How to catch your man, or woman

It has been hard pinning down an architect to design a building to replace the ‘Oliver’s’ bungalow and I have found the more RIBA prizes they have won, the harder they are to woo.  A few months ago, browsing through the RIBA website, I found an image of a restrained and elegant fishing hut designed and built recently in Hampshire.  Wanting something similarly simple and completely in tune with the landscape by the Mill Pond, it struck a chord and the wooing began.

The phone/email part was rather painful, and without the excitement of regular wooing . On my side, it involved subtle praise and endless happy nonchalance at the time it took for my emails to be answered. But in time I did gain an audience and found a young team with a straight talking Irishman at the helm who liked the site, understood my ineloquently described brief and was willing to cross the Solent, a mental barrier for many.

My homework was to create a mood board of artists, landscapes and of course buildings that I love. So we have Graham Sutherland, a Keith Vaughan (1940’s of course), predictably a bit of Richard Long and rather rogue, a Japanese ikebana basket. The three buildings that I have included are all ones I have visited ( I am trying to avoid some fantasy ‘pinterest’ board) and I suppose what they share is a control of light into the interior.  The first, the net repair sheds at Hastings, with elevated profile and finish of black tar ‘paint’, the second, ‘Kentuck Knob’, a Frank LLoyd Wright building that sits sympathetically in its undulating landscape and the third, ‘Chiiori’, an 18th Century single storey timber farmhouse in the Iya gorges of Japan.  Years ago, we spent one too many nights here  sleeping on the floor, seeking warmth from a poorly vented floor hearth that smoked upwards to a simple hole in the roof. I crossed my legs, trying desperately not to need the use of the shared- by -many derelict privy.  Jason’s reading of Seamus Heaney’s  ‘Beowolf’ in this environment was too much for most of us, particularly our Australian counterparts. Despite that , or because of it, this building has lived with me, its massive beams and rafters blackened by that smoke. Its calm stillness is something I aspire to down by the Mill Pond, at least on those days when the kayak-ing ladies aren’t doing their water- borne yoga .

And like Chioori, or Kentuck Knob, the landscape must not appear cultivated, even though at one time, as you can see, vegetables were grown in front of the old stables, which later became the house. I know it is a cliché, but I would like to scrape back the turf here and sow native grass and yellow rattle: less toxic green, less mowing. I hope in time that the odd bee orchid will pop up, as it did next door where a patch was left. And this ‘meadow’  must run right up to the doors of the house, any outdoor furniture just sitting on a mown patch.


The architects and I spent a very atmospheric, misty Monday on the Mill Pond edge, then chewed the cudd for three hours in a local café. The sketches have gone to be ‘worked up’ and because of building restrictions on the site, we will not be allowed to begin until April 2018, when the birds will have finished their winter sojourn here. So until then, we are left to man handle our rather hefty log pile out of the way to make space for our new building.

keith vaughan
Keith Vaughan, Boy sowing seed c. 1945
Graham Sutherland, Western Hills, 1938-41
Graham Sutherland, Western Hills, 1938-41
Hastings Net Sheds
chiiori interior
Chiiori interior


Dog on a log



Kentuck Knob



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