A site better

Any architect would leap at the chance to design a house in a prime location. Penny Jackson finds two properties entirely at home in their settings
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The Independent Online

Occasionally you come across a house that is not only in a spectacular spot but new, too. While amazed that someone was able to build there at all, you then calculate the chance of it ever coming up for sale as unlikely as winning the lottery.

Occasionally you come across a house that is not only in a spectacular spot but new, too. While amazed that someone was able to build there at all, you then calculate the chance of it ever coming up for sale as unlikely as winning the lottery.

Fortunately, the odds are rather better than that, even if out-of-the-ordinary homes are rare. In terms of position, few could be bettered by two properties that have just come on to the market, one in the middle of Kent woodland and the other on the banks of the Thames in Oxfordshire.

The aptly named Oak House, at Biddenden, Kent, appears to have sprung from its setting as naturally as the trees that surround it. Built 20 years ago on the site of a derelict cottage, it has since merged into the landscape to the extent that the two are intertwined. An open walkway runs around the outside of the house and wooden jetties punctuated with gazebos are suspended over one of numerous ponds, which are fed by a stream.

"Some people have commented on its safari feel," says Michael Coombes, the owner and also the architect. "You expect to find large houses in parkland or a formal garden, not in the middle of woods." When he embarked on the project with his wife Pamela in the 1980s, the timber-frame design was ahead of its time and proved far harder to realise than it would today. "I found it extremely difficult to even find the oak and there were no firms building traditional oak frames. I eventually found an engineer who bolted the timbers together."

Inspired by the concept of the medieval Kent hall-house, it has a huge double-height space which, together with the exposed timbers, decked terraces, African hardwood floors and use of glass, adds up to a strong contemporary look. Among its unusual details is a porte cochère at the front where a car can be unloaded under cover.

The 100ft long roof with its canopy went on first, followed by the rest of the house, which was prefabricated to Coombes's specifications. "If you want to change anything, you just need a chainsaw," he says. "We moved a bedroom to the roofspace and extended the living room. It was simple."

The living room is almost 40ft long with glass walls leading to a raised decked terrace and gazebo. In all, there are six bedrooms; a seventh is used as an office. On the first floor the rooms are connected by a bridge that spans the reception area. The lower ground floor has a separate flat.

But one of the Coombes's favourite rooms is the conservatory that leads from the kitchen to the garden. A robust vine shades it from the sun and the greenery outside gives it an exotic flavour. "Until we were hit by two hurricanes, we had even more trees. It was only after the clearing-up job that we decided to create a garden."

In the 15 acres of land, some trees have given way to bamboo and roses. A wisteria walk leads to the tennis court and there is also a pool and a pool house. And six miles away, in Headcorn, the train service will have you in London in just over an hour.

From Goring-on-Thames, where Peter Handley built his riverside home Cleeve Reach two years ago, Paddington is only 45 minutes away. He never expected to find a plot of land so close to London, least of all in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was originally the site of an old cottage belonging to Pete Townsend of the Who.

"It is a wonderful position and when I saw an advertisement for a Huf House I knew that it was the kind of house I was looking for," Handley recalls. The distinctive German-made house was shipped to the UK and put together on site. Its post-and-beam construction eradicates the need for load-bearing walls, which makes it possible to have large open internal spaces. "All the principal rooms overlook the river and as the house faces west, it is particularly lovely in the evening when the setting sun hits the water and reflects on the ceiling," says Handley. The four first-floor bedrooms have high vaulted ceilings and a balcony either overlooking the river or woodland. "Something that I have come to appreciate is how well the design fits in with it setting." An old sail loft sits on piers in the water at the foot of the garden and can be used as a studio, office or even a playroom.

Handley says the only sound is the noise of the weir, "rather like a continuous wave. Occasionally you hear the megaphone coach of a an eight rowing down river, but we're in a back water behind the lock."

Even though the house is only feet away from the river it is not in danger of being flooded. "The flood plain is opposite us. The only thing I can't have is a cellar," Handley says. A small price to pay, perhaps.

Cleeve Reach is selling for £1.65m through FPDSavills: 01491 843000

The Oak House is £1.475m through the same agents on 01580 720161 and with Calcutt Maclean Standen: 01580 713250