At home with the architect

  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise
  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise
  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise
  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise
  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise
  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise
  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise
  • 1 Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden: Image Steven Wise

We caught up with Lydia Robinson and Lawrence Grigg whose Chipping Campden house features in Channel 4's property renovation series 'Best Laid Plans' this autumn

The last two years have proved an exciting time for design storey, a Cotswold architectural practice led by architect Lydia Robinson and project manager Lawrence Grigg. First was their renovation of two miners’ cottages, a project that garnered professional acclaim and a host of accolades, winning two Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating awards and two more regional awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Next was the momentous purchase of their ‘forever home’ – a farmhouse called Mabel, damp-riddled and of unstable character but much beloved. The highlight, however, was the suggestion by Channel 4 that they might take like to part in a new flagship programme airing this autumn.

“It all began with Somerset and two eighteenth century cottages that had been turned into one home in the 1950s. All that remained was a dilapidated jumbled warren of dark rooms with a series of ugly lean-tos. Turning it back into two required some time to get a change of use. The benefit was in being able to work on one property and live in the other - the sale of the first provided funds to finish the second, and to keep costs down Lawrence project managed the build, aided by local labour and hiring in subcontractors for more specialist tasks such as plastering,” explains Lydia, who designed the build. 

Why did the project win so much applause? “Peeling back the layers was key to our approach,” says Lawrence. “We treated the building as if it were listed, researched the history and evaluated every layer to assess whether it was worth keeping. Good architecture must be empathetic but transformative. We retained much of what was hidden, including an original staircase, beams and a massive inglenook fireplace, but we replaced and resized PVCu windows with wooden frames and introduced a completely innovative design to the rear elevation. Single-height, clad in timber with bi-fold doors and roof-lights, two matching kitchen-diners now look out over the gardens towards the Pensford viaduct – very appropriate to the industrial age of the cottages!”

Lydia explains that their work is always driven by the same principles. “When we first met Mabel’s Farmhouse, again we both knew she was ‘the one’ - it sounds clichéd but it’s true. We were instantly drawn to her picturesque charm. She was what we had been looking for: a dilapidated, unspoilt listed building. She oozes charm and original character, and the location was also a real find: a pretty village in the far northern corner of the Cotswolds, within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Our desire is always to find projects with real character and interesting features, ones that inevitably come with a listing tag but that we can transform - what we hope to bring to each project is entirely dependent on age, location, construction and opportunity but we always work with the architectural language of the building and the surrounding context rather than impose a rigid set of ideas upon it.” 

As a mid-century home with Arts and Crafts roots, meanwhile their next development project is a detached Cotswold stone house in Grevel Lane, Chipping Campden and the subject of Channel 4’s Best Laid Plans airing on Saturday 25th November. Presenter Charlie Luxton follows in the tradition of Grand Designs and The Restoration Man but this time focuses as much on the fascination of the domestic relationship as the professional partnership behind each project. Whilst they negotiated through the usual pitfalls and delays did they ever worry about how they were portrayed?  “Well it certainly helps that we don’t actually work together,” laughs Lydia. “I do the design and Lawrence does the project management so we are rarely in the same space day-to-day. I have other commissions, of course, and mainly work from the office. Perhaps the most stressful aspect has been the contractual deadline but at least we aren’t living next door to this one!”

We meet up with the design storey team less than three weeks before the camera crews descend but everything seems under control. “Give us another couple of days and everything will be more or less done on the second fix - the floors will be laid, the paintwork completed, the staircase up, the kitchen and bathrooms installed, the lighting in and then we can start working on the finishing touches before the final furnishings,” says Lawrence. No doubt this is another inspired build. No twee cottage rooms, traditional country kitchen and magnolia paint to be seen now – instead a wholesale renovation and extension with soaring open-plan unified spaces, clean lines revelling in plays of light and shadow and a textural Scandinavian palette of blondes, metal greys and whites.  

“We prefer to retain original features where possible – repairing and reinstating or re-interpreting as these reveal the true character of the building. We refurbished all the original crittal windows, by removing them, shotblasting and powder-coating the frames, replacing the single glazing with slim-line conservation double-glazed units and brass hardware. However, by the same token, we couldn’t salvage the original red tiled floors and sills so we sourced new ones to match the originals.

Again, on the exterior wall of the new extension the vertically-hung tiles are handmade by Keymer, a company established in the 1600s, using a traditional brown clay base with a fired engobe grey finish. And then we re-imagined some typical elements such as the cork flooring upstairs – not the traditional tiles but moisture-resistant engineered planks with a contemporary and seamless finish.

On the ground floor the same uninterrupted flow is achieved with Swedish three-strip engineered boards. Ash wood and gun-metal tones are used again and again: in the raw steel column radiators, in the joinery and hand-made shutters and in the beautiful open-riser staircase in the reception hall, its ash treads and steel balustrade being “light within the space” as Lawrence observes. 

Then there is the delight of imaginative design in repeating triangles, Arts and Crafts made new, found both in the vaulted ceilings and the glazed dormers, casting strong bright reflections and deep shadows on the pale walls that move with the passage of the sun and bring in a constant flood of light. Re-orientated to make the most of the day’s warmth too, the house has escaped the previous darkness of the original north-facing garden and now makes the most of the more private suntrap of its rear south-facing edge. “There is deliberately no front-and-back to this house now,” says Lydia.  “We tried to ensure there was consistency across the exterior materials and finishes so the join between old and new is subtle. The roofs and dormers are tiled with reclaimed ‘Cotswold grey’ tiles, designed by Redland to emulate traditional stone tile roofs, replaced the guttering with powder-coated steel and melded the whole seamlessly with closely matched and re-pointed exterior stonework, making a reference to the era with powerful buttresses and vertically-hung tiles to re-interpret the original vernacular.” 

Substantially extended, one side now provides an open-bay integral double garage offering another potential five hundred feet of living space if so required, and meanwhile the extension to the other side offers something quite simply beautiful. Leading from the original sitting room and warmed by a steel wood-burning stove is an open-plan cooking / dining / entertaining bespoke space, designed with fixtures by the Italian firm Pedini, the whole focused around a magnificent central furniture piece and lit by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, a double-height vaulted ceiling complete with a deep moulded architrave of concealed LED up-lighting. “Whilst we didn’t want a traditional fitted kitchen we have retained all the essential elements of mid-century domesticity. A storage wall that runs the length of one end conceals the oven, fridge and full-height crockery cupboards and to another is a slim-line pantry wall. This is a family home and needs to function as such, so it is supplemented by a separate boot-room - plumbed as a laundry - that leads out onto the most private and sheltered part of the garden.”

As William Morris, the most renowned practitioner of the Arts and Crafts movement, famously said: Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be practical or do not believe to be beautiful. There is no doubt that Lydia and Lawrence have amply interpreted his brief. This is a stunning renovation worthy of their stated determination to maintain faith to the period, architecturally empathetic yet transformative, and they have every right to be proud of the finished result. 

The official launch has been set for Sunday 26th November from 11.30am – 2.30pm. For more information and to arrange a viewing strictly by prior appointment, please contact Tom Burdett, Sales Director, at the offices of Harrison James & Hardie Fine & Country Moreton in Marsh on 01608 651000.

Images: Steven Wise