Heart of the Country
Driving through the leafy country lanes on the outer edges of London’s commuter belt, it’s hard to imagine the city is just an hour away by train. But the Sussex fields around the village of Peasmarsh set the scene for John Carver and Anna Carloss’s modern renovation of a mid-century bungalow, bringing the city—–or at least its design sensibility—–that much closer.
It would be easy to assume that the delightfully named Starvecrow Cottage would have roses around the door, a thatched roof, and look like something from a storybook. But John Carver and Anna Carloss’s bungalow—tucked away in the village of Peasmarsh, on the outer edges of London’s commuter belt—is far more modernist chalet than country cottage. Clad in rough-sawn Siberian larch and finished with anodized aluminum, the low structure is a pleasant surprise in England’s wealds and wolds, where a home without Tudor beams constitutes blasphemy.
Fortunately for Carver and Carloss, planning consent was not such a large issue as it might have been: Their seemingly brand-new modernist home is really just a reworking of a tired mid-century building, which the couple purchased in 2005 as a weekend retreat and transitioned into their primary residence. “A friend emailed me one day to say he had been out to see this place that had just come on the market and we should see it too,” says Carver. “We came down on the Saturday morning. Just as we got here someone was leaving, and just as we left someone was arriving. Later on I realized that I dropped my glasses, and so I phoned the agent and he said he had found them on the driveway. So I went back to get the glasses. When we saw the place again, we said, ‘Let’s agree on a price here and now and shake hands on a deal.’”
This sudden decision was something of a surprise for architect Andrew Whiting of Hût Architecture. Whiting had just obtained building permits for a roof extension on the couple’s London home, but was quickly enlisted to work on the forlorn Starvecrow Cottage. Needless to say, the roof extension never got built. “Initially, [the Starvecrow project] was just going to be a change of color and maybe a nice wooden floor, but it grew from there,” says Carver. “Our involvement was always incremental,” says Whiting. “It was always ‘just a bit more,’ so we ended up doing a vast amount of work on the property in the end. John and Anna were particularly involved clients, but in a good way. That is not always a positive thing, but it was with them.”
This approach suited both parties. In fact, they all got on so well that Hût eventually moved in to share an office with Carver and Carloss’s creative agency, Cunning. “They were so easy to get along with and very flexible,” says Carloss. “We had worked with a couple of architects in the past and they always seem to have had an agenda, and that is what they stick to. That can be very difficult when you have your own opinions.”
As it turns out, Carver and Carloss’s opinions dictated many of the changes made to Starvecrow Cottage. The 4,500-square-foot building retains much the same footprint of its mid-century counterpart, but the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows to the rear and various skylights brings the outstanding landscape closer and fills the home with light. “My dream property has always been one level and with massive picture windows,” says Carloss. “This allowed us to do that, but the amount of renovations and the budget were far greater than what we first thought of. We sometimes joke that it would have been easier and cheaper to have knocked it down and started again. But the shape is beautiful and we wanted to retain that.” Surprisingly, previous residents had not thought to have a proper view of the valley, much of which is owned by the family’s famous neighbor, Sir Paul McCartney.
To decide on the exterior materials, the team left more than a dozen types of timber and treatments out in the elements for a month before deciding on untreated Siberian larch, which sheaths the house’s nearly four-inch layer of insulation. This replaces the previous stucco frontage and ensures that the home remains warm and dry, while the wood will age naturally. The bungalow is just a short drive from the sea, so the weather can become extreme, another reason for the decision to use polished concrete for the floors—the family need not worry about wandering in from forest walks with muddy shoes.
The internal layout is also far more open than the original, creating what Carver calls “a country loft apartment feel.” The couple had an artist friend, Neil Jolliff, come in to add flourishes such as the sherbet–colored kitchen cabinets and a comic-book shelving unit for the couple’s six-year-old son Finlay’s bedroom, which also benefits from some neat capsule-like beds from design store Habitat.
Perhaps the most stunning result of the collaborative work between Hût and Carver and Carloss is the glass-roofed conservatory, which brings the wood from outdoors inside. It houses many of the couple’s eclectic purchases, such as a foosball table and tabletop Space Invaders. Adding to the quirk factor is a varied collection of taxidermy throughout the home, including the eye-catching stuffed fox who looks out over the valley.
The newly realized Starvecrow Cottage is finished, at least for now, and the family is settling into full-time occupancy with Finlay attending a local grade school and the pair alternating days in their London office. “It is nice to see a place being lived in,” says Whiting. “As an architect there is that awful [experience] where you finish a project and
it looks great, but then you never see it again.” To some, Carver and Carloss might have been the clients from hell. But to Whiting they were inspiring; they have become both friends and office buddies as well as inspiring patrons. He adds, “I suspect our work here may not be entirely over, but that’s the exciting aspect of working with such creative people.”