Interview by Hyung Mo Jung
An understated building in concrete and glass, built on a narrow strip of land that separates two small lakes in Northamptonshire. The latest project by British architect Sophie Hicks is now home to her daughter, model Edie Campbell, who left London to make her dream come true: living out in the countryside with her horses.
«I was extremely flattered when my daughter Edie asked me to design this country house for her. It’s in a region we both know very well, which helped me: it’s important that a building is inserted mindfully into the surrounding landscape». Sophie Hicks, the British architect and one-time fashion editor, is describing the Northamptonshire residence she designed for the oldest of her three children, Edie Campbell, a model born in 1990 who makes regular appearances on the covers of top fashion magazines and who has a passion for horse-riding. Campbell had no qualms about moving to this place just over an hour from London on a permanent basis. «She wakes up very early to see to the horses, and sends me photos of some truly spectacular sunrises», Hicks says with pride. She knows it all stems from the house’s location: the old buildings on the property, once used as a fishing area, could not be saved, so the house was built from scratch.
The obvious place to put it was on the thin strip of land separating the two lakes. «It was far and away the most scenic location, a position that could completely transform the experience of country life. And this meant my design had to be even more understated. The ‘wow’ factor of the building’s location meant little else was needed».
The building is a simple concrete and glass rectangle, divided up inside by two curved walls that inject energy into the space. She chose to clad the outside in grey corrugated panels, a very common, cheap material that here gives the building a feeling of sophistication. «It is often used locally on agricultural buildings: it is durable, ages well, attracts moss and lichen, and over time becomes organic and extremely beautiful. And if it ever gets damaged, it is very easy to replace».
The roof is also linked to local customs. «There was no reason to create a pitched design, but as all the houses in the area have a pitched roof, I had fun creating my own interpretation», Hicks says, explaining that the sloping surfaces hide the solar panels used for heating the house and hot water. Hicks is a big fan of concrete, and she intentionally left it visible, as well as using it for some of the furnishings, from the suspended desk in the bedroom to the fireplace with integrated chair at the centre of the living room. And she applied the same logic to the large sofa with brick base and the dining table.
«We discussed how to create one simply and cheaply. There was no shortage of concrete on site, so we made two large cylinders as the base, screwed on a plank of wood, and voilà».
Although it can’t exactly be described as low budget – «a house surrounded by an enormous plot of land will always sound very expensive», Hicks clarifies – it was all built with the aim of keeping costs down. «The highly functional design was created with a ‘no-waste’ spirit». Moreover, understatement is a life philosophy that runs in the family. From the very start, Campbell had a clear concept of what the house would be like, and she didn’t want anything luxurious. Nor did she want a design house. «Luckily Edie is very determined, and this made everything simpler. All she wanted was a house surrounded by nature, and the lovely thing about this design is that it really makes you feel part of the landscape». According to Hicks, it all started from a piece of text. She often asks her clients to describe in writing how they imagine themselves spending their days in their new home. «I’m interested in knowing what people expect, not so much in practical terms but in terms of sensations. Edie has achieved her lifelong dream of living next to her horses», the architect says. Then, smiling, she adds: «Like a true country girl».
Interview by Hyung Mo Jung
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