Design: One-Storey Wonder
It was a Seventies bungalow in Sussex, without a great deal of style. Now it's been transformed into a family-friendly haven of design. Dominic Bradbury drops in
Saturday 05 July 2008
Sitting in a picture-perfect spot, surrounded by woodland and overlooking a glorious valley landscape, John Carver and Anna Carloss's home rehabilitates the idea of the English bungalow. While in California and Australia, single-level living is a way of life and bound up with notions of designer sophistication, here the bungalow still carries connotations of a very different kind. But Carver and Carloss's low-slung, larch-clad house in East Sussex suggests we should think again and let our imaginations loose on our bungalow stock.
The couple's reinvention of a rather tired Seventies building began as an idea for a weekend escape from their busy London lives, but has since become the family's main home. No wonder, given the tempting scenery, within a quiet enclave bordering Sir Paul McCartney's farmland. The couple first saw the place three years ago, having been tipped off by former Pet Shop Boys' manager Tom Watkins who has a home nearby, and were instantly taken by the setting and the possibilities of turning the house into a modernist-inspired retreat.
"The first reaction was that this was just an amazing place," says Anna Carloss, co-founder, with Carver, of the communications and creative agency, Cunning. "The garden was quite overgrown but we came inside and saw the views, and then went down to see Tom, who told us to put an offer in while we could, as the house was going on the open market the next week. John had left his glasses here and it gave us an excuse to come back – so we came back to the house, agreed the price, had a glass of wine and went back to London."
Carver and Carloss had already met Andrew Whiting of Hut Architecture, who had done some work on the family's former home in London's Primrose Hill. They began a new collaboration on the Sussex house, looking to resuscitate the painted brick bungalow and deal with issues like the lack of insulation and the incongruous neo-Georgian add-on conservatory. They also wanted to create a functioning family home – shared with the couple's son and daughter – along with a great-looking living space that maximised the views and natural light.
"We liked the footprint and the feel of the house, although it would have been a lot cheaper for us to knock the whole house down and start again," says Carver. "When we saw it we knew exactly what we wanted it to look like. We had a vision for the house and the space rather than saying to an architect, here is the house and do what you like. It was more of a collaboration."
That collaboration required a lot of work. "The bungalow had obviously been rather nice when it was first built but had been butchered by previous owners," says the architect Andrew Whiting. "There was no insulation, and condensation running down the walls. Our strategy was to look at how we could make the house better without knocking it down, and so we had the idea of insulating the entire building, roof and walls, and then cladding the whole thing in timber so it blends in to the woodland." Another priority was light and making the most of the views, so skylights were added, windows and doorways enlarged and one brick wall in the living room replaced by sheets of glass to open the house up to the landscape. The existing conservatory – set in a gap within the overall envelope of the house – was taken away and replaced with a glass family room, set flush with the exterior walls for a neat, crisp outline.
Within, the house was even more of a team effort, with the designer/maker Neil Jolliffe working on bespoke elements such as the kitchen, bathrooms and many pieces of furniture, including the dining table and book shelves. Having stripped the bungalow right back, underfloor heating was coated in a low-maintenance polished concrete finish and the layout kept as fluid and flexible as possible. "The whole idea was for it to be really user-friendly," says Carver. "We didn't want to be precious with it, saying don't step on the carpet, don't make a mess ... We wanted something that you could just mop through."
Six bedrooms were cut down to four to make space for a dressing room and en suite bathrooms. A semi-separate guest area has been created to one side to allow visitors some privacy, while in the garden John Carver's 1971 Excella Airstream caravan has space for another four people.
Now that Carver and Carloss have given up London living, work patterns have also changed, with more work done at home. At present this usually means laptops on the dining table.
Hut are now designing a new garden studio for Carver and Carloss, made of log-filled steel gabions, offering a more flexible working space. A pool is also being added in the garden, as the family settle themselves fully into a new kind of rural living in a radically reconfigured country home.
"There is a sophisticated simplicity to what we do and this was an example of a simple country home in a way," says Hut's Andrew Whiting. "There's nothing hugely fancy about it. It's a simple form and simple to live in."
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