Sutherland Lyall talks to Leroy Street Studio about bringing ambitious Manhattanite modernity to a Berkshire stud farm estate
This converted farmhouse in the English countryside belongs to a prominent (and anonymous) New York financier, who wanted a family stead in sleepiest Berkshire – a place where the family could house their growing collection of landscape painting. They bought this derelict 40ha Victorian stud farm estate. Within this estate was a modest main house, with stables and other buildings to the north. This northern range was grouped irregularly around three sides of a courtyard.
The main house was refurbished prior to the sale, so the architects’ responsibility was the northern ensemble of buildings. New York-based practice Leroy Street Studio, which has a 15-year relationship with the client, is behind the conversion. London firm DSDHA also worked on the project, cementing a relationship that began when Leroy Street Studio partner Marc Turkel met David Hills of DSDHA while working at Hopkins Architects. Turkel used some of the main subcontractors on an earlier project in the UK, and the client has a long business history with main contractor Laybrook Homes.
With the courtyard is an old two-storey trainer’s house, now converted into a guest house. Adjoining was a long stables building, which is now a swimming pool. Attached to the north side of this block are several new white-rendered blocks containing a gym, table-tennis area and a lounge space.
Leroy Street Studio was also commissioned to convert the buildings nearest the house into a plant room, an office, a garage and a long dining pavilion, the gable-end of which has a large window facing east across a formal garden. On the east side of the courtyard is a freestanding stable building housing the children’s play areas.
The client appointed Laybrook Homes, but this wasn’t a formal JCT-style contract. It was more of a letters-of-agreement arrangement in which schedules and budgets were carefully defined. Turkel says: ‘Everything was done through the quantity surveyor [Malcolm Hunt], who was contracted directly to the clients to produce weekly cost reports. There were some contingent moments but for the most part we worked seamlessly.’ For Leroy Street Studio, the client-architect contract was the standard AIA (American Institute of Architects) B141 document.
Turkel says: ‘There was a lot of pressure on the schedule so we started the project before the drawings were finished. We would draw details, which were very specific with respect to quantity, but we left the quality open. So we issued them to the contractor and the quantity surveyor and had a series of [value engineering] meetings. They were good about turning things around quickly.’
Speed was important because everybody had to respond as soon as the next building was uncovered. Leroy Street partner Morgan Hare says: ‘Each building was different. The contractor would strip out the interiors and we would all walk through and discuss what we could do. We were going to save the pool building. But it got worse and worse as more was uncovered.’ He adds ruefully: ‘The patina on the brick from more than 100 years of stud farming was beautiful and we tried to replicate that. But we didn’t have a lot
Value engineering was an integral part of this project because of the imponderables with old buildings. There was one moment when, Hare says, the architects ‘slid back and looked at the costs – and there [had to be] a radical change to the contract. But the contractor renegotiated.’
The design intent was to make the interiors as serene as possible
Although the buildings were not listed, the planners ‘were very much interested in preserving the fabric of the stable block,’ says Turkel. ‘But they also understood the counterpoint of modern buildings.’
The design intent was to keep the exterior of the buildings agricultural and make the interiors serene as possible. This involved developing a library of joinery details in European oak that were to be used everywhere. Turkel says: ‘It’s not quite what we were used to, because [at the time] we were working with joiners when we were used to working with window suppliers. Christopher Bell were very much traditional joiners – and very competent. A lot of their people had never done modern work before. So they got to try things in different ways. Actually, we are still working with them on other projects.’
Watts adds: ‘In maintaining a standard wood surface, we eventually used different external and internal finishes. CCC’s [Conservation Chemicals Consultants] transparent oak finish worked so well on the interior joinery that we tested their newly formulated exterior product on the exterior joinery. But we didn’t like the sample results so we went for Sadolin for all the exterior work.’
Planners wanted to preserve the fabric of the stable block
Despite having an ocean between collaborating practices, the project went ahead with no significant hitches. During the early stages, several junior DSDHA staffers worked in the office in New York, and Leroy Street Studio had an architect working in the DSDHA office in London. Drawings were transferred via an FTP site. The US practice worked on PCs, DSDHA used Macs, but file transfers were apparently trouble-free.
DSDHA architect Claire McDonald visited the site every other week and Shawn Watts, now a partner at Leroy Street Studio but then the project architect, came over to England once a month. The trip took the same amount of time as it took to visit a scheme in Colorado. Watts says: ‘Sometimes we could get out and do it in a day. The British transport system made it quite easy.’
Converting a derelict stable into a swimming pool presented its own problems – especially with trussing. Hare says: ‘The pool building’s roof members were wholly rotten. We did a lot of interior studies and realised that it looked quite serene without any timber trusses. But we didn’t want to build the roof thick enough for that, so we decided to use [steel trusses with] standard, off-the-shelf fittings but couldn’t find any. The metal fabricator Loughboro Design said “We’ll just fabricate the fittings,” and did a bunch of cast stainless-steel fittings.’
Watts says: ‘I can’t say enough about Loughboro: they worked very closely in the development of the details. And there was spiral-stair company Crescent of Cambridge. Our original design was a custom spiral steel design. Following value engineering, we worked with them to produce a combination of their standard components.’
Stone fabricator Stone Productions was responsible for the stonework, primarily in the swimming pool building. Watts says: ‘The stone fabricators were a big part of the design team. We would come to them with a bunch of drawings. Their director, Michael Redford, would give us a big lecture about stone and we would follow what he said. It was a great relationship.’
Watts is enthusiastic about Zanetti & Bailey: ‘They were the terrazzo guys for the dining pavilion. We came up with a system where you took random pieces of marble and mixed them in with the terrazzo. They’re traditional builders and were uncomfortable about the random bit. So we ended up doing a jig with a metal plate – and gave them the authority to use it wherever.’
Watts is lavish with praise for pool services engineer Marvin BBS Technical Services: ‘I can’t say enough about BBS’s Michael Braid and his contribution. He was the mad scientist of the project. He decided on a UV filtration system using low-level hydrogen peroxide additives for the pool and the sophisticated comfort cooling setback control, which involves designing for infrequent use and minimum maintenance.’
Project Stud Farm Conversion
Architect Leroy Street Studio
Collaborating architect DSDHA
Main contractor Laybrook Homes
Quantity surveyor Malcolm Hunt
Services engineers TGM/Mervyn Brown Associates/ Marvin BBS Technical Services/Beaver Building Services
Landscape architects Edmund Hollander Design
Lighting designer Lighting Design International
Form of contract AIA B141 Standard Form Agreement
Cost £4.2 million
Start on site February 2001
Completion on site October 2008
Gross building area 1,039m2