'The design is the easy bit' - Giles Kime asks Hugh Petter his secret to transforming a home from old to new.
Written by Giles Kime, Country Life July 2023
The benefit of hindsight. Hugh Petter's transformation of a house in Jersey demonstrates how a deep understanding of local architectural traditions is the secret to creating a seamless blend of old and new, finds Giles Kime.
'The design is the easy bit,' says Hugh Petter with a sideways grin. 'Perhaps the greatest challenge when maximising the opportunities presented by any house, old or new, is to develop an understanding of the architectural traditions of its location.' He's poring over the heritage statement that informed the transformation of Meadow Farm into a home that offers plenty of room for a sociable couple, as well as an artful blend of old and new. 'The five-bay listed house was pretty, but not huge.' The house sits in a quiet, wooded location, a stone's throw from the coast of Jersey, and belongs to Rupert Bradstock, founder of the buying agency Property Vision, and his wife, Anna, whose Old Rectory in Berkshire Mr Petter brought back to life after a devastating fire. The move to Jersey was a homecoming for Mrs Bradstock, who grew up in the parish, and the couple was keen to maintain a strong sense of place, both externally and internally. Built in the 18th century of local, rose-coloured granite, the five-bay listed house in its original form was pretty, but not huge -like so many farmhouses on the island- and the ceiling heights were limited. The house had never been significantly extended, with the exception of a lean-to and some rudimentary agricultural buildings. To meet the needs of its new owners, it would require significant enlargement.
Mr Petter, a director of Adam Architecture, was able to enlist the help of the Winchester-based practice's in-house architectural historian, Helen Lawrence-Beaton, whose comprehensive survey of similar Georgian five-bay farmhouses across the island demonstrated that a large asymmetric extension was entirely in keeping. With forensic attention to detail, he documented the way that farmhouses evolved from cross wings and courtyards to linear 'dower wings', which reflected a widow's right to enjoy a third of her husband's immovable estate during her lifetime. Mr Petter also employs a deep dive into local history when planning new houses. In Cornwall on site where there had been several refusals upheld on planning appeals, Dr Lawrence-Beaton produced a full survey of the established character of manor houses in the county to justify the creation of a significantly larger houses on the site of a Domesday Manor that had been replaced by a 19th-century cottage. 'Echoing designs of other island houses, the size and shape of the door openings are of agricultural proportions.' The design of a project such as this isn't easy, of course. It is perhaps only a little less challenging when, like any seasoned campaigner, you've seen it all before - the dangers hiding in plain sight and the opportunities that look, at first, like sun-lit vistas but which turn out to be dark alleys. Experience allowed Mr Petter to see another option provided by the topography of the site, which loped gently away to the west. This allowed the addition to be subservient to the main house, in keeping with national guidelines, and also created cope for ceilings that are significantly higher than if the site was level. Echoing designs of other houses in the island, the size and shape of the door openings in the new addition are of agricultural, rather than residential proportion. The new wing was planned so that it would accommodate rooms big enough for entertaining, as well as larger antiques and paintings, creating a look that is comfortable and time-less. 'Adding an extension to a house presents. Such a dilemma; do you blend the new structure in? or do you create a point of difference?' notes Emily Todhunter of the interior design practice Todhunter Earle, which also designed the interiors of the Bradstocks' former home. 'We went for the blended option, continuing the beamy ceilings that lend a coherent feel to the succession of room with different room heights, from those with low ceilings in the farmhouse to the loftier proportion of the additions. This kept the cosy feel - and eradicated any chance of encountering any awkward juxtapositions as you move from one space to another.' Upstairs, the new rooms have a similar feel of intimacy and familiarity. The result is a seamless join between old and new, as well as paces with light, height and space that one doesn't associate with farmhouses of this period. The plan was configured so that hardworking space, such as a second kitchen, wet room and linen cupboards, would relieve pressure on the rest of the house.
The Bradstocks use it in different way at different times of year; in winter, when there are fewer guests, the couple retreat to the old part of the house. The attention to detail has been significant; sound insulation has been added to walls and doors, with brushes fitted to eradicate noise. The pink granite of the main house wasn't being quarried, ‘The plan was configured so that hardworking spaces would relieve pressure on the rest of the house' so the planner directed the Bradstocks to Portugal, where a matching stone was available. A team of four craftsmen spent several week dimpling the surface of the blocks (a treatment known a 'dolly pointing'), so that it matched the original walls. The rough lime-based mortar with coarse aggregate ensure that it harmonises with the stone blocks and makes it more resilient to erosion. The fact that the project was halted by the pandemic required some logistical feats, including the chartering of a private jet to bring in a team of specialist craftsmen from Germany to lay the oak floors. The house is one of a number of root-and-branch restoration projects Mr Petter has worked on that are the subject of a new book Living Tradition. It explores the breadth of his work, from new houses in London, the Home Counties and the Bahama to public buildings, such as the Levine Building at Trinity College, Oxford, and the new Pavilion Portico at Oval Cricket Ground in Vauxhall, London SE11. In addition, there are chapters on Mr Petter's work as a master planner that includes Nansledan, the Duchy of Cornwall's urban extension to Newquay. This book demonstrates that at the heart of all his projects, large and small, is a belief that the past should always be used to inform the future.