In a remote spot at the edge of Dartmoor, on the site of a burnt-down farmhouse, a spectacular new home has risen dramatically from the ashes. Built on a curve with expansive glazing and a double-height atrium, its futuristic glamour contrasts sharply with the traditional farm buildings around it. From the terrace on the upper floor, the views over the Devon countryside are picture-perfect.
There’s not another building in sight from this enviable position a couple of miles from the village of Lewdown, near Okehampton; the nearest neighbour is half a mile away. “We wanted somewhere that was the opposite to Hong Kong,” says owner Philip Bilney. He and his wife, Charlotte, have lived overseas for more than 20 years. Both English, they met in Hong Kong and have three children, Emma, 17, Huw, 16, and Barnaby, 14. With Emma planning to go to university in the UK next year, they decided to set up a base here.
“We also wanted somewhere big enough to have friends and family to stay when we come over every summer, and where we would want to spend more time in the future,” says Philip, a marine insurance expert. Neither of them had a connection with Devon, but they wanted somewhere rural and free of planning restrictions that could prevent a build.
When the Bilneys saw Wortham, the farmhouse had been reduced to a pile of rubble and the outbuildings needed a lot of work, but they could see the potential. They bought the three-and-a-half acre site, which had planning permission for a replacement home, in 2014 for £480,000. Then work began.
“When I stood on the roof of the old garage and saw those amazing views of Dartmoor I knew I had to make the most of them,” says Robert Barker of Baca Architects. He designed a curved, steel-framed building with all the living space on the first floor, full-height glazing on both sides of the huge sitting room to maximise the view, and a large terrace off the kitchen and dining space. All four bedrooms are on the ground floor, and the three at the rear have glazed doors directly on to the garden. An old stone granary and an open-sided linhay barn stand next to the house, with a large threshing barn attached to a roundhouse across the yard.
But the standout features at Wortham are its two architectural bridges. A covered glass walkway, suspended above the ground, connects the first-floor kitchen in the house with the upstairs home office in the granary. It bridges the gap between new and old. On the other side of the house, an arched metal and timber bridge, like a drawbridge, leads from the sitting room to a secluded upper garden above the garages. “We think it’s a good spot for a hot tub,” says Philip.
The new house could have looked incongruous in this ancient farmyard setting, but what unites all the elements is the local stone, clad on the non-glazed walls of the new house and used to reconstruct the old farm buildings.
The Bilneys wanted to restore the farm buildings as faithfully as possible and to create a new house that would be sympathetic to them. “The detailed stonework softens the bold glazing and creates harmony with the existing buildings,” says Robert. He was delighted to be able to reuse the ancient granite piers supporting the linhay barn’s roof. “There’s actually a protection order on them,” says Philip. “The granite came from the moor. Some were just about standing where they are now, the others we found lying on the land.” Between these piers, full-height glazing that opens on to the old farmyard maintains the look of a traditional open-sided barn.
Inside the main house, space, height and light distinguish the interiors of the two living spaces. The sitting room is partially divided by a floor-to-ceiling contemporary fireplace – one of Philip’s ideas. The décor is neutral with bright pops of colour: a huge red sofa, pink and red Tom Dixon armchairs and, in the kitchen, a wall painted in an intense shade of blue-green.
«We would never have got planning permission for an extension that size if we’d tried to attach it directly to the cottage»
The curved walls did present a few challenges. “The kitchen units had to be curved to match the wall,” says Charlotte. “And it was difficult getting a mirror on the wall in our bathroom.”
The granary, which was just a shell, now has a guest bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor and a spacious home office – the one linked via a glass walkway to the main house – on the upper floor. The roundhouse was used as a guest bedroom this summer, but the one building still unrenovated is the threshing barn. “We’re not sure what to do with it yet,” says Philip. “It could be a holiday let, a games room or a spa and pool.”
The rest of the house was completed in the spring, so this summer was the first time the family have stayed there. They made the most of it, with a party for 30 people for Charlotte’s 50th birthday in the open-walled barn. “It worked brilliantly,” she says. “The linhay is perfect for parties, we could seat everyone in there.”
Using a glass link to connect old and new is a design tactic that’s both aesthetically pleasing and can solve planning issues. The new owners of Highwayman’s Cottage in Oxshott, Surrey, wanted a substantial extension but the house’s Grade II listing made that difficult. To solve the problem, instead of building an extension, the architect designed a completely separate building sympathetic to the old cottage and connected to it only by a glazed section.
“We would never have got planning permission for an extension that size if we’d tried to attach it directly to the cottage,” says Avril Silva, the director of Surrey architects Silva Lindley. “By using a glass link to separate the old and new buildings we were able to give the family the extra space they needed: more bedrooms and a bigger kitchen.”
Ivy Cottage in Hound Green, Hampshire, is also Grade II listed. It has a barn-style extension connected by a glazed atrium, with a suspended walkway linking the upper floors. The charm of the original home is left intact while giving the owners a fourth bedroom and second sitting room. It is for sale through Strutt & Parker for £875,000.
And at Hall Place in Shackleford, Surrey, a converted barn has been linked to the main house by a spectacular glass walkway. The contemporary glazing was required by the planning authority to connect the buildings and enable the owners to create a substantial six-bedroom house. The corridor also provides a conservatory-style space with wonderful views of the gardens. It is for sale at £2.85 million with Savills.
The Bilneys have decided to rent their house out while they’re in Hong Kong, which will cover the mortgage and running costs. Wortham is available from £640 for a three-night stay (bluechipholidays.co.uk).
Despite the project taking three years and costing three times the amount they paid for the site, the Bilneys are delighted with the result. “We wanted the space and room height we don’t have in Hong Kong,” says Philip. “This house has completely exceeded our expectations. I would love to spend more time here. We’ll never get bored, there’s always going to be something to do with the buildings and the land. It continually inspires me.”