A Modern English Country House Inspired by Local Agricultural Traditions

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Tour an incredible country estate in Kent, England, that takes after traditional hop-drying towers and was just named the 2017 “House of the Year” by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

James Macdonald Wright of Macdonald Wright Architects teamed up with Niall Maxwell of Rural Office for Architecture to create a sustainable estate home for a three-generational family in the English countryside. 

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When developing the site layout and material and color palettes for the 1,450-square-foot house, Wright studied the specifics of Kentish oast barn houses, or 18th-century heritage buildings with distinctive conical roofs that were used for kilning hops. 

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Maxwell altered the geometry of the oast barn model to create a contemporary design with a configuration of oast roof clusters positioned around a hidden inner courtyard. 

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For the striking roofs, 150,000 handmade peg tiles from Sussex were installed on a CLT structure with a wood-fiber insulation. 

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Other locally sourced building materials include ragstone for the walls, chestnut cladding, and terra-cotta tiles. 

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Located within 84 acres of what was once an ancient forest in Kent known as Caring Wood, the architects embraced the site’s context and heritage and requested the planting of more than 25,000 mixed native trees, wildflowers, and a cherry orchard, in the hopes of returning the site back to its original woodland condition. 

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They then came up with a blueprint for a flexible and carbon-neutral home that will accommodate the large three-generational family as they evolve and grow. 

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"The client wanted the form of the house to reflect the notion of the family’s interdependence and independence through a ‘four-in-one’ and ‘four-and-one’ geometrical concept," says Maxwell. 

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So, Wright and Maxwell came up with the concept of four equal and pronounced forms, set up in a pinwheel formation around an inner courtyard. 

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Following Frank Lloyd Wright's dictum that "No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill—belonging to it," the architects located the house on the edge of the site’s hill, and rotated it to create continuously shifting views and perspectives. 

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From within the house, the soaring roofs make grand gestures and allow for multiple skylights, the largest of which shines on a monumental staircase that descends from the grand mezzanine of the house to the lower living areas.

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The house has an art gallery and musical recital space with a grand piano and seating for more than 50 guests. It also houses intimate family rooms and modest-sized bedrooms. 

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The various rooms have different scales, but thanks to a simple, minimalist aesthetic, both large and small spaces have similar calming atmospheres. This allows them to harmonize well and flow seamlessly together while offering beautiful views of the woodlands outdoors.  

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Designed as a serene and contemplative "skyspace," the internal courtyard, with its terra-cotta pavement and pond, is a hidden spot that's devoid of all views of the surrounding landscape—with only a view to the sky overhead. 

The architects also created a separate estate manager’s cottage that follows the oast-roof and ragstone-wall language of the main house.  

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Project Credits: 

- Architecture: James Macdonald Wright of Macdonald Wright Architects and Niall Maxwell of Rural Office for Architecture 

- Builder: Cardy Construction 

- Structural and Civil Engineering: Price & Myers

- Landscape Design: Spacehub

- Sound Engineering: Neill Woodger Acoustics and Theatre Design  

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