Bungalows: The other side of the storey

Not all bungalows are created equal. In a Victorian walled garden in rural Sussex, Penny Jackson finds a design that takes its lead from Mies van der Rohe
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As you push through a gate in the old garden wall you might expect to find a rather ancient rustic building, given the setting. Instead you find yourself walking on a decking bridge over a pool of water to confront a long, stunning but simple house with a panoramic view over the Sussex countryside.

Finding this spot took the owners of the house, Pam and Alan Murray, five years of solid searching. They knew that the house they were set on building could only work on an exceptional site, and when the walled kitchen garden that was once part of Tottingworth Park, in Broad Oak, east Sussex, came up for sale, they seized the chance to build their vision of a glass house. The plot already had planning consent for the removal of the old glasshouses and the building of a bungalow. They took a gamble that this vision would be shared by the planners.

It paid off and finally they were able to start on the project that was inspired by Mies van der Rohe's 1929 Barcelona Pavilion and by the Modernist work in the 1960s of Michael Manser, the architect with a prestigious architectural award - the Manser Medal - named in his honour.

"We fell in love with Manser's glass pavilion but had no experience of living in one," says Pam. "But when we found the Victorian walled garden facing virtually due south we knew would never find a better spot. The concept of the design was Manser's and we took it from there."

Indeed the Murrays were doggedly purist in their objective of creating a simple glass envelope. They resisted all suggestions of how the design could be tweaked with a contemporary twist. "We wanted it to be timeless so that in years to come it would not be recognised as being from a particular period. We were looking for simplicity and elegance," explains Pam.

The old walled kitchen gardens have proved to be the perfect foil for the interlocking glass pavilions. On the south side, double glazing has replaced the Victorian glasshouses along the richly coloured, weathered brick wall which has taken on new purpose at the centre of the house.

Openings into the potting sheds and garden stores on the north side of the wall now serve as entrances to three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a utility room, with garages and store rooms at each end. A wall of opaque glass forms one side of the 60ft long corridor which runs parallel to the old brick wall dividing off the secondary accommodation the other side.

In the heart of the house, looking out over an area designated of outstanding natural beauty, the main bedrooms and shower rooms are divided from the sitting room, dining room, kitchen and study by similarly effective use of opaque glass. While this has maintained the clean simple lines of the structure it also creates a tremendous feeling of light. This has been one of the real joys of the house according to Pam. "It isn't just the light, it's the shadows and reflection you get."

From the start of the building project that took 15 months and was finished in 2002, the Murrays took charge. Their combined expertise (Pam works in fashion design and Alan is the construction director for a steel company) and unwavering attention to detail is apparent throughout the house. "We value the quality of good workmanship. Even the screw heads all face north-south. I joke that it stops the dust collecting but it isn't until you see the overall effect of that sort of detail that you can appreciate why it matters to set high standards."

One of the unknowns of being surrounded by so much glass was how they would cope in extreme temperatures. Last month, during the hottest days on record, the house rose to the challenge. During the summer the sun barely penetrates the living area because of a specially designed roof overhang, and the automatic opening and closing roof vents pick up the prevailing winds that the Murrays had counted on. "But in winter the sun floods in and warms the slate floor which retains the heat and stops the underfloor heating from coming in," Pam adds.

The 4,000sqft house has scored an energy efficiency SAP rating of 96, which is high even for modern conventional residential buildings. The double glazing incorporates low "e" glass which stops the transmission of heat through the glass. Outside, traces of the old kitchen gardens are still apparent. The site is on three levels, with the house sitting on the upper terrace overlooking the two lower gardens which were used for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers for the estate. The gardener's bothy in the west wall has been restored and has its own south-facing decked terrace.

But perhaps one of the most unusual spots the Murrays might choose for relaxing is the reflecting pool set into the decking terrace. "It doesn't look it but it is shallow enough for garden furniture so that we can eat there on hot days. We got the idea when we were staying with friends in the US who put the lunch table in a stream," Pam explains.

After almost five years in their glass envelope, which is now for sale at a price of £1 million, has it lived up to expectations? "I can honestly say that it's even better than we expected. My only regret," adds Pam, "is that we could never experience the moment when you walk through the gate and see the house for the first time."

Tottingworth Park Gardens is for sale through Jackson-Stops & Staff: 020-7664 6646 or london@jackson-stops.co.uk