By Ingeborg Harms
Want to test your relationship with your mother? Design and build a house with her. “It was the most polite and understanding we’ve been to each other – ever,” confides Edie Campbell, slouched in a stripy deckchair on the balcony of the Northamptonshire homestead she recently constructed with her mum, Sophie Hicks. “In the past, we’ve had a slightly fractious relationship. You’re always ruder to your mother than you are to your friends. But suddenly we were in this professional situation and we were quite agreeable to each other.”
It helps that the 30-year-old model – an art history graduate who has fronted campaigns for Fendi and Versace, and is a regular presence in the pages of Vogue – has a sophisticated understanding of contemporary architecture. And that 60-year-old Hicks is a former British Vogue fashion editor turned prize-winning architect whose precise style has lent an elegant practicality to stores for Chloé and Paul Smith, and to homes for the Le Bon family. Still, both mother and daughter seem quietly thrilled with how the “house between two lakes” has turned out – and with how their relationship has been fortified by a 14- to 15-month build spread over national lockdowns. “Mum is full of opinions,” Edie laughs, affectionately. “But I know what I like, and I don’t flip-flop, and that was good for her. She just wanted me to know what I wanted, and then she could enact it.” Sophie, for her part, describes her daughter as the perfect client. “Edie was very good to work for because she is very decisive. Once she’s made up her mind, that’s it. It makes life so much more efficient.”
After nearly three decades in London, as well as a whirlwind 15-year fashion career measured out in red-eye flights, Edie had been looking for a rural retreat for some time. She chose Northamptonshire, an understated, underrated county in the East Midlands, because she knew it well (Sophie has rented a cottage in the area since 1985, and the family has been coming here every summer) and because it was well-located for national horse trials (Edie is an amateur rider who has been competing semi-professionally since she was a teenager, with her horses in livery nearby). Campbell had seen a dozen places before she came across a fishery surrounded by farmland. The site of a former brick quarry, the previous owner had erected a handful of miscellaneous buildings, dug two lakes and stocked them with pike, and was running a coarse fishing business. Edie was immediately taken with the plot. “It had a nice energy, it was very quiet,” she says. And it had space for stables and paddocks for her horses. By May 2018, it was hers.
The buildings – a tired-looking bungalow and a falling-down shed among them – had to go. But Edie was adamant she didn’t want anything “slick and shiny and graphic” in their place. “Hedge-fund manager in the countryside” and “Bond villain’s lair” were red flags. Rather, she wanted the house to feel “in some way, of its world”. She simultaneously pets Pam the schnocker (a lively mix of miniature schnauzer and cocker spaniel) and gestures to the grey corrugated fibreboard that clads the long, thin house, giving it the appearance of a local barn. “Obviously, it’s very different to the other residential buildings around here,” she says. “But I also don’t think you can build a brand-new ‘ye olde stone cottage’. That looks weird, too.”
The starting point was a writing task: Sophie asked Edie to put 200 words down on paper about how she imagined living in her future home. “I was surprised,” recalls Edie. “It felt more romantic than I had imagined her or the process to be.” But the psychology of modern living is what fascinates Sophie. “Everybody lives and feels a place in a different way,” says Hicks. “The thing with architecture is to understand the character and the behaviour of the people you’re working for, so you can try and do something for them that makes them feel comfortable.” What Edie detailed – a desire for openness rather than cosiness, a sense of flow between inside and outside, to be able to occasionally see her horses from a distance – ended up being a manifesto. “She was adamant about the fact that she didn’t want a ‘designer’ house,” recalls Sophie. “And I don’t like statement architecture either. I like things to be discreet and a bit restrained, to settle into their position and use a bit of local vernacular. So I totally got what she was saying.”
Nevertheless, neither mother nor daughter could resist a “f**k-off location”. Rather than choose the site of the former owner’s home, in a sheltered corner of the plot where Edie now has a manège for her horses, they decided the narrow strip of land between the two lakes was the optimal dramatic spot. Steel rods going 60ft into the boggy ground, on to which a steel frame was welded, provided a simple modular structure. Almost every addition from then on was standard issue, from the glazing to the corrugated fibreboard to the precast concrete planks that comprise the ceiling and floor. The only deviation was a “visor” of corrugated fibreboard, which softens the flat roof and stops water running down the glass windows, and two swooping interior walls, enlivened with a rough sand and cement render in putty pink, which conceal the functional stainless-steel kitchen at one end of the house and the bedrooms at the other. “I was worried the house would feel a bit miserable and cell-like if every room had straight lines,” explains Edie. “They’re a nightmare for hanging any art. But they’re really nice to live with.”
The Campbell women are a frugal bunch, and a tight budget dictated much of the project. Hicks, a lifelong hoarder, wanted to reuse materials from past homes and projects that have lain dormant “in various country barns” for several decades. Old oak bookshelves and wardrobes that once graced Edie’s childhood home in west London were trimmed down and inserted in the living room and bedrooms, while a brass door that has acquired a weathered golden tinge since it was salvaged from a 1990s project of Hicks’s lends a grandeur to the entrance.
In the living room, the free-standing sofa was a cast-off from Edie’s father, and the dining chairs were £5 each, snagged on auction website The-saleroom.com. Artwork was the major expense. Sculptural ceiling lights inspired by a Franz West exhibition Edie visited at Tate Modern in 2019 were made by her best friend, the artist Christabel MacGreevy, and side tables were crafted from chunks of pine from a spinney on the property by the designer James Shaw.
Resolutely unflashy, the house now possesses an airy, tranquil feel. Edie and her girlfriend Hanna Hanra, a journalist, awake early to red-streaked sunrises. They potter down to the stables to muck out and exercise the horses – Bruno, Tinker, Dolly, Ed and an as yet unnamed pony, a gift from Edie to Hanna on her 40th birthday, now reside in a “horse palace” in a field behind the bigger of the two lakes – and raid the polytunnel for lunch provisions. Lazy summer afternoons are spent reading the Lonely Planet guide to Guatemala (they’re planning a trip), swimming in the lake or sunbathing on an inflatable unicorn float leftover from a recent party. (“Three farmers gatecrashed!” giggles Edie, quickly adding that the gathering was outdoors and Covid-compliant. “They were very sweet, so I let them stay.”) Come nightfall, in front of an open fire in the winter, the couple work their way through 2021’s Oscar-nominated movies on a television ingeniously concealed in the lid of the ottoman. When we meet, though, they’re gearing up for a summer of Love Island. “I watch it with my dad and then we text about it. It’s fab.”
The house has become a sanctuary for Campbell. In May 2019, she suffered a serious brain injury – with faultless timing, she notes wryly, during Brain Injury Awareness Week – after falling off her horse. It took her more than six months to recover. “I’m back competing again, which is good,” she says, “but I am very forgetful.” She seems, to me, to be back to her caustic, clever best, pointing out an Eglantyne rose in full bloom and then stopping to laugh at herself. “I’m obsessed with rose names – such an old woman these days.”
On the subject of roses, Sophie and Edie were determined that the unglamorous, boggy scrubland surrounding the house and the lakes should remain relatively wild, though a tidy up was required. For that, they enlisted the help of Sarah and Steve Husband and their son Alfie, who cut back the brambles and the undergrowth, planted bird cherry, damson, alder, silver birch, crab apple and hawthorn trees native to Northamptonshire, and positioned ferns and water mint under the decking. In time, wildflowers and grasses will flank the quarry stones that lead from the driveway to the front door. “It’s about playing the long game,” says Edie, “which is strange for me. My life was always about things happening right now – ‘You need to go to New York, today!’ – or not at all. So, it’s a new feeling, being patient, letting nature take its course. I love it.”
The article is published in the following Vogue magazines, October 2021 issues:
British Vogue, Vogue Germany, Vogue Spain, Vogue Japan, Vogue Taiwan, Vogue Mexico, Vogue Thailand, Vogue Arabia, Vogue India (online).
By Ingeborg Harms
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
Contribution by Sophie Hicks
Photographs by Milo Keller and Johannes Marburg
by Nick Jones
Photographs by Annabel Elston and Sophie Hicks Architects
MADE BY A STYLE ICON: THE NEW STORE OF MAISON ALAÏA
by Jun Ishida
Photo by Masami Naruo
by Pauline Malras
Photographs by Annabel Elston
Interview by Park Sungjin
Photo by Annabel Elston
YOHJI YAMAMOTO FLAGSHIP STORE, PARIS
by Lee Eunjung, Photographs by Johannes Marburg
SOPHIE HICKS’ ZEITGEIST
1A EARL’S COURT SQUARE
by Danila Varennikov
Photographs by Adrian Gaut, Alasdair McLellan, Annabel Elston & Sophie Hicks Architects