This is almost a dream site. Set on a ridge above Torquay in Devon, it faces south-west over moorland and north-east to the sea. So it was well worth local clients Linda and Matthew Fox buying the small, undistinguished render-and-tile bungalow at the top of the long, sloping plot about nine years ago. They first planned to extend the house to accommodate children but the project has grown, effectively into a new-build.
The earlier plan to extend the bungalow has shaped Peralta, though. The broad idea had been to remove the roof and add a second storey, like a layer of flat-roofed boxes. Gradually ideas became more radical, and integrated.
From a cost viewpoint, the potential savings of conversion rather than new-build diminished in the light of existing construction, such as uninsulated walls, plus VAT. From a planning viewpoint too, it was essentially becoming a new house - but this was not a problem. Stan Bolt is building a regional reputation for modern houses, and some local planners at least are becoming more comfortable with this language. For Peralta in particular, the immediate surroundings comprise other, mostly larger, rendered and tiled one-storey and two-storey houses, variously extended, set in their own planting-enclosed plots along the ridge; this is not a strongly architecture-defining context.
Of course, the cost grew in design development, from first thoughts of about £150,000 to a final cost of double that. The clients liked what developed in the drawings and model.
While the overall bungalow footprint remains, most of the sense of the extended bungalow has gone, preserved mainly in the horizontally emphasised layering of the two levels and the box-like cantilevering of some of the upper spaces. The lower level is rendered blockwork;
the upper level is lighter, timber-framed.
Looking at the model in Bolt's studio, you see the building in the round as a villa. But the long site is little wider than the house, so that while there is a sculptural stair tower at the front, the external appearance is more of two-dimensional elevations - two abstract compositions of front and back. The northeasterly front is relatively closed, with most of the windows on the first floor. This is the side overlooked from across the narrow road where neighbouring houses, though set lower than Peralta, now block the sea view from ground-floor level. So the main formal living space, with its views, is on the upper floor.
To the rear of the house this main living space, with its views across open moorland, is glazed right across. The family space below it was at first similarly open, with a run of glazed doors. However, they had exceeded the amount of glazing area allowed under the Building Regulations SAP measures, and a compromise was needed on the overall glazed area, so a solid panel was introduced in the ground-floor glazed-door run. This compromises the horizontal emphasis of this facade.
Seen from the interior, though, the argument for not compromising on the extent of glazing in the first-floor living room is unassailable.
Crossing a pond at the front leads to a large oak door and, beyond, a generous entrance.
Off this are a wing of children's bedrooms and the family space: living/dining/play space, kitchen and 'niche' workspace. This niche is a neat touch, a couple of square metres in size, largely open-sided with just a desk where the computer is set, keeping the working parent connected with the rest of the family rather than shut away in a separate office.
The overall living/dining/play area perhaps feels a bit tight, as it has come to be used as the centre of this house with its small children. A double-height slot parallel to the facade of the living/dining space does help create breathing space and connection to the floor above. At ground level the effect is not soaring because the section steps back to create a terrace above, so that on the ground floor the slot is away from the window-wall, rooflight-like, not creating a two-storey glazed back to the house .
This ground-floor family space feels more cosy than open-ended to the rear of the house - unexpected in this architectural language.
By contrast, in the large, formal living space above, the geometry of the slot produces a dramatic effect. This is the room of light. The outer face of the slot is now the rear, fullyglazed facade. On the room side of the slot, it is edged with a glass balustrade; a bridge across the slot leads out on to the rear terrace.
Another step in the rear-wall section, at high level, sets up clerestory daylighting and provides a generous ceiling height. On two other walls there are windows towards the sea, a geometry that also produces glimpses right through the house when seen from the garden.
This upper level of the house is, in its formality and repose, more the parents' area; the living space, with its panoramic views, linked to their bedroom 'wing' of an en-suite bedroom connected to the extended rear terrace.
These clients have been closely involved with the project, in design and construction.
They did toy with the idea of living on site in a caravan for the nine-month construction period through to effective completion, but lived instead with a parent nearby, making frequent site visits and pressing to move in. Construction progress was reasonably smooth - it was generally low-tech, though the architect's minimalist detailing required close supervision. There are no skirtings or architraves, for example. Several door frames are stiles only, with no timber head member. Glazing slides into slots in the render without framing on some edges. Gargoyles rather than downpipes discharge most rainwater. One notable benefit of the uninterrupted planes is that the external cedar cladding is weathering evenly.
Peralta happens to be a very local project for the architect and clients, but it is also part of a growing regional workload for Bolt. His own ambitions are not to go further afield than that, to be able to be hands-on with projects in pursuit of build quality. This focus is important. Peralta and Bolt's other projects are helping to change the climate about what housing in the area can be: not just another render-and-tile bungalow; rather a step forward in architectural imagination realised.