Nigel Anderson reflects on his interest for Arts and Crafts and classical styles with the butterfly plan form

May 20, 2024

I have always been interested in Arts and Crafts architecture; some of my earliest memories are of looking through the sketch books dating from the 1870’s and 80’s of my great grandfather, Langton Dennis, where he illustrated numerous examples of the traditional vernacular buildings of southern England as well as his initial pencil designs for buildings, furniture and metalwork. I found all of these fascinating as a child and made me determined to be an architect if I could. Langton Dennis was articled to Sir Ernest George and then went on to work for Guy Dawber before setting up on his own at the turn of the C20 where he worked in an Arts and Crafts style up until the disruption of the First World War whereupon he enlisted, well into his middle age by then, and closed down his Practice.

This interest in the arts and crafts movement also drew me to the work of such architects as Detmar Blow, E S Prior Edwin Lutyens and Norman Shaw who all produced distinctive designs utilising the butterfly plan form. Occasionally these architects ventured into melding that plan form with overtly classical elevations; Norman Shaw’s additions to Chesters in Northumberland and Edwin Lutyens work at Papillon Hall in Leicestershire were two such examples. I loved the intricacy and the idiosyncrasy of their internal layouts.  As both a student and then young architect it became an ambition to continue that tradition if the opportunity arose.


It was not until 2001 that I was able to do so though. I was approached by a Derbyshire based client to design a new house on the site of a derelict farmyard complex on the northern edge of Derby. The site was high and exposed with expansive views to the north. It struck me that a butterfly plan form with rooms having triple aspect to take advantage of both sunlight and outlook whilst providing a series of sheltered external spaces between the wings. The client agreed with my thinking and Burley Grange was the result. Externally it was meant to suggest the form of a stone look out or hunting tower (the Kedleston Estate was nearby) to which various additions had been made over the years, giving it a character and appearance emulating that of the Arts and Crafts movement.


The next venture into the butterfly plan form was very different; entirely symmetrical and wholly classical in appearance with Doric and Ionic facades to each of the two principal elevations. Again the site had views in many directions so the plan form made sense; additionally the client, who was a successful rock musician, was essentially nocturnal so a series of rooms maximising late evening and early morning light rather than the conventional southern outlook, were important to him.


A further commission came from a family moving back to the UK from a number of years in Canada. They had bought a lovely riverside site in a village south west of Salisbury for their retirement. Unfortunately it was occupied by a pink painted Spanish style hacienda bungalow. They had quickly realised the building was not for them and commissioned me to design a replacement. As the gardens surrounding the house on all sides were very attractive and well established it was logical to create a building footprint that retained as much of that garden layout framework as possible- the butterfly plan form was a natural consequence of that decision. The external appearance followed the local vernacular of bands of Chilmark stone alternating with inset flint panels and stone mullioned door and window openings; a very expensive form of construction involving very high standards of workmanship. It was a brave decision by the clients to go ahead on that basis but they loved the appearance of the older buildings in the village that used that material and thought it appropriate to make amends for the many years that the pink hacienda had blighted the appearance of the immediate locality.

For a good number of years there was never a time that at least one ‘butterfly’ plan house has either been on my drawing board, going through the often painful planning process or under construction. They have varied from a regency style house on a spectacular site directly beside the Solent, another with panoramic views from the top of the Marlborough downs, another set in a wonderful landscape reminiscent of Stourhead and most recently designs for three very different house designs and clients, but all sharing the butterfly plan principles, along the same road overlooking the Beaulieu River in Hampshire. As prime an example of the ripple effect, of personal and word of mouth recommendations as you could envisage!