Low impact, great views and a place to relax: modest ambitions give clients a generous and comfortable home in rural East Sussex
Richard Hawkes, founder of Hawkes Architecture, describes Lake House in the High Weald of East Sussex as ‘modest’ and it is, insofar as one can apply that word to a four-bedroom house with a floor area of 420m². Certainly the aspiration of the clients was not to have a ‘statement’ house. Instead they wanted somewhere where they could relax and enjoy magnificent views while having as little environmental impact as possible.
Hawkes has given them this, in a house of two long volumes that slide past each other. One part is single-storey, the other two-storey. Both are buried in a hillside behind, projecting at the front over the eponymous lake. This had been a commercial fishing lake, created by the clients, with just a fishing lodge on it.
Hawkes Architecture has built a reputation for designing ‘Paragraph 80’ houses. This is the element of national planning policy (previously known as Paragraph 79 and Paragraph 55) that allows the construction of isolated houses in the countryside provided that they are of exceptional quality. Hawkes met the clients when he was involved with a design review of a different scheme for the site. His own design re-positions the building on a different side of the lake, with the front, occupied by the dining room, in the position of the former fishing lodge.
Arriving at the house is magical. You travel down a country lane, with houses set well back, and then turn off on a track that is crossed by a public footpath. Once through the gate, you duck under the arch of an abandoned railway viaduct but still can’t see the house. Then the drive sweeps round a curve and there it is, before you, side-on in front of the lake.
This is the single-storey element of the house, which runs as a single space from the hall near the back, through the kitchen to the dining room. A utility room and shelves provide breaks at the start and end of the kitchen. There are two steps down to the dining room, bringing the space, which has windows on two sides, down near the water level. The kitchen and dining room are 4.2m wide, the hall a little wider, allowing the insertion of a window for views of the lake.
In a nod to the railway, this section of the building has a gently arched ceiling, lined with sweet chestnut. The railway references continue on the disused viaduct itself, where the client is building three cabins, all based on the shape of carriages, for overflow guests.
There is no missing the front door – a magnificent textured bronze creation, almost as wide as it is high, pivoting around its centre. But at rightangles to it a more modest door leads to a boot room that in turn opens into the hall.
The hall leads to the two-storey element, with a study and sitting rooms on the ground floor. Upstairs, bedrooms and bathrooms are also in a line, culminating at the lake in the master suite which includes a dressing room, bathroom and shower, again protruding over the lake.
The house is timber framed, with its first floor and the single-storey section clad in sweet chestnut. Parts of the cladding have been lightened with a SiOO:X bleach, and others have a dark stain. There are a few curves in the form, in response to the clients’ stipulation that they did not want the building to be entirely right-angled. Similarly, there are no fully glazed walls but a series of tall windows that frame views.
The ground floor of the two-storey section is clad in a local handmade red brick, built with lime mortar. Instead of conventional sharp sand, the mortar uses a sand made from crushed glass bottles which is, says Hawkes, cheaper as well as more sustainable. Every now and then you catch a glint of green glass.
The brick is exposed externally and internally, while the house is adorned by canted buttresses inspired by the railway arch. But those on the house are not structural; they are there to provide a visual grounding. The building looked incomplete without them, says Hawkes.
An impressive but concealed array of photovoltaic panels on the metal-edged roof has a capacity of 13kW. Hawkes prides himself on the environmental performance of his practice’s houses, all of which have an EPC A-rating and are designed to Passivhaus standards, although not put through the certification process. Lake House, which has underfloor heating on the ground floor only, gets most of its heat from a log burner using wood cut and dried on the site. Performance since occupation in August 2021 has been even better than predicted.
It is joy to meet a client who is not only still on excellent terms with their architect but declares they would do nothing differently. This is a generous, comfortable home that makes the very best of its site and its resources.
Ruth Slavid is a writer, editor and author of House Goals: Design with architects, transform your home
Architect Hawkes Architecture
Interior designer Kathryn Levitt Design
Landscape architect Squires Young
Structural engineer Engineers HRW
Consulting engineer Hodel
Main contractor HB Homes
Timber frame designer Cullen Timber Design