Taking the garden wall as a starting point, the architect of this dazzling new house in Aberdeen has managed to produce a home that is secluded yet open, and truly ahead of the curve
There are worse things than having your house praised as a piece of sculpture, but Simon Leeman, the architect behind a sensational new home just outside Aberdeen, is adamant that his creation is not art: “It’s a home to live in,” he says. “That’s why the spaces within it have such variation, from the understated entrance hall and smaller domestic-scale bedrooms, to the lofty ceiling height in the main living area – it is designed to be a comfortable place to live in.”
This idea extends to details such as the bed in the master suite: “We measured the owner to make sure that the strip light on the headboard would be at the right level for sitting up reading in bed.”
The project began when the owner decided to downsize from the large Arts and Crafts house that shares the site. So beautiful is the setting that it was clear to everyone that the planners would only give permission for a new dwelling of outstanding quality.
“The brief we at Graham Mitchell Architects got was quite simple: an open-plan living area and three bedrooms,” says Simon. “The precise location of the house wasn’t discussed at the outset, but when you walk around the site – which was once a historic orchard – it’s very obvious that the garden wall would be the best place for a house. Tree Preservation orders would have prevented building further down the garden – not an option we’d have been keen to pursue in any case.”
The architect spent some time exploring various strategies before presenting his ideas to the owner, who immediately chose the fifth design option – a house built into the curved garden wall. “It was the most ambitious solution, but it was also the best, both in the way that the U-shape plan followed the line of the wall, and in terms of affording privacy,” says Simon. “We were very focused on privacy during the initial design process. The existing walled garden is quite secluded but we also extended the curved brick wall of the living room wing into the landscape. This screened the glazed ends of the living space from the approach to the entrance on the west side and from the existing house to the east.”
The next stage was to convince the planning department of his ideas – something the architect admits was a concern, such was the sensitive nature of the site. Following a year-long process, however, the design passed the planning committee unanimously. “The planners were supportive. We provided lots of back-up information such as data on ratios between the land and house size; landscape and density studies. Ultimately, it was felt that the house was unique enough and of a high enough quality to be approved.”
One consequence of all this preparation was that when construction began on site in 2012, there were no surprises.
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Words Caroline Ednie
Photography Gillian Hayes, Dapple Photography
What A new-build three-bedroom house
Architect Graham Mitchell Architects
Contractor John Henderson Builders
Structural Engineer Cameron & Ross