The village of Ide Hill in Kent is five miles south-west of Sevenoaks, and one of the highest points on the Greensand Ridge, it has views both to the south over the Weald and to the north over the North Downs. It sits in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Metropolitan Green Belt.
The site is just over three acres, having a road frontage measuring about 140m on its northern boundary and another 55m on part of its eastern boundary as a flank road frontage. Being the penultimate plot on the lane, there is virtually no through traffic. Uninterrupted far-reaching views of the countryside stretch over Kent in the east to East Sussex in the south and Surrey in the west.
There are four very different conditions that surround the existing house: a steep forest to the north, rolling arable grazing to the east, cultivated orchard to the south and a deep, grass slope to the west. The property boundary beneath the existing house, to the south of the site and marked by a hedge, is currently a very strong visual barrier. With the site as it is, the boundary sets a tangible and unsatisfactory limit at the point where the views are otherwise the longest and most dramatic.
Instead of trying to ignore the pervasive north-south property division, a solution was sought that would positively embrace it and absorb it into the proposed scheme. It was decided to turn the hard cut into a generative design element to make the two properties either side of the hedge appear formally to merge. Through this the site is reconnected to the wider landscape and the larger view beyond. To this end, we first divided the site into its four cardinal directions, along the existing central, and very present, north-south and east-west property divisions. Three quarters of the four resulting segments are within the clients’ domain, and the fourth, south-west, quarter is the orchard that belongs to the neighbour.
Climbing up the site in a series of steps, the house will be completely embedded in the landscape. There is a transition from the regulated and parallel contour-line terraces as they pass through the building. They emerge as more organic gradient lines in the north-east segment of the site.
The abstract lines of the contour map are here literally expressed; ‘Chert House’ is conceived of as an extension of the existing landscape, formalized into a series of stepped terraces that mediate between the two very different qualities of forest to the north and orchard to the south. By extending the highest point of the landscape east so that the visitor can enter ‘under its surface’, the building is treated as something that is mined or quarried from the earth’s topography.
The visitor enters at the north of the site through a discreet opening in the hedgerow under a cantilevered canopy. The entrance, at the mid-level of the building, gives very little indication of the scale of the spaces about to unfold. Inside, the visitor first sees a carefully framed long view to the reservoir before the gaze is drawn diagonally down through the whole height of the house, culminating in the pool at the lowest level.
Extending the metaphor of a mined rock bed, the programme is loosely traversed by a conceptual ‘chasm’ between the ‘formal’ living and the more ‘informal’ domestic spaces. This ‘chasm’ becomes the main circulation route through the house that ends in the dining room / kitchen / pool, distinguishing the public from private spaces while creating a sound break and buffer zone while simultaneously uniting the two separate arrival routes.
The ‘chasm’ – a grand central space that acts as the main circulation and living area – recalls the spatial arrangement of the original 15th century house. This very early structure also has a central hall that separates two wings of a smaller scale, each with their own internal stair, that are used for more private living and sleeping.
The formal spaces are: the master bedroom, (with bathroom and dressing room), a study / formal drawing room, a spare bedroom (with shower / pool changing room) and the library (or drawing room 2).
The informal spaces are: the childrens’ bedrooms with a shared bathroom, the playroom, the open plan dining room and kitchen, with utility, larder and boot room attached.