Eton Cottage, in West Sussex

In 2012 BBM were appointed as architects to look at ways of extending and refurbishing a small cottage in the village of Compton in West Sussex. Although the house was not listed it was in a sensitive conservation area and within the South Downs National Park.

After an extensive feasibility study which involved close discussions with the planning department at Chichester District Council, the starting brief had to be reigned back in terms of the number of bedrooms which could be achieved and the new southern extension went from a two storey proposal to a single storey. Thus the Clients sensibly reconsidered how they would live in the house, how family and guests would stay and in so doing opted for well-proportioned spaces over the urge to cram too much in.

The house was typical of many older cottages in Sussex with compact spaces and very low ceilings, particularly over the first floor where the sloping ceilings significantly interfered with headroom. It had undergone some alterations and extension over the years with an unsympathetic long dormer facing the drive, a lean-to side extension and a white painted timber clad kitchen extension with a flat roof added in the 1960’s. It also had two outbuildings in the form of a large shed and a garage. The client’s starting brief was to rationalise the amount of built volume to create a larger house, as the garage and shed were no longer needed and the rather stark flat roofed extension, the poorly conceived lean-to extension and the long flat roof dormer would be rebuilt with more sympathetic additions.

The location of the house is stunning. Set within the small village of Compton, its garden and adjoining field expand south and opens out to broad views of the South Downs. This made the architectural handling of any new built form subject to particularly close scrutiny. The proposition had to be considered for its contribution to the context. Distant views from the Downs had to be taken into consideration and in particular the high sensitivity to any change in visual impact. Although the sixties extension was relatively small, its shape and white colour made it stand out from the village setting. The new proposal adopted an asymmetrical pitch to optimise the potential energy harnessing of solar panels and vertical timber cladding in natural finish, the colours of which recede into the general patina of the village.

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Espace House

As for the old cottage, fewer but enlarged spaces were to be created within its cramped proportions. It was also to undergo a sensitive energy efficiency refurbishment with a new insulated floor slab and ‘breathing’ insulation and plaster added to the inside faces of old external walls. A new entrance hall and staircase unlocked a completely revised layout both upstairs and downstairs.

The aim for the house layout was to create living areas out of circulation space and to create flexibility in use for when family and visitors arrive or to accommodate less mobile living arrangements in the years to come.

With the Client wishing to establish a potager garden to the west, the new entrance hall made full use of views beyond by using a dramatic glass wall to frame the view westward, inviting you towards it down the new entrance hall. Off the hall are the staircase to the first floor, a study with a fold-down bed, a full bathroom and a plant room. The bathroom and study/bedroom future-proofs the house for later years. Further into the plan the space flows around the corner and leads you down to the southern extension that includes a dining space and kitchen. The confluence of the hall and dining spaces has a more contemplative feel with the views held close into the potager and a carefully positioned skylight. This light filled living space compliments the restored sitting room with its inglenook fireplace at the north end of the old cottage and offers a wholly different ambience. The dining space is all about the expansive views towards the downs and here a large glazed corner exploits the opportunity fully, inviting outside space in when the sliding panel is opened. Tucked into the new side extension is a well-sized boot and utility room to support the ambitious gardening work of the Clients.

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House That Opens Up to the Sun

Working with SRE energy consultants, BBM devised an energy strategy for the house that was based primarily on an energy reduction approach using high levels of insulation for the new build elements, roofs and ground floor and sensible internal ‘breathable’ insulation to the external walls of the old cottage. High performance glazing was applied throughout but the sizing and orientation of which was also optimised to exploit useful winter solar gain to provide passive heating for the house from the new south facing extension. The largely open plan layout helps distribute the free heating energy around the house, while a brise soleil over the main glazing mitigates warm weather solar gain.

Apart from passive solar features, the new southern extension was also designed to accommodate a large photovoltaic array. As an integrated system it is designed to be the roof finish rather than an unsightly stuck on set of panels. A matt black module was used to mitigate the PV appearance as seen from the Downs. A log-burning stove provides winter space heating and an oil-fired boiler provides what little top energy is still needed.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the project was the quality of finish and handling of materials that was largely down to the Client and Contractors own endeavours. BBM had prepared a highly detailed design intent package for the Contractor but were not party to the build phase. It is thus a particular delight to see a project so well executed to the architect’s intentions combined with the Client’s own choice of furnishing and overall attention to detail. The Client’s garden design and execution was also to be applauded.

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