by Jincy Iype, Anmol AhujaOct 13, 2021
Holding sustainability at its core, Stonecrop by Featherstone Young sprouts in a two-wing strategy as a spirited dwelling crowned with a striking folded and faceted green roof. Blissfully grazing the edge of an English village in UK’s Rutland, East Midlands, the 347 sqm house accommodates a client couple in the larger, main wing, and their visiting friends and family in the other discreet one. The natural roof spirals around and unifies the sloping twin volumes, rising from the surrounding slanted landscape, and encircling a central open courtyard.
The clients are two recently retired doctors who tasked Featherstone Young to create a contemporary home that kept sustainability at its heart and spoke to the garden and the wider landscape. The plot of land was originally occupied by a plant nursery on the outskirts of the village, and they wanted their home to be designed with a reasonably open plan.
As the site rests within a conservation area, building in the village proved to be challenging as it straddled the settlement boundary and was deemed small and poorly serviced. "The design is chiefly a response to the conditions of the site - prevailing weather, preventing overlooking from neighbours, and making the most of views of the landscape. We also, however, wanted the building to appear as part of the landscape - hence the form of the green roof rising out of the ground and the rough stone spine wall and other local materials," shares the firm based in London and Brecon.
"The building occupies a site on the edge of the village, and we did not want it to appear like a typical house spreading the boundaries of the village but more like an element of landscape spreading in. It demonstrates that it is possible to design new housing carefully and strategically in a rural village context without adding to the linear sprawl extending out along roads, thereby protecting and enhancing the surrounding countryside,” says Sarah Featherstone, Director, Featherstone Young.
"We are interested in how people inhabit and use buildings and the spaces around them and their stories. We like to work closely with our clients and the wider community to understand the social context as well as undertaking thorough historical and topographical research to generate designs. Making these narratives apparent in our projects is important to us,” adds Featherstone, who accomplishes the same with the consistent form and essence of Stonecrop.
The principal wing of the residential architecture is made of a 'buffer' wall of textured dry-stone wall of local Clipsham limestone. The exposed site is combatted by Stonecrop’s good thermal mass and minimal openings that ensure privacy and climatic protection. Drawing heavily from its topographical landscape, the contextual design also gets its name from the cropped stone supplied from a local quarry. Using the local stone to dress both its insides and skin reinforces this relationship with the land further.
The guest wing is also constructed from the same stone, with a slight contrast in the form of a smooth ashlar finish and larger fenestrations. A more refined white wall crosses diagonally through the house from the inside out, to draw the sloped volumes together, slicing the plan into two triangular wings. Each chunk pitches its planted green roof in the opposite direction, “as if the field has been lifted up and the house inserted beneath”. The two distinct wings ensure that the dwelling can grow or retract according to the number of guests - when the guest wing is not in use it does not need to be heated and there is no wastage of energy.
The green roof evolved from the sloping landscape, to rise and cloak the main wing, its genesis at one end of the diagonal wall, with the low entrance porch, culminating in the double-height living spaces at the other end, to face the southern scenery. "The two-wing design provides a strategy for energy efficiency, whereby only the main wing is heated for day-to-day living, and the guest wing can be opened up only when required, to accommodate up to six people in three guest bedrooms,” shares Featherstone Young.
The two forms that kiss the ground to meet each other supply a story of the ground tilting itself so the house can slip and rest underneath. The planted roof touches the earth at places, to rise and accommodate the house's functions. "The roof of the main wing rises with the fall of the land but more steeply, the smaller wing counter-balances it and rises the other way round, expressing the two-wing concept,” shares Featherstone.
Instead of just emerging in one pitch, the firm introduces facets and folds to ensure variety, personality, and expression, in conversation with the different spaces it houses underneath. The roof starts low over the entrance hall, to imperceptibly rise to double height over the south-facing, main living spaces which are blessed with the best views over the meadow.
The open plan main wing features silky red partition walls that double up as furniture pieces that do not meet the faceted ceiling, “leaving it unencumbered and visually expressive". It saunters up and down to create headroom over stairs, mezzanine levels and maximise views of the morning and south natural light flooding into the space.
A ramp leads one to the front door that sits discreet, facing the village. The faceted ceiling sits low of the entrance hall, emphasising the drama of the slowly rising roof as one walks through the house. Four steps from here ascend into the open plan kitchen and dining area, and another four takes you up to the main living room with the ceilings reaching its maximin height. A music and weaving room await off the living space, and above that rests a winding stair through a secret door leading into the study, with fully panoramic views of the countryside.
The interior design is arranged as a spatial drama that sets dialogue with the landscape, with a fluid, open plan that responds to the demands of communal activities while maintaining privacy. A cedar-clad ceiling follows the roof’s sloped profile, circling over the main living rooms and mounting to the double-height spaces and highly glazed south views. The roof is also planted with Sedum to merge effortlessly into the context.
The massive dry-stone wall facing the north-west acts as a thermal buffer, countering the massively glazed walls and roof overhangs to the south and south-east aspects which harbour solar gain in winters, apart from abundant natural light and ventilation. Natural materials of timber and stone dress the surfaces, floors and most of the furniture, chosen for their hardwearing and long-lasting properties and to inject warmth and texture to the open plan space.
A courtyard forms at the hub of the two wings of the residential design, providing much needed cross ventilation to the main living spaces, along with connecting both wings. Leading to a petite domestic garden that widens onto a wildflower meadow lying south of Stonecrop, the circular courtyard also becomes a secluded retreat perfect for al fresco dining, protected from the prevailing south- westerly winds.
The double height main living room houses a library and study that huddle under the peak of the rising timber ceiling, to elicit magnificent views of the meadow and surrounding farmland. The spaces outside were designed by the neighbour and the original landowner, landscape architect John Dejardin, “to complement the playful rising forms of the house,” adds the design team.
The highest level of the home has been dubbed with an eyrie, to cater to the client’s fondness for trees, fashioning a relaxed atmosphere of being nestled among treetops. Cantilevering off the stone buffer wall along with several other projecting pods and stone features that follow an elevated trajectory with the treehouse-like snug room at its highest point, that seems to fly off into the woods and beyond. The main bedroom of the principal block sits on the lower ground floor, while three guest bedrooms occupy the other wing on the ground and first level.
“What I love about the house is the surprises you find as you walk round the house - the unfolding of the timber clad ceiling, the hidden ’eyrie’ nestling high up in the trees and the secret door leading to a study with the most spectacular views across the countryside,” Featherstone chips in. “Releasing overlooked sites such as these helps keep villages compact and distinct, and kicks against the usual housing development we see sprawling into the countryside. This, coupled with the house’s two-wing strategy, makes for a more sustainable approach to building in rural settings,” she continues.
Having amassed the RIBA East Midlands Award 2021, RIBA East Midlands Project Architect of the Year 2021 sponsored by Taylor Maxwell, RIBA East Midlands Sustainability Award 2021, sponsored by Michelmersh and RIBA East Midlands Building of the Year Award 2021, Stonecrop also impresses with its heavily insulated form that is designed to benefit from thermal gain without overheating. A ground source heat pump augmented by a woodfired stove with a back boiler helps heat the house, while solar thermal panels are employed for the hot water system.
“We love the combination of open space and discrete private areas, the use of different levels and the relationship with garden and meadow. The house is full of unexpected views and surprises, and the external character of the house changes dramatically from every viewpoint. Every day we enjoy the effect of the contoured faceted cedar ceiling which rises and folds as you enter the house,” relay the house owners Matthew and Nicky Lyttelton who desired a residence with areas that could be closed off when family members were not staying.
Location: Rutland, East Midlands, United Kingdom
Gross Internal Area: 347 sqm
Client: Matthew and Nicky Lyttelton
Architect: Featherstone Young
Design Team: Jeremy Young, Sarah Featherstone, Iris Papadatou
Structural Engineer: Conisbee
Quantity Surveyor: Burke Hunter Adams
Landscape Architect: John Dejardin
Building Contractor: John Perkins Projects Ltd and Peter Wallis