Inspiring home of the week a reimagined country cottage in aylesbury the independent

The business was founded in 2010 and my office was my dining room table for three years. I then rented out office space for a further three years with a team of three. It was while crossing the Outback in Australia in 2015 that I formulated a business plan: fast-forward to 2018 and we now reside in our own offices, in the centre of Thame, Oxfordshire, with an eight-strong team of fun, creative and energetic individuals. It has been a heck of a journey and a steep learning curve, but I am proud of what we have built and very excited about the future.

We are fast becoming synonymous with developing the undevelopable! Creating contemporary extensions to listed buildings that not only work with the existing architecture, but get through planning with ease.

If it’s listed, in a conservation area on a sloping site with limited access, we’re in! It’s a challenge but it is not impossible. In terms of our ethos, we are well known for being a friendly and approachable practice. At the heart of the practice is a strong focus on communication and trust, and that is built up over time and with open dialogue with our clients. At the end of the day we are designing people’s homes – and while we like to push the boundaries of creative design, the spaces must work for our clients and they must trust us to deliver.

Back in early 2017 we were presented with a common dilemma from a growing family. ‘Improve rather than move’ was easier said than done in this case. Our clients, both working professionals in their mid-40s, decided to take on the challenge of extending their existing cottage, bought seven years earlier, to create a much-needed spacious, brighter home. Their two-bedroom house, which was no longer adequate for their growing family of five, presented all the hurdles one can imagine; it was a grade II-listed property with a thatched roof in a conservation area, situated on a steeply sloping site.

Our brief was to create a sense of arrival. This included a proper entrance hall, large family living space, a spacious kitchen and two additional bedrooms. Most of all, the house was crying out for a design that took in the view and access to the 200ft-long tiered gardens from inside the property.

As custodians of grade II properties it is right that planning laws prevent us from ripping the heart out of our historic buildings and protect the street scene, but we have to move with the times. So how do we work with our listed properties, make them suitable for modern busy families who need more space and more light but still preserve the stunning features that drew us towards them in the first place?

Initially, the cottage had two bedrooms with very low ceilings, a bathroom, a single open-plan living space, which had little to no light, and a small kitchen in the outbuilding. One of the other biggest complaints was not having space for a table in the dining room as they were very limited when it came to accommodating their growing family. The front elevation of the cottage was raised approximately a metre above the pavement level, with the rear garden rising a further two metres before levelling out. What’s more, prior to the cottage being listed in the 1980s, a single-storey slate roof outbuilding and uPVC conservatory were attached to the rear elevation, completely obscuring the original mix of stone, timber and brick infill panels to the rear facade. Just to add to the dilemma, when approaching the original cottage the first thing that struck you was the difficulty in finding the front door. The search would take you from the front street, round the side, up the slope to the rear garden before descending back down a precarious set of steps and through the outbuilding.

With its quirky charm, beautiful features and an extensive 200ft garden, the cottage was just perfect. The property nestles among similar characterfull properties just off Long Crendon High Street in one of the most sought-after areas in the country. The setting of the house is stunning, so much so that film crews, including the ones from the Midsomer Murders series, are regularly camping outside along the street. Like most growing families, eventually the house stopped working for them. Design-wise, we balanced their desire for contrasting modern and traditional features by creating a glass-ended tube – and the project was finalised in just six months, achieving a stunning look which captured the attention of Channel 4’s Best Laid Plans. The unusual addition to the property blends in perfectly with its surroundings, featuring rosemary roof tiles and crisp white rendered walls.

Many of our designs incorporate natural materials that complement the original building and its surroundings, such as grass roofs, cedar shingles and modern thatching materials, but use them differently. We have opted for glass structures that form a clear distinction between the traditional and modern parts of the building – flooding the space with light and framing the original house behind it. All houses in the area are listed and have tiles, so this new addition blends into it in its own role.

We build homes for our clients that surpass expectation – a haven away from the stresses of everyday life. In this case our clients wanted a space that took advantage of the 200ft garden and gave them more living space and an extra bedroom for their family. We want all our clients to open their front doors, exhale, relax and love the space they are in.

It is worth noting that nothing about this build was straight forward, from the custom-made steel frame to the bespoke kitchen. We pushed the limits of design, and the building team flexed to accommodate us. The clients allowed us to design a very ambitious and complicated build and never faltered once. It has been a privilege to work on this project and it is one I will never, ever forget.