It is not surprising anymore to see the number of minimalist house extensions that get built in London and pretty much around the UK. This includes the painstaking restoration and refurbishment of grade-listed structures that incorporate the old and and the new in a meaningful way that is well-designed and sustainable. In a country that has a long history and is steeped in tradition, it is exciting to see this forward-thinking conversion of old barns, mills, towers, and other agricultural buildings into habitable and sustainable residences. Is it the culture or society in the UK that seem to have a genuine interest in architectural minimalism? Considering that the definition of architectural minimalism is very subjective, I can name a handful of award-winning UK architects whose stunning minimalist designs are quite similar to one another in a positive and responsive way. They have an understanding of marrying existing traditional spaces with contemporary spaces that are airy and spacious yet intimate for social interaction. Perhaps this is why Londoners seek comfort with the idea of connecting with the outdoors while being indoors at the same time than building an addition that loses that connection.
I became enamored with architectural minimalism when I saw an article on Dwell magazine about a residential project in Kew, just outside of London, by Gregory Phillips Architects. (This was around the same time I took an interest in the work of British architectural designer John Pawson, who is known for designing monastic spaces using a minimal material palette of smooth, white plastered walls, wide Douglas Fir hardwood planking, natural limestone wash basins and full-height glazing. His recognized body of work include the Calvin Klein flagship store in NY and the Novy Dvur monastery in the Czech Republic.) I absolutely love how these minimalist glass pavilions extend from beyond the footprint of existing 19th century brick structures, creating a dialogue between traditional and modern, indoor and outdoor spaces. For these house extensions, the location of the open-plan kitchen and informal living room are often situated in the rear of the house where the glazed curtain walls open all the way to blur the boundary between inside and outside. And this is considered a luxury to have, especially when the weather is nice in the UK, where it receives an average of 34 inches of rain a year and raining one third of the time. The extensions are not noticeable at first glance when entering upon the vestibule of a typical Edwardian home. The aperture out back suddenly comes into full view as you make your way past the wainscoted staircase hall and formal salon.
One project that is high on my list is Home Farm, a grade II listed country estate in Gloucestershire by De Matos Ryan Architects. Suffering from years of neglect, the 16th century farmhouse and the two outbuildings required a complete restoration of internal exposed stonework, timber-framed lath, plaster walls and ceilings, extensive repairs to the original lime mortar repointing, and replacement of windows from a previous renovation to match the original traditional lead windows. A single level contemporary glass pavilion with a butterfly roof is cut into a sloping hillside and connects the main house with the outbuildings to an open barn structure. This link, which runs parallel with the stone retaining wall for the upper level churchyard, houses an open-plan kitchen and informal living room along with a guest bedroom and bath and an underground tunnel to the main house. A separate stone building was extended to make room for a concealed garage with a green roof and a home office on the upper level.
Contemporary interventions which involved both wooden and concrete stairways, bathrooms, doors, cabinetry, 3-sided glass corridor, and other joinery were designed to be carefully ‘inserted’ into the shell of the existing structures. Natural limestone, oak timbers, and slate roofing were selected to match the original building materials so that the extension reads as part of the whole.