Hamish & Lyons’ playful extension to a traditional house is a light, modern confection of glass hovering over water beside a jungle. Welcome to Maidenhead
You can leap from one stepping stone to another, wind in between a nascent jungle of tree ferns and yew balls, step out across a glass bridge or duck down into a brick pit below it. Each is a delight and that’s before you consider ascending, dripping, from the lake up the cantilevered steps. And then you reach Stepping Stones, an addition to a sub-Lutyens house in the village of Hurley near Maidenhead designed by architect Hamish & Lyons.
This elevated living space captures the joyful precarious lightness of balancing over the water with its sparingly engineered steel columns, an underside of tapering horizontal fins and thinnest of thin roof profiles. Light pours over the delicate ties in the rooflights that crack open the pitched roof. Onto the water the corners slide right open. But at the same time here is shelter with a deep plan and overshooting eaves. Visiting on a day of mizzle I longed for a downpour which would layer an exhilarating rain curtain to enjoy from under the eaves. The building is certainly used to wet: during concept design the site was flooded, hence the columns keeping the floor above water level (and why there is no basement parking, as originally planned).
Taking on the original large but rather enclosed house, the family wanted living space with an outdoor connection, a better den for its five lively boys (each of whom has some level of ADHD) and somewhere for guests to stay. Located in both a conservation area and green belt, they were relying on an existing double garage, two storey annexe and small garden room, to justify the area (and massing) of any new building to the planners. Drawing up in the gravel turning circle shared by the cluster of houses around it, Stepping Stones comes into view with something of the presence of an out-of-place double garage, cars parked in front. Apart from the use of red brick there seems scant reference or indeed relationship to the existing buildings. The transparency also surprises, the top glazing shows a made up bed, the glass bridge is entirely transparent.
But these are the only off notes and any hint of disquiet falls away as you move alongside, into or under the building. The large garden with its mature trees and new lake unfolds, and the scale of the 150m2 Stepping Stones seems entirely natural. It is split into two buildings, guest suite cum den at the far end and living space closer to the house; each have mezzanines inhabited by double beds. Douglas fir ply lines walls hiding TVs, cupboards and loos. The guest suite has kitchen and dining table but the living space’s spattering of furniture – juke box, pool table, sofas, aquarium – suggest this is a space waiting to be lived in; that the family hasn’t yet quite worked out what the spaces are for. With the eldest sons now teenagers you can imagine sociable weekends and big parties (though the shower room and toilet top lit through the bedroom floor requires a certain amount of discretion not obviously compatible with teenage parties).
The architecture itself offers its own suggestions for inhabitation, mostly looking out, dangling your legs over the solid iroko deck, leaning against the flitched Y-shaped columns or resting your forearms on the broad balustrade, held sparely by occasional steels, LEDs tracked underneath. There is a therapeutic calmness and discipline to the architecture; the underside of those roofs are also iroko clad, the black steel fins (hidden T-sections) disappearing into them. Care has gone into everything from the base of the timber columns to ensuring that the layers of opening tracks for the glazing match from side to side for symmetry. A traditional contract and a family firm of contractors helped with this.
This was Hamish & Lyons’ first project, won several years ago, and it was lucky enough to find a client who has given it the time and budget to make a remarkable building. Nick Lyons first came to architecture as a teenager, bowled over by the spaces of a friend’s modernist home in the Manchester suburbs. ‘It gives me shivers down my spine thinking of designing a home for someone,’ he says now. Stepping Stones is likely to inspire others, just as he was inspired.