Architect Paul Archer has made a career of adapting and extending historic English houses for dozens of clients in and around London. But when his mother and stepfather decided to move out of their 17th-century stone farmhouse, they wanted him to start from scratch to achieve, as he puts it, “something modern and low-maintenance.” Making a tall order more vertiginous still, they also wanted zero-carbon energy demands and to have plenty of space to garden.
Doing their bit, Fred and Edna Wadham found a peaceful site in a wooded village outside Bristol, in southwest England. There, Archer elected to put the house at the center of the lot and to place large windows facing the surrounding landscape in every direction. With the advice of his sister, Sally Merrett, an environmental scientist, and the engineers at Downie Consulting, Archer also installed a range of energy-saving solutions like thermally efficient glass for those big windows, specially designed shutters, heavy-duty insulation, a wood-burning and electric stove, thermal and photovoltaic solar panels, and a heat-recovery ventilation system. Now the Wadhams, though still connected to the grid, give back more energy than they use.
The most prominent feature of the house is its striking exterior, covered in shining aluminum panels. This skin, though initially quite polished, will eventually weather and dull and is meant to help the house blend with the landscape by reflecting its leafy environs.
Now installed in their new home, the retired Wadhams are busy planting seven types of garden (from bog to floral to vegetable patch), as well as entertaining friends and family in their light-filled, open-plan, indoor-outdoor spaces. “This was our dream house,” says Edna of the design that takes best advantage of the natural setting while also working to preserve the environment. That it was a family effort makes it even more satisfying. As Fred puts it, “If you have clever children, you might as well put them to good use.”
Phyllis Richardson is the blogger behind Archetcetera and is a writer of books on architecture and design and of occasional literary exploits. Books include the XS series, New Sacred Architecture, House Plus, the Style City volumes on London and Paris, and Designed for Kids. She contributes architecture and design features to the print versions of the Financial Times Weekend and The Plan.
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