Practice founder Piers Taylor talks about extending a Hampshire cottage to reconfigure the space and maximise the view – and the advantage of using Romanian builders
Who is the project for?
Piers Taylor, Invisible Studio I was contacted, three or four years ago, by a couple – one a playwright and director, the other a filmmaker. One had, for 15 years, kept a magazine article on Starfall Farm, which I designed. As soon as they had sold their London terrace and bought this little cottage near Farnham, they contacted me. They wanted a bit more space; a different kind of lifestyle. I sat outside this small cottage with them, looking at the fantastic view. They were just thinking about extending the house to make it longer. I sketched out another way, pushing the extension right out towards the view at right angles to make a little courtyard. Instead of the house being long and thin, it became L-shaped – with two little studios, which kind of looked at each other across the garden.
Tell us about the context, the existing building
It was a very confused cottage. It didn't have a way in. There was no logic to the way the spaces were organised and it was very small, very pokey and didn't really address the view. And that was the brief really: to solve the organisation, solve how you come in, solve how the house related to the view, solve how you circulate it and then add a much bigger bedroom and bathroom.
How was it built?
The structure to first floor is concrete (50 per cent GGBS) to avoid it being visible in the view. The extension has a column and a structural chimney and then cantilevers over sliding glass doors. The first floor is timber with a timber truss roof structure.
The first tenders came in high so we went with a small firm and they were out of their depth much of the time. It was an unconventional residential project; everything was exposed, fair-faced concrete, timber structure. There's no paint in the project, everything is just plastered. They had to fit the plaster into the trusses. There are exposed copper pipes. So there's no opportunity to cover anything up and little room for error. Then the chimney is structural and has removable panels to slide in the doors to a pocket. And there is a hung steel staircase in the centre of the house.
The Romanian labourers were fantastic. They needed quite a lot of hand-holding but they were also dealing with the pandemic and a shortage of supplies. Getting hold of windows was tricky and there was no white plaster left in the country so they drove to Romania to get a van full.
Explain the external treatment of the project
The extension is a double-pitched roof with an expressed chimney. The pitches keep the height of the building down, and tie in with the cottage profile. It is clad in black timber. (The planners didn't want black timber so we resubmitted it and just put 'timber'. Because, of course, you can paint timber, any colour you like.) It has a new front door and a new back door with space for boots and coats.
Explain how the interiors have been designed
We reconfigured the rabbit warren inside the cottage around the new front door with a new staircase in front, so when guests come they are at the centre of the house with the kitchen one way and living room the other. We raised the ceilings two inches in the cottage. You cook under a double-height space. The scale of the new spaces is quite different from the cottage. On the ground floor of the extension, you can just open up the doors and live in the view.
Describe one challenge and how you overcame it
To cut costs we put one staircase on the outside instead of inside the extension.
What is your favourite moment in the project?
The main bedroom is underneath the truss. It is like being under a tree canopy. You have the view out to the magnolia tree and then smaller windows at the head of the bed, which give you the distant view and the near view. One of our clients wants to be able to lie in the bath and look at the view, so we put in a hatch and you look through to the view.
Total contract cost £550,000
Architect Invisible Studio Architects
Project title House in Hampshire
Project location Grayshott
Contractor Trace Build
Engineer Corbett Tasker
Landscape Sam Ovens