old bearhurst

Grand Designs

Precision Planned-Contemporary extension to an oast house in the East Sussex countryside

Creating a home that will grow with you is a challenge, especially within the confines of an old building, such as this oast house and barn in East Sussex. Previous occupants had expanded the property with dormer windows and a lean-to kitchen-diner, but the current owners took a more radical approach, stripping it hack and adding a new annex to the side in order to create a more flexible family space.

'‘They’re a growing family, so they wanted to make sure the house could adapt, and they also wanted it to embrace its setting better,’ says their architect, Joe Morris from Duggan Morris Architects. The new extension adds 300 square metres of living space and is oriented to take in views of surrounding meadows and woods. It has a south-facing kitchen-diner and seating area by the entrance, two bedrooms upstairs, and a gym, playroom and study to the side - these could be converted into extra bedrooms later. The refurbished oast and barn also has two bedrooms and a living room.

Planning permission was hard won and drawn out. 'The house is on green belt land, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, meaning that Duggan Morris Architects had to argue their case with a forensic understanding of the site’s transition from agricultural to residential use (the oast house was converted into a dwelling in the Eighties), and prove that they were adding something of exceptional design quality. They also hired a well-regarded local planning consultant, which Morris says was invaluable. The proposal went all the way to a planning committee, which voted unanimously in its favour.

The annex is part submerged to keep its height below the eaves of the oast house, and it is built within the footprint of the outbuildings that used to be on the site. However, the architects were also careful not to make it too apologetic. Cladding the entire addition, including the roof, in the same timber gives it a more sculptural quality, reminiscent of corrugated agricultural buildings in the area, while its vertical arrangement sets it apart from the horizontal cladding used on the barn. ‘In a way, the annex is a soft barn, which speaks of the area’s agricultural history,’ says Morris. ‘We had to find the right balance between the complement and the contrast.’

Construction - including the work on the existing barn and oast house- took about a year and a quarter, and the result is a model for contemporary rural renovation. ‘It shows how a building can respond to its site, but be confident about itself,’ says Morris.

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