Architects Choice talks to John Dyer Grimes about the beauty of modernist architecture in rural Surrey
Dyer Grimes Architects is a boutique residential architectural practice, based in offices on the banks of the river Thames in Putney. After 20 years in the business and a portfolio of over 200 residential projects, the team has broad experience in designing and building homes across London and the South East.
The practice is currently growing its portfolio of new build homes at an impressive rate, however it also has an impressive track record of period conversions and renovations and is considered one of London??s leading accredited Conservation Architects. The practice was founded by John Dyer Grimes in 1996 (then Studio MG) and rebranded in 2006 as Dyer Grimes Architects.
White Lodge, the practices latest project, has received many accolades, most recently scooping an award at the Evening Standard New Homes Awards 2013 where it was Highly Commended in the Best Family Home category. Here, John, Founder of the practice talks about the project, it??s highlights and challenges and the juxtaposition of the site with the build.
What is White lodge? What does it represent as a build?
White Lodge is a stunning white-rendered modernist villa with vast open living spaces and extensive glazing in mature grounds with feature swimming pool.
The dream was to build an ultra-contemporary, sustainable home in the heart of leafy Surrey on the secluded site of an existing pre-fab bungalow, a bold design statement, far removed from the pitched roof architecture of the area.
Having sold their listed manor house a few miles away, the build would mark a new chapter in the owners?? life exchanging traditional grandeur for a highly sustainable contemporary home designed for easy living and entertaining.
Dyer Grimes Architects won approval of the planners by incorporating a three-tiered structure within the sloping site and maximizing the privacy afforded by surrounding trees.
The cantilevered design of the house creates the illusion that the structure is hovering effortlessly in mid-air above its own reflection in the glass-ended swimming pool below. This combines, to stunning effect, with extensive glazing throughout which draws the surrounding landscape into the house and maximises views from the first floor of the Surrey Hills beyond.
Arranged around a generous entrance hall, the main living spaces comprise of large sliding walls which disappear into pockets to allow the living, dining and reception rooms to become one open plan space perfect for hosting parties.
The clever structural design and innovative construction methods incorporate slender steel columns, high performance glazing and an advanced insulated render system. It is enhanced by intricate detailing including a shadow gap wrapping around the building between ground and first floor levels, stained hardwood panels to complement the crisp white render, and a feature glass and timber stair.
Sustainability and low maintenance was also integral to the brief. White Lodge provides 12 per cent of its energy usage from renewable sources. With a thermally efficient envelope, the under-floor heating system is powered by the combination of an air source heat pump, solar hot water panels and super efficient gas boiler. The result, White Lodge costs our clients a fifth of the running costs of their former four acre listed country estate.
Give us an outline of the clients and their hopes for the project?
Nicky and Tony Maude sold their four and a half acre country estate in Limpsfield, Surrey to fulfil a lifelong dream to build their own house. Although their listed country manor was a wonderful place to raise a family the substantial property, its outbuildings and grounds were costing the family thousands of pounds a year to maintain.
When a one and half acre plot in Oxted in Surrey came to the market, Tony and Nicky snapped it up, despite not knowing if they would receive planning consent to demolish a 1960??s pre-fab bungalow and build in its place a new ultra-contemporary sustainable home, making use of renewable technologies.
Their dream was to build an iconic modern family home designed for entertaining and easy living. They also wanted a place that their two teenage sons could comfortably call their home and entertain their own friends. They also wanted to significantly reduce their living costs but without compromising on space and luxury.
They had several designs in mind but it wasn??t until they met John Dyer Grimes were they convinced that the planning department could be appeased and their dream be realised.
In the words of the owners:?? We set out to push the boundaries of ??country living?? and create a house in which we could live and entertain effortlessly, and without the ongoing maintenance costs of a period country estate. As soon as we met Dyer Grimes Architects we knew we could realise our dream, but we didn??t envisage that the end result would win us such accolades.??
What were you initial considerations in terms of the site and space to be created?
We had a long narrow sloping site, surrounded by 30ft trees, totally secluded. Our clients wanted a very contemporary house, having lived in LA and loving the architecture style of John Lautner. We developed the idea of relating the house to the landscape rather than the other houses in Quarry road.
Our clients wanted the focus of the house to be a large open plan Kitchen / family room for entertaining. They also wanted flexibility in how the formal dining room and reception could be closed off for a more intimate atmosphere, or through the use of sliding walls could be opened up into one flowing space.??
What did you anticipate would be the biggest challenges?
The build was not without its challenges: Tandridge Council had a long standing planning policy that new builds should match the traditional vernacular of the area. Our clients did not want planning restrictions to preclude them pushing the boundaries of contemporary design to create an iconic home they could be proud of.
However when they purchased the plot they had no idea whether planning would be granted.
Another challenge was the sloping topography of the site which threatened to limit the overall footprint of the house and surrounding landscapes. Designs would need to overcome the confines of the site incorporating 480m2 of living space whilst making the most of its setting and the Surrey Downs beyond.
Furthermore, the house was to be both easy and cost effective to maintain with careful attention to renewable energy sources and sustainable materials.
How did you successfully incorporate and respect the elements of country living in such a modern build?
Does country living conjure up images of muddy boots and log fires? Well our clients have both. With triple glazed floor to ceiling windows and a house than runs on 15 per cent renewable energy they can turn up the heat and put their nose to the window pane and watch the weather in its full force. Or is country living sitting on a terrace in Provence, with a glass of wine chatting with friends around the pool? When I take my children skiing, they adore the outdoor life, lunch under a heater with the mountains all around, but there is nothing more satisfying in coming home to a roaring fire and getting cosy.??
Do you think there is a place for more designs like this in other areas that have a more traditional vernacular?
For me the overriding factor is how well a house is designed and built, art and craftsmanship, I am not interested in one overriding style. Each of our clients wants a hand built home, designed around their dreams, on a particular site which has a context.
There are amazing contemporary houses dotted all over the world that respond to a sculptural brief rather than the local traditional vernacular. Just as art is constantly evolving in a search for more beauty so should architecture respond. I love it when I walk through a town, village, or park and out of nowhere a juxtaposition of old and new architecture appears. It startles and intrigues me. The new house challenges, it should represent the way we live today.??
If you could design and build anything, anywhere, what would you do and why?
I would love to build a house in California over a waterfall. I have stayed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” in Pennsylvania, a stunning house which cantilever’s over the water. I love the sound and the reflections of moving and mirror still water. The intense sunlight in California creates the perfect shadows for modern architecture, the climate is much kinder on the use of simple bold geometric forms, so the building weathers much better.
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