Breathing new life into a 400-year-old home

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Jeremy King is an up-and-coming British architect who specialises in seamlessly blending the old with the new. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the award-winning extension he designed for his own mother's house - the Grade II listed timber-framed Pound Cottage in the village of Benington near Stevenage in Hertfordshire. This dates from 1578 and is two cottages knocked into one, with its own substantial back garden and occupying a lovely spot overlooking the green.

Jeremy knew the house well, having grown up in it. "My understanding of how the circulation of the house should work came through living there," he says.

There had been concerns about low ceilings, poor lighting and clogged layout since his parents moved there in 1987. "The original cottages were linear in plan," explains Jeremy. "They followed what the French call an enfilade layout, which means there are no hallways as such and the rooms open up sequentially, one after the other."

The problem had been slightly alleviated by some previous owners, who installed a glass passageway along the back of the house. This helped link the rooms, or "unlock the house" as Jeremy puts it, but still only partially succeeded in solving the blocked circulation problem. In particular, Jeremy thought, the kitchen was in the wrong placeat the side of the house, gloomy and "out on a limb".

The solution Jeremy eventually hit on was an extension he describes as a "barn". "The challenge was to design a building that was contemporary without being in-your-face modern," he says. "I wanted something new that echoed the rural vernacular."

He achieved this largely through his choice of materials - timber and glass. "I use these materials together quite a lot as I find they straddle the divide between being familiar and contextual while exuding a contemporary edge." The building is principally constructed of western red cedar ribbed with iroko hardwood. Because the cedar is untreated, it is quite a bright russet, but this will fade into a silvery grey more in keeping with the main body of the house.

Plans had long been afoot to extend. Soon after the Kings bought the house they commissioned a firm of local architects to come up with some ideas. Plans were drawn up and permission obtained but the project languished for many years.

Jeremy, meanwhile, had qualified as an architect in his own right. He had also become increasingly interested in the modernist style while working for the Hudson Featherstone partnership - principally known for the futuristic Baggy Hall on the north coast of Devon. Jeremy stayed with them for several years before setting up his own west London-based practice in 2002.

The idea of designing an extension for Pound Cottage was subsequently revived. They dug up the old plans and Jeremy began poring over them. He approved some of the points, in particular the resolve to build the extension on the site of a former garage - derelict but lending symmetry to the house and serving to partially screen it from the village green.

However, he wasn't happy with much of the original design and felt not enough attention had been paid to maximising light. So, he tweaked and adapted and got back in touch with the planning authority. The upshot of this was to relegate the existing kitchen to the status of utility room and to replace it with a new one incorporated into a 60sqm wing parallel to the drive. The entry point to this was a new front door opening into a single-storey glass vestibule which connected to the glass passageway at the back of the house.

A new garage was installed to the rear of the wing as well as a sheltered veranda area overlooking the back garden. However, the star turn was the kitchen, linked to the body of the house by the glass vestibule.

"I had come to realise that the kitchen needed to be positioned next to the garden," says Jeremy. The garden had become an integral part of the house with its east-facing terrace directly accessed through the kitchen's french windows.

The windows, like the outer walls, were latticed with iroko strips. "It's a way of disguising the glass," says Jeremy. "Rather than having big shouting apertures, I wanted to incorporate larger areas of glass into the elevation but in a disguised way. I like the way the timber-cladding of the barn is echoed in the wooden strips across the windows."

Inside, too, the kitchen is bathed in light. Huge arc lights hang from its vaulted ceiling while a south-facing oriel window has been added above the vestibule to let in yet more sunlight.

To the opposite side of the kitchen from the French windows, meanwhile, slit observation windows and a ventilation shaft above the customised units enable Jeremy's mother to indulge her twin passions of smoking cigarettes and keeping a watchful eye on her neighbours at the same time.

The Kings are delighted with the extension. "It's breathed new life into the place," says Jeremy. "It has altered our relationship to the house and the way it is used. It has corrected the circulation and all the internal spaces now feel properly balanced. The new kitchen has become the living heart of the house."

Apart from scooping a prestigious RIBA award for the project, it seems to have marked out Jeremy's future career as a specialist in designing tasteful modernist extensions to historically sensitive buildings.

"What gives me the greatest architectural satisfaction is incorporating the best elements of modern design - especially use of space and light - within older buildings. It's always such a challenge but when you get it right it can be immensely rewarding."

Jeremy King Architects, 020-8896 1195. E-mail: