A Serene, Charred-Wood Library Punctuates a 17th-Century Home in England

A Serene, Charred-Wood Library Punctuates a 17th-Century Home in England

By Laura Mauk
Topped with a green roof, a minimalist library opens seamlessly to a garden oasis.

When architect George King was commissioned to design a flexible, indoor/outdoor library and living area—named the Reading Room—for the gardens of a 17th-century home set in the countryside of Gloucestershire, England, the priority was to link the design to the home’s original architecture and its surrounding gardens. 

"The original house looks out across a valley, but many of the windows are small, and the clients weren’t able to make the most of their view," King says. "The [new structure’s] large glass doors allow them to enjoy views from the garden year-round—I was keen to make sure the design was distinctive but made a sympathetic nod to the past and the natural materials of the original house."

The garden library that architect George King designed to accompany a 17th-century limestone house and its surrounding gardens in England is clad with charred timber and large glass doors that slide open and connect the structure to the outdoors.

When the glass doors are pocketed, the gardens seem to flow through the library. 

Located two hours west of London in the Stroud Valleys and Cotswolds District, the property is situated on the hillside of Uley Bury, home to an Iron Age fort built in 300 BC and later, a Roman temple. "The clients, a married couple, bought the house more than 40 years ago," King says. "It has been undergoing renovation and restoration ever since." 

King’s clients, who train disability assistance dogs, spend a lot of time in the garden with the dogs. "The previous garden was sloped and didn’t provide much flat, usable space," King says. "The slope was turned into a series of terraces for seating and planting. In order to better integrate the garden with the house, the garden was leveled, and the Reading Room was built on the same level as the lawn."

Two of the glass doors can be opened so that an entire corner of the structure practically disappears, and the residents have the feeling of being outdoors.

The ceramic tile floors continue outside, removing the boundary between the interior and the gardens.

The Reading Room, which abuts the honey-colored Jurassic limestone of the main house, is clad with vertical boards of charred timber. "It was inspired by the black-stained beams and window frames that are traditional to the houses in the area," King says. "I chose charring instead of staining as a natural way to create color and texture and add a protective layer against the weather." The charred timber cladding is interrupted by massive glass doors that slide into pockets behind bookcases, opening a corner and one side of the structure to the gardens. "It becomes like a surreal outdoor library," King says. 

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The library’s charred timber cladding contrasts with the pale limestone of the adjacent existing house.

King worked with London-based designers Harris & Harris to have the custom furniture pieces manufactured locally. "The sculptural forms of the chairs are made from a light plywood that complements the room's interior," the architect says.

On the interior, the ceiling and the walls that aren’t glass are outfitted with birch plywood that references the warm color of the main house’s limestone. "We liked the idea that the whole structure is clad in timber to demonstrate the versatility of the material," King says. "On the outside it’s charred, rough, and dark, while on the inside it’s smooth, warm, and light." The architect selected radiant-heated ceramic tile for the flooring. "The same tiles continue on the exterior, allowing the inside to flow outdoors," says King, who topped the structure with a sedum roof to increase biodiversity and create a woven effect between the architecture and the gardens. "The upper windows of the main house overlook the Reading Room, so it was important that the roof wasn’t forgotten," King says. 

"We designed bespoke, modular furniture for the space that can be reconfigured and moved from the inside to the outside," King says. "As the room is mostly glass, it was important that the furniture look good from all angles."

The Reading Room also exists as a counterpoint to the main house. "Where the house is heavy and solid, the Reading Room is light and airy," King says. "The materials reference the original house without mimicking it."

"Being up against the side of the hill gives the garden a lot of shelter and creates a warm microclimate," King says. "This allows a broad range of local species to flower alongside non-native species such as a lemon and olives trees in pots which can be brought into the Reading Room during the cooler months."

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