Buy Of The Week: Wiltshire

A modern live-work barn that is so secluded, you won't even need curtains. Chris Arnot reports
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The Independent Online

Imagine a house with a plywood exterior and floors of uncarpeted concrete or PVC. The kitchen is what an estate agent would call "compact", albeit ingeniously fitted with all mod cons, and is divided from the living-dining area by a large, illuminated cupboard made from the sort of polycarbonate sheeting more commonly found on conservatory roofs. All this could be yours for upwards of £625,000. Interested?

Well, perhaps you might be if you want live-work accommodation with low maintenance and energy costs, designed by the two architects who happen to live and work there currently. Hans and Paula Klaentschi have his'n'hers studios, one on top of the other, and Long Barn has been described as their 21st-century re-interpretation of the rural tradition.

What informs the building's design is its sheltered, secluded setting in 1.4 acres of Wiltshire - part wildflower meadow, part smallholding, part developing woodland. At the highest point, the Klaentschis' land borders the great sweep of Salisbury Plain, a favoured training ground for the Army. "Although the military are about," Paula concedes, "they're not on our doorstep. You can go out for a long walk without having to duck."

From up here, just two roofs can be spotted through the treetops. Yet the village of Berwick St James, with its traditional cottages and fine pub, is just at the end of a gently curving drive. Stonehenge is three miles away, Salisbury 10 miles and London an hour and 20 minutes by car or train. Not that Long Barn was designed with commuters in mind. Quite the opposite. Apart from two spacious studios, the property includes a study with an enormous window and a large, open ground-floor area, which could be anything you want it to be - studio, office space, exhibition space or a sizeable garage.

There's also a workshop, separated from the main house by a grassy area over which hens and geese roam freely. Inside are 60 square metres of workspace, including a long bench that runs the whole length of the building, and a wood-burning stove. The Klaentschis' two sons, Max, 18, and Thomas, 19, keep in here the motorbikes on which they like to go dirt-track riding on the adjoining bridleways.

Environmental concerns are a priority for both architects. When they moved here from Bath more than 10 years ago, the site was occupied by a 1950s, Festival-of-Britain bungalow that turned out to be liberally lined with asbestos. "We demolished it, designed two houses that we sold off-plan and, from the proceeds, we built Long Barn four years ago," says Paula. "We put a lot of money, effort and thought into it," Hans says. "And love," Paula continues. "This will appeal to somebody who wants a house that's striking but environmentally sound."

They used timber from renewable sources. The plywood cladding is hardly weathered after four years, protected as it is by eaves that jut out and act like a shower curtain. Below the eaves are glazed slots designed to admit shafts of sunlight in imaginative ways. The house becomes like a giant sundial during the day - you can tell the time by the length of shadows playing on internal walls and the ceiling - and an observatory by night. Unpolluted skies over Salisbury Plain are clearly visible through glass panels that run along the entire length of the slate roof.

Those panels also allow the sun to beam down on the concrete floors. "We only need to have the under-floor heating on for about half an hour in the winter," Paula says, "because there's a solar gain which the concrete absorbs and holds on to." During the summer months, temperatures are moderated by a cross ventilation system and shading from the deciduous trees beyond the windows.

There are no curtains. "Nobody can see in because the site is totally secluded," says Paula. No carpets either. The Klaentschis apparently believe that concrete, like other materials, should be celebrated for itself and not just for its heat-absorbtion qualities.

Any greyness is offset by white walls and the decorative blue internal woodwork that runs the length of the building, like struts supporting a barn roof, binding its disparate parts together. Storage units and a wood-burning oven stand out in stark and striking black. The PVC floors upstairs, including in the gallery bedroom, are also black.

The "garden" will appeal to anyone who doesn't particularly want to spend time wielding shears and pushing mowers. It's really a wildflower meadow, packed with dock and meadowsweet, buddleia and butterflies, and spilling out of a slight slope at the far side of Long Barn. "The whole idea is to invite nature to blend with the house," says Hans.

He and Paula are taking the opportunity of their sons' imminent departure to university to set out on a new venture on the south coast. Their legacy here on Salisbury Plain is a building that has been informed by its surroundings rather than one that strives too hard to dictate to them.

Get the spec

What's for sale: Environmentally friendly live-work accommodation with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and two studios.

Serious kit: Under-floor heating, glass roof panels for extra sunlight, moonlight and star-gazing opportunities.

How big? 300sq m set in 1.4 acres of Wiltshire countryside.

Extras: Large, flexible ground-floor space to be developed. Separate workshop, 60 metres square.

Buy it: Long Barn. Guide price £625,000. Tel. 01722-790070 or 07745-597157.

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