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Forestry commission

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building studyJohn Pardey's Duckett House is a contemporary take on the agricultural vernacular of the New Forest and a celebration of domestic life

John Pardey is a man with a mission, albeit a humble one. He wants to design 'the perfect courtyard house' and, ideally, he would like to do it close to home. Since moving from London to the Hampshire coastal town of Lymington in the early 1990s, he has been in a more or less constant state of warfare with a planning authority, and a populace, with a natural predisposition towards preservation and pastiche.

There have been low points - most recently the local development control committee's rejection of plans for a large Modernist country house in Lymington (AJ 10.6.04) - and Pardey's predicament is unlikely to improve with the New Forest's recent designation as a National Park.

But there have also been many triumphs - the most recent being Duckett House.

Fortunately for Pardey, the forces of conservatism have been countered by the support of the odd sympathetic planning officer and a steady stream of enlightened clients. Will and Libby Duckett, two engineers in search of a house in which to raise their three children, approached Pardey after having seen an article on his renovation and extension of the house Basil Spence built for himself by the Beaulieu River in Hampshire (AJ 28.9.00). Having bought a site within a conservation area and on the outskirts of the picture-postcard village of Burley, their vision of a home that was 'extremely modern' could easily have remained a pipe dream. Yet the house has been built, with little sign of compromise - a result which can probably be attributed to the fact that it is an essentially modest piece of work. With a floor area of 195m 2 it is not that much larger than the house it replaces, with an aesthetic informed by the clients' proviso that the house should be 'modest, calm and simple in design; bold in concept but not too arrogant or showy'.

What's more, it is tucked away, out of sight.

From photographs, the position of the house, nestled against a backdrop of mature trees, looks like a straightforward response to the clients' request for a house which 'should be sensitive to its surroundings and seek to embrace them and blend with them rather than to impose on them'. But the choice of site was a bold and arguably counter-intuitive move. This apparently cosy plot is in fact the bottom of a large grassy field and the point which is furthest from the road. Cars are left by a cluster of ramshackle farm buildings next to the main gate, so that the house itself has to be approached by foot. Pardey has long been preoccupied by the architectural expression of the domestic entrance ritual. Here, the simplest of devices, a very long, very straight, very simple garden path, has been used to dramatic effect.

The visitor is forced to take the time to contemplate the architecture of the house from a particular vantage point. Conceived as a collection of pitch-roofed volumes, it pays more than a passing nod to the farmyards which populate the surrounding area. Black standing-seam roofs sit above boarded walls of western red cedar, which in turn sit on white rendered walls, evoking the dark roofs and white walls of the local agricultural vernacular. The composition is anchored by a large central chimney which clearly announces that this is a family home.

Overall, the impression is of the functional clarity of, say, Scandinavian Modernism tempered with an exaggerated doll's-house like domesticity - an effect which is reinforced by the fact that the straightness of the approach and the abstract simplicity of the surroundings make it impossible to judge the length of the path and, consequently, the size of the house itself.

If Pardey's willingness to sacrifice the convenience of a speedy drop-off point for the sheer delight of a prolonged sense of arrival seems a little wilful, it is a wilfulness which the clients have eagerly embraced. Having moved from London in a bid to escape the clock-watching freneticism of city life, the Ducketts were receptive to the idea of finding delight in the detail of domestic life.

Their young daughter makes a habit of running the entire length of the pathway, adding a Hollywood-esque euphoria to the everyday ritual of coming home from school.

The front door opens onto a stonefloored, top-lit entrance hall. In the old farmhouse tradition, the hallway doubles as a formal dining room but also serves as a music room - a hive of noise and activity as opposed to the muted formality so often associated with a grand entrance space.

More importantly, it is a pivotal space where the different elements of the house interlock.

Like Pardey's earlier Sellers House on the Isle of Wight (AJ 28.8.03) Duckett House is Lshaped in plan allowing for clearly divided zones; living in one wing, sleeping in the other with a study and guest accommodation at the junction between the two. It is, however, subtly more complex in plan - or rather in volume. Pardey's architecture is profoundly volumetric; not in the sense of the crazy sculptural spaces facilitated by computer technology but in a rather more elementary way. Carefully crafted compositions of simple rectilinear volumes designed - and best understood - through freehand sketches and hand-drawn models as opposed to conventional sections and plans.

In their original brief the Ducketts wrote:

'We wish to have a contemporary, broadly open plan layout, but rather than one single massive space we envisage distinct areas each with their own function. These should feel at the same time both separate and linked.' Accordingly, the entrance hall offers a glimpse of the other key areas of the house.

Here, as at the Sellers House, the main living space lies to the right of the entrance hall, with a kitchen giving way to a 'linked but separate' living area clearly visible beyond, while sliding glass doors allow the entire space to spill out onto a raised external terrace.

Whereas at the Sellers House, a single-storey kitchen opened out to a lofty double-height living room, here the formula is reversed.

The double-height kitchen is clearly the heart of the house, while the single-storey living area, with its large masonry-built fireplace, is more cosy and domestic in feel. The Sellers mezzanine, which was inserted above the kitchen area as an afterthought, was spatially effective but of indeterminate function.

Here the upper floor houses the master bedroom, where full-height glazing offers views of the valley and an internal oak-shuttered Juliet balcony overlooks the kitchen below.

Also at first floor level is a galleried library area above the kitchen. Tiny in size, this library area allows every member of the household to enjoy semi-private space, apart from - but not entirely detached from - the bustle of family life, and to enjoy the spectacular high-level views. It also elevates the staircase from being simply a means of access to the most private room in the house, to a more symbolic ascent to a semi-public space. This subtle shift in status may seem like a rather esoteric point but it does make more sense of the predominance accorded to the staircase, a semi-cantilevered sculptural element inspired by 'Steps and Stairs', an essay by Jonathan Miller which poetically addresses the symbolic potential of the staircase, and by the simple folded-timber cantilevered stair which Louis Barragßn designed for his own home.

The decision to locate the master bedroom in the main living space and the guest accommodation off the study mean that the 'sleeping zone' is effectively a children's space. An open doorway at the far end of the entrance hall offers an immediate glimpse of a play/chillout area; its coloured beanbags and timber floor contrasting against the entrance hall's antique furnishings and stone floor. Affectionately dubbed the 'accident and emergency room', on the basis that it could be called onto service as a bedroom for an additional child, it currently acts as a transitional space to the children's bedrooms beyond.

As at the Sellers House, these rooms are identical cellular spaces ranged along a corridor, each with full-height fixed glazing overlooking the semi-enclosed outdoor courtyard. Once again, the simplicity of the planning is enriched by Pardey's volumetric games: the mono-pitch roof creates the necessary height for the corridor to be straddled by a high-level storage platform, thereby creating the necessary wall space on the eastern elevation to provide slit windows which capture the rising sun. The run of bedrooms terminates in a laundry room/family bathroom where a long low window allows views of the surrounding fields to be enjoyed from the comfort of a warm bath.

Every aspect of the design is informed by an appreciation of the landscape, reflecting both Pardey's instinctive preferences but also the Ducketts' clear instruction that:

'Our hope is for a home where the interior and exterior spaces blend almost seamlessly.

During daylight hours, the natural focus will be the wonderful outdoor views.' The house, in turn, contributes greatly to the view - or at least it would, if anybody saw it. In reality its delights are the sole reserve of the Ducketts and their visitors.

The tragedy of Pardey's stand-off with the local bureaucracies is that his considered - and highly contextual - oeuvre is best able to flourish in instances where it can make only a minimal contribution to the public realm.

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