ‘Some of which we didn’t discover until we moved in because you couldn’t get a sense of them on the plans.’ The space can be completely open plan, or floor-to-ceiling red panels can be slid between the living and dining areas to create cosier rooms. ‘Even with the high ceilings it feels snug,’ says Susie. ‘I wasn’t sure if it would, but the architects told me I had to trust them!’
This trust has certainly paid off. ‘There are days when we can’t believe how lucky we are,’ admits Susie. ‘Having grown up here myself, I know how fantastic it’s going to be for Lucy.’ As for the two houses, everyone agrees that they complement each other perfectly, without Long View being a clone of its neighbour. ‘I think the houses relate to each other in the same way children relate to their parents,’ explains John. ‘You can see there’s a link without them looking exactly the same.’ Something Susie is quick to confirm: ‘There are elements of our house which are so similar to my parent’s home that moving in here felt instantly familiar, as if it had always been our home.’
A Thirties icon
Patrick Gwynne was just 24 when he designed his modernist masterpiece, The Homewood, for his parents on their Surrey estate. When they died in 1942 he moved in and lived there until he passed away in 2003, aged 90. In 1992, Patrick donated The Homewood to The National Trust and then undertook a period of extensive renovations, working alongside Avanti Architects. Part of his agreement with The National Trust was that the property is lived in by a tenant, and open to the public once a week. The selection process for a new tenant is now underway, and anyone interested in renting The Homewood should contact The National Trust. (www.nationaltrust.org.uk)
The story so far
Who? Uli and Susie Gerhartz and daughter Lucy
What? A timber-clad house
How long? 10 months for the build
High point? ‘The Richfest (topping out ceremony) we had in April 2006,’ says Uli. ‘It was a great way to say thanks to everyone’
Low point? ‘The problems and delays we experienced getting planning permissionfor our home,’ says Susie
‘If you want a building that’s really special you need to get an expert in,’ says Susie. ‘So spend money on a good architect.'
Architects: Avanti Architects www.avantiarchitects.co.uk
Windows and doors: Schücho International www.schueco.co.uk
Roofing: Trespa www.trespa.com
Cladding: Rheinzink UK www.rheinzink.co.uk
Waterproofing: Sarnafil www.sarnafil.co.uk
Worktops: Corian www.corian.co.uk
Bathroom tiles: Bisazza www.bisazza.com
Carpet: John Lewis www.johnlewis.com
Interior paints: Fired Earth www.firedearth.com
Words: Beth Myers Images: Jefferson Smith