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Contacts Book: Stonewood Design on their most valued collaborators

Words:
Nicola du Pisanie, Adam Chambers & Matt Vaudin

The West Country-based practice’s work includes schemes at The Newt in Somerset country estate, including the recreation of a Roman villa. Here they talk about the experts and craftspeople who have been key to their projects

Daniella Murphy Corella painting in the tepidarium of the Roman Villa, The Newt, Somerset.
Daniella Murphy Corella painting in the tepidarium of the Roman Villa, The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus

Daniela Murphy Corella  

Daniella is an art conservator based in Florence and a world authority on frescos. She researched and created the frescos in our recreation of a historic Roman Villa Museum at The Newt, a hotel and visitor attraction in Somerset.

We’d done a lot of research with archaeologists for the project but realised we needed an additional expert view for the frescos. Daniella was brought in by the client. She analysed the remains of the existing Roman villa on the site and found marble dust from Italy, which blew our minds. 

Eighty per cent of the internal walls in the villa have wall paintings on a lime plaster. But the truly Roman fresco elements are in the caldarium (hot bath) and tepidarium (warm bath). These are applied on fresh mortar and through a chemical reaction between the lime and sand become an integral part of the surface – they can’t just be wiped off. We worked alongside Daniella, collaborating on getting the recipe right for the mix of the plaster, and finding a plasterer to do the mix.

The Caldarium at the Roman Villa, The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Stonewood Design
Work on the wall paintings at the Roman Villa, The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus

Daniella personally created the frescos with a team of painters. It was beautiful – a burst of Italy in the middle of barren, lockdown chaos. And in those rooms, there’s a real warmth and depth – and humanity. The caldarium is quite a dark room but somehow the authenticity of the frescos made it glow. We feel it’s the room that really captures the essence of what it was like to live there all that time ago, and that’s because of the frescos. 

Her work was just magic, and is typical of the authenticity of the process that went into making the Roman Villa. She is someone we’d like to do more with as she really aligns with our approach to making.

Furniture by Benchmark in their workshop for The Creamery at Castle Cary, Somerset.
Furniture by Benchmark in their workshop for The Creamery at Castle Cary, Somerset. Credit: Stonewood Design

Benchmark Furniture

We love working with these guys. It’s unusual to find a subcontractor with such kinship – you can learn so much from being in their sphere. The managing director, Sean Sutcliffe, has a real love for timber, and oozes such good energy. Sean and senior project designer Pete Lowe are a breath of fresh air. We love it when clients become friends, and work becomes life. 

We’ve worked with Sean and Pete for over 20 years, beginning when we were still at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. Matt did a couple of projects with them, including the National Trust HQ, and they were so dynamic and enlightening. When we started Stonewood Design in 2010, we wanted to have the opportunity to continue this relationship. They’ve since made joinery and furniture for our Roman Villa Museum at The Newt in Somerset and, most recently, at the Creamery – a cheese-making visitor attraction also at Castle Cary in Somerset – as well as some domestic stuff for us. 

  • Storage wall made by Benchmark for the Roman Villa Museum at The Newt, Somerset.
    Storage wall made by Benchmark for the Roman Villa Museum at The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus
  • Benchmark’s Pete Lowe (left) and Sean Sutcliffe (right) sharing knowledge of timber with Stonewood Design.
    Benchmark’s Pete Lowe (left) and Sean Sutcliffe (right) sharing knowledge of timber with Stonewood Design. Credit: Stonewood Design
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It’s so nice to have a subcontractor you can rely on to take your idea and make it look good. We can just trust them to do it beautifully. They’re a real partner, rather than a fabricator who simply does what you say. 
 
Sean set up Benchmark with the late Terence Conran and runs such a cool company. He brings in local people as apprentices and uses offcuts from the manufacturing process for the biomass boiler. They’ve done all sorts of great things to reduce waste – it’s not greenwash but is underpinned by proper research. There’s a lovely vibe in the workshop and everyone gathers together for lunch each day. There’s a feeling that everyone’s in it together.

Benchmark has invited all of us at the practice to make a stool with them, and we’re using this as a catalyst to start our own monthly making workshop in the office.

Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset.
Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus

Kossmann de Jong

Kossmann de Jong is an exhibition design practice from Amsterdam who we’ve worked with on a number of projects and got to know very well.

Their creativity is really amazing. We first worked with them in 2017 on The Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt in Somerset. The client had seen Micropia, a museum about microbes, which KdJ designed in Amsterdam, and found it really engaging. So he got them involved in the Story of the Gardening Museum and we subsequently worked with them at the Roman Villa and a forthcoming Story of Emily Museum at St Ive, a village in Cornwall, which tells the story of humanitarian Emily Hobhouse in the place she grew up.

They are quite an eclectic group of people – they have architects, fashion designers, graphic designers, project managers and exhibition designers. And because of the diverse nature of their projects, they bring in other specialists when they need them. There’s a broad sense of creativity, and that’s quite inspiring.

  • Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset.
    Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus
  • Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset.
    Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus
  • Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset.
    Stonewood Design worked with exhibition designers Kossmann de Jong at the Story of Gardening Museum at The Newt, Somerset. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus
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They design and fabricate in the Netherlands. Their use of technology has increased over the projects we’ve collaborated on. At the Story of Emily Museum, they’ve used virtual reality to convey the concentration camps in South Africa that she campaigned against during the Boer War.

We always advocate that the sooner exhibition designers are involved in the overall process, the better, so we can have the right conversations about light and ventilation, for example, early. There’s a nice synergy between us and KdJ. We’ve built up a good relationship and have started to put together joint bids for future projects.

The Roman Villa Museum at The Newt, Somerset. A glazed elevation installed by Cantifix provides clear views out over the site of the original villa.
The Roman Villa Museum at The Newt, Somerset. A glazed elevation installed by Cantifix provides clear views out over the site of the original villa. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus

Cantifix

Cantifix is a glass fabricator and installer with whom we have worked at the Creamery, the Roman Villa Museum and the Emily Hobhouse museum, in conjunction with Tim Macfarlane’s GL&SS façade engineering company. While Tim takes on the design liability for the engineering, Cantifix is also used to doing this. It really understands the design thinking required in a complex project, and can make it happen. 

We always vet the installers with the contractor – the tender should be decided through taking into account experience and knowledge rather than price alone. Cantifix is methodical and capable and always up for anything. It’s always calm on installation days. For example, a 20m-long by 3m-high single piece of glazing was installed at the cafe at the Story of Emily Museum without drama. Cantifix believes in the process, the product and in itself, so there’s always a quiet confidence, and everything is done really carefully and well. 

Cantifix installing the glazed entrance for The Creamery at Castle Cary, Somerset with the rebuilt chimney stack beyond. Credit: Stonewood Design
Cantifix installing the glazed entrance for The Creamery at Castle Cary, Somerset. Credit: Stonewood Design

At the Roman Villa Museum, the company built a 10m-long glass bridge and balustrade over the archaeological ruins, held together with titanium tags. The 48m-wide facade uses special glass spacers to maximise views over the landscape. Cantifix recently installed some large, curved glass for the entrance of the Creamery. Here, there was a tight radius, which was quite challenging, but it helps make the building what it is.

Nicola du Pisanie, Adam Chambers and Matt Vaudin are directors of Stonewood Design

As told to Pamela Buxton

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