A Timber Artist’s Retreat Sprouts Beside a Stone Cottage in England

Studio Weave draws upon traditional craft and contemporary design to create a garden dwelling geared toward creative growth.

Every building has a story to tell—and when we choose to extend or alter a structure, we are adding a new chapter to its tale. This was Studio Weave’s mindset as they set about adding a small timber extension to a stone cottage in Devon, on the southwest coast of England.

"This isn’t just an extension, but part of a process of custodianship of the land and the structure that has been lovingly built by past occupants," explains architect Je Ahn. "Over the decades, it will evolve—and so we created a mini master plan, and all our decisions were made for longevity and sustainability."

The cottage has been on the site for a long time, with various ad hoc extensions and refurbishments taking place between the 1930s and 1990s. The newest extension replaced the garage and utility room at the rear. Like many typical cottages in the area, the structure is built from local stone with timber shutter windows.  

The clients, Tom Baker and Natalie Silk, are no stranger to big-picture thinking. They run the UK record label Eat Your Own Ears, and cofounded the Field Day music festival (although they’re no longer affiliated). "We purchased the cottage seven years ago from owners who had been there for over 35 years," says Natalie. "It allows us a base from where we can work and spend time with our local family and friends, in an area that we care about deeply."

"We found Studio Weave’s work and instantly connected with their designs, feeling their playful, instinctive approach would neatly balance modern design in a natural setting," say the clients, Tom Baker and Natalie Silk. "They worked closely with our builder, David Joyce, to bring the space to life." 

The cottage is located in the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Devon, and the name of the project—Made of Sand—comes from the site’s previous use as a sandpit.  

Beyond a simple escape from city life, the couple’s broader ambition for the project, named Made of Sand, is to run artist residencies where creative friends can draw inspiration from the landscape. With this in mind, they wanted a self-sufficient extension that could be independent from the main cottage. They also sought a firm that could approach the project in relation to the surrounding landscape and embrace local materials and artisans—which they found in Studio Weave.

"Made of Sand balances our signature technical precision in an organic, natural setting," says Je Ahn, director of Studio Weave. "The contrast between materials—old and new, in and out—is foregrounded to create a distinct sense of rest and relaxation in the new spaces." 

The result is a double-story annex, crafted from UK-grown Western Red Cedar and Iroko timber, that gracefully wraps around the existing stone cottage. It’s sympathetic to its surroundings, and the existing built form, yet clearly something new. "We wanted to create a distinction between the old and new, but at the same time not create an extension that was alienating to the surroundings," says Ahn.

The timber fins on the front facade reduce solar glare for the interior, while maintaining a connection to the view. The home also features solar panels, high-performance glazing, plenty of opportunities for natural ventilation, and ample insulation. "The master plan looks at how we can adopt even more sustainable measures in the future," says architect Je Ahn. 

The brief was driven primarily by how the space will be used—and it was essential that it could serve as an independent dwelling. As such, the extension is entered from a separate side entrance that leads into a utility and boot room, with an adjoining bathroom and storage area. This opens into a long, narrow kitchen with integrated cubbies lining the lower half of the wall, with a bedroom and en suite around the corner.

The kitchen allows the extension to function completely separately from the main cottage, and it can be separated from the boot room and utility rooms at the private entrance via a sliding timber partition.

The exposed structure of the ground-floor primary bedroom doubles as shelving; while a large window overlooks the cottage grounds. 

The main cottage can be accessed from two points in the extension: the entry hall and the ground-floor bedroom. This ensures it remains connected, but it can also operate independently depending on the needs of the residents at any given time.

Upstairs lies a living room that doubles as a studio space—and it can also be accessed separately via an external staircase. "It’s about maximizing flexibility and adding the utility required of countryside living, which wasn’t adequately provided by the existing cottage," says Ahn.

Almost every room in the extension has direct access to the outside, so the relationship with the grounds is immediate. In addition, carefully considered windows frame views of the surrounding landscape—especially the large expanse of glass facing the valley in the upper-level living space. "It’s incredibly joyful to see how the views, smells, and emotion of being in the extension changes throughout the different seasons," says architect Je Ahn. "It’s very tranquil, and a retreat in the true sense of the word." 

The extension sits in the shadow of the main cottage, so light was an important consideration. Skylights brighten the interior, and a corner window in the upper-level studio takes advantage of the long, uninterrupted views down the valley. 

Like the exterior—with its graphic timber cladding—the interior celebrates local materials and artisans. Almost every interior surface is clad in Douglas Fir panelling, which evokes a sense of craft with its a golden color and rich grain. The exposed structure and integrated, open storage creates a pleasing visual rhythm of intersecting vertical and horizontal elements in the self-contained extension.

Deep window boxes in the living area double as cosy reading nooks and bench seats that immerse the residents in the landscape. 

On the ground level, this timberwork is complemented by the pamments—traditional floor tiles crafted by hand using local clays from Norfolk; while the upper-level studio and living space is entirely wrapped in timber from floor to ceiling.

"We worked with local joiners and carpenters and locally available materials so we didn’t have to ship materials from far away," says Ahn. "Sustainability was a really key factor, as was our collaboration with makers who are knowledgeable about the surrounding area. We wanted to use these traditional methods in a very modern way."

The extension celebrates traditional artisanal building techniques and local materials. "It’s all about working with what is available locally, and bringing it together to create a finely crafted space," explains architect Je Ahn. "You can feel a human touch throughout that gives the project a sense of warmth and tranquillity." 

Raw terra-cotta pendant lamps, designed by Tom Housden for UK lighting brand Hand & Eye, complement the natural clay finish of the handmade pamments (traditional floor tiles) used on the floor in the boot room and kitchen ,and the warmth of the Douglas fir timber panelling on the walls. 

In the years to come, Tom and Natalie will continue to evolve the property and its garden to host various activities. They’re considering where planting beds could go, and thinking about transforming an existing turkey shed into a usable space.

"We carefully looked at the surrounding landscape and existing buildings in detail and identified areas of opportunity, and how they might unfold in the future," says Ahn. "The clients see this as a place they will continue to return to for the long term."

The external staircase on the eastern side of the extension (which leads to the studio) was built using a traditional stone wall technique, and a local metalworker created the steel balustrade. 

"Made of Sand is a place designed to share with others, including those requiring a creative recharge—not just our own family and friends," says Tom. "It’s a place we feel rested and revived at, and we’re looking forward to seeing others build relationships with both the landscape and local creative organizations in the area." 

The extension is tucked into the bank of the hill to the rear, but at the same time extends out slightly further from the original house. This positioning, combined with generous glazing, offers access to the long view across the landscape.

Floor plan of Made of Sand by Studio Weave

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