Master and servant
Gareth Wilkins' glass and steel entrance is an eye-catching addition to this rock star-owned, 1930s mansion in Sussex
For better or worse, many country houses that once belonged to the gentry have now passed into the hands of the new elite, with new requirements. One such is Storries, a two-storey, detached brick mansion on an 18ha estate in Sussex, bought by an exmember of the rock band Depeche Mode, to become his studio, home and office.
Built in 1934, it lies just below the summit of a rolling hill - the principal rooms face south with dramatic views over the South Downs. To the north, the servants' wing forms two sides of a courtyard. The architect, Gareth Wilkins of CCCP, has enclosed this courtyard to form a giant porte-cochère in steel and glass, a much-needed new access to the house for cars, large vans and people, while resolving several other issues.
Like many grand houses, Storries has a stately drive which sweeps into a formal gravelled entrance court, where an imposing front door forms the centrepiece of the north facade, leading into a grand hall. Unfortunately, it was exposed to strong winds; every time the door was opened fierce gusts blasted through the house. The client also needed a place to load and unload large and expensive pieces of musical and audio equipment under cover. Finally, Storries had a problem below the kitchen and servants' wing - the basement flooded when it rained, partly due to a failed land-drainage system but also from flash floods running down the hillside.
The problems are resolved in the enclosure, which is a tour-de-force of steel and glass - a wild triangular steel truss zigzags under the glass roof and breaks out freely at one side to create an overhanging canopy. It is the opposite of minimalism: wild, Gothic and exactly what every rock musician needs.
When the client's vehicle drives up to it, a pair of motorised glass doors slides open; instruments can be unloaded and taken into the studio through another glazed sliding door set in the wall of the house.
The new enclosure also acts as an entrance for the family. Walking boots can be washed in two Belfast sinks while the floor is a polished coloured concrete, resilient to mud and easy to wipe down.
Although the design makes no reference to the classical qualities of the original house, its strength and robustness are complementary. The oversized chimneys, stone roofs and 'punctured' windows are similarly dramatic.
Wilkins explains the concept: 'We conceived the glass roof and its steel structure as an oversized piece of furniture, a large kitchen table placed against the house. This approach encouraged us to design the elements under the roof as individual pieces of furniture, rather than as a series of enclosing architectural elements such as hallway, store and cupboard. In this way, the modernity of our additions stands in isolation to the house, but the diversity of their arrangement provides a new 'cornerstone' within its volume. It results in a minor modern masterplan within the larger classical grand plan of the house and its grounds.'
In practical terms, the new entrance has created additional usable space. With the original front door redundant, the hall is now an ideal space for the client to practice on his grand piano.
The field drainage has been repaired and, to deal with flash floods running down the hillside, a reservoir has been created in the basement, set below a metal mesh deck.
Even before the new enclosure was complete, the client decided he liked the space too much to use it just as an unloading bay.
The addition of a wine rack on the wall, a couple of bar stools and a counter turned one corner into a place to relax. The chance to sit and look through glass walls at one's classic car collection is a real 'value-added' component of the new enclosure
ARCHITECT Gareth Wilkins, CCCP
PROJECT TEAM Chris Matthews, Jess Paul, Sebastian Messener
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Techniker: Franck Robert, Stuart Hutchinson
MAIN CONTRACTOR Chisholm & Winch Contracts
SUPPLIERS Steel structure and glazing Littlehampton Welding; steel mesh deck Steelway Fensecure;
lights Flos, iGuzzini; ironmongery Vieler, Higrade