Wise acres

Building a contemporary home in the Dorset countryside turned out to be a brilliant idea. Penny Jackson talks to the brothers who created Owls Lodge
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The Independent Online

Owls Lodge has a ring to it. It suits the house in its secluded spot surrounded by trees, but more than that, it captures the spirit of the design. From above, the semi-circular house in green fields looks not unlike a bird in flight, the two low wings of the house spread out either side of a central two-storey core.

Wise acres

Owls Lodge has a ring to it. It suits the house in its secluded spot surrounded by trees, but more than that, it captures the spirit of the design. From above, the semi-circular house in green fields looks not unlike a bird in flight, the two low wings of the house spread out either side of a central two-storey core.

If this description stretches the imagination then it is entirely fitting for a house that was meant to make its mark in the Dorset countryside. Built in the last year, Owls Lodge, near Blandford Forum, is very different from the original plans its owners acquired with the site where there had once stood a farm cottage.

"When we bought it was a pile of rubble between trees," says David Halstead. "A developer had got planning permission for a square box but we knew the setting needed something special." Halstead, in partnership with his brother James, turned to Peter Thompson, a local architect, for inspiration. "We were quite specific. We wanted to create a million and half pound house that was light and spacious with a wow factor. A few days later he came up with some concepts and I still vividly recall the impact of this one. It was different yet it was a classical design with all the golden ratios. It had bits of Nash here and there but was a modern building with lots of glass, big airy spaces and high ceilings."

This is the first building project the Halsteads have undertaken as developers where they have started from scratch: their last was the conversion of a bungalow into a house. Five years ago, bored with jobs in stockbroking and computers they joined forces as developers and had such fun they decided to stay with it.

Every detail of Owls Lodge has preoccupied them, although David Halstead says they have been careful not to impose their own tastes. The house, for instance, is unfurnished and the grounds are not landscaped. Both are to some extent blank canvases with plenty of scope for someone to stamp their own personality on the property. But as it stands the structure makes a simple, strong statement perfectly in keeping with its secluded position.

Built with mellow Bath stone, one of the most striking features are the curved full-height glazed doors that run across the front of the house. They slide neatly to the side while folding concertina style to open the rooms to the outside. Where the central mullion also folds, there are no obstructions at all. "In the summer we would sit at the table, coffee in hand, and invite the world in while watching the sun rising up the drive," recalls David Halstead. "That does sound rather romantic but it is a gorgeous setting."

The rooms to enjoy the main benefit of the glazing are the kitchen/breakfast room and the family cum dining room, which together account for one of the wings and total 60ft in length. There is solid oak flooring throughout and kitchen units have been fitted. At the rear of this area is a large utility room and a study.

In the centre, breaking the single-storey design is the large drawing room with master bedroom and bathroom on the floor above. At the end of the reception room a working fireplace is a focus of the 30ft by 17ft space. Hand carved in stone with a brick interior it is, according to Halstead, "humungous" and guaranteed to draw a fire. At the other end of the room, a pair of casement doors lead out to a paved patio.

An ingenious feature with a hidden purpose has also been added. Next to the fireplace a secret door masquerading as bookshelves injects a quirky note. "In an old house, you might find a door in the panelling but with most of them you can see its outline. We had a very good chippy who suggested a bookcase and he made it so that you cannot see the hinges or any gap."

At present the room on the other side is a study but it could be used for any number of different purposes, likewise the four bedrooms in the other half of the single-storey semi-circle. Throughout the building process, the Halsteads made sure that cabling was installed in such a way as to make the rooms flexible. Power points and sockets can easily be moved. For the interior walls they opted for a German system that is tough and since it doesn't require wet plastering produces a perfect finish. Similarly, German technology proved to be the most suitable for the heavy sliding glass doors.

Buyers at this level of spending would not expect to struggle with a second-rate mechanism, points out Halstead, any more than they would tolerate a poor standard of plumbing.

The bathrooms have underfloor heating and an additional pump ensures hot water is instant. David Halstead is aware that the house has been tailored for a specific market that may be inclined towards traditional country houses; however, contemporary homes of this size are few and far between in rural spots.

Through planning policy the Government is encouraging houses of architectural merit and, where a design is outstanding, should be favoured for planning permission on a greenfield site where it might normally be rejected. This was not a battle the Halsteads had to fight. But at the outset they did wonder whether they would be brave enough to go for something so out of the ordinary.

Now that it is built, Owls Lodge has undoubtedly lived up to the Halsteads first priority - that it should be worthy of its setting.

Owls Lodge is on the market for £1.25m with FPDSavills, 01202 856800, www.fpdsavills.co.uk.

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