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By Jonathan Bell
Incredibly, it's still a struggle to build contemporary architecture in the British countryside. Even for those with the requisite combination of acreage and investment, the process is often a long, hard slog through bureaucratic box-ticking and the occasional reactionary neighbour.
This new project by London-based architects Duggan Morris was designed from the outset to bring a very modern sensibility to a rural setting. It helps, of course, that the project began life as a refurbishment, albeit one that quickly expanded into a comprehensive reconstruction and extension.
Set within a seven-acre site in an area of officially designated natural beauty, the building started life as an oast house, a quirk of the vernacular of this part of South-eastern England. Originally designed as a space for drying hops, these brick structures - frequently circular roundels - with their pointed white cowels, are a familiar site in Kent and Sussex, the vast majority of them having been converted into eccentric residences.
The project not only involved restoring the brick built barn and roundels, but also the construction of a new annex to accommodate the demands of a client needing family space, work rooms, and a sizeable garage, all the while ensuring the new house would fit in with the surrounding landscape, views, existing architecture and stipulations of the planners.
In the wrong hands, such a complex set of demands would result in something akin to the sprawling rural smallholding, but there's nothing remotely adhoc or agricultural about the end result. Old Bearhurst has several faces, the old and new united by the crisp restoration and loving preservation of the original structures, and the precise intersection between brick, wood and concrete, with the latter used for floors and work surfaces, while expansive glazed walls open onto grassy meadows. The careful detailing eschews skirtings, gutters and other extraneous details, forming a truly modern set of spaces.
The annex massively increases the available accommodation, creating a sprawling house of over 400 sq m, including bedrooms, a playroom, study, gym, kitchen and living spaces, all on top of a subterranean garage. The master bedroom suite is tucked away on the first floor of the original structure, with an additional bedroom formed from the circular space of an oast house (the other houses a stair). Downstairs, the annex reaches out to the west, encompassing a sizeable new living area, new kitchen, playroom and study, as well as the garage block to the north.
A series of courtyards and patios intersect with the kinked roofline of the annex, allowing for sheltered views across between different parts of the house in addition to the far-reaching views across the expansive site. Two additional bedrooms are located above the garage, which is dug down into the landscape.
Old Bearhurst is an expansive project, but one that avoids ostentation and takes care to minimize its impact on the surroundings. A rigorous environmental strategy ensures maximum energy efficiency with plenty of room for future upgrades, like solar panels and wind power, and the end result is a future-proof country houses that doesn't turn its back on history.
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