Buy a modern home in the country

More and more people living in the countryside are opting for modern homes rather than pastoral pastiche.


You might think that very few people go for uncompromising modernity in the country, yet those who do can attract huge admiration. The Turvill family built Bavent House at Reydon, on the reed beds of Suffolk, in what you might call “fairy-tale-modern” style. Clad in zinc and iroko, the house is reminiscent of a beach hut, while the uneven roofline is like an ancient settlement or distant castle.

Departing from the vernacular still takes courage, though. “We had to defend ourselves, explain why we weren’t doing a pastiche country house, but now we feel we made the right decision,” says Lucy Turvill, a pharmaceutical consultant who moved into Bavent House almost a year ago with her husband Richard, who owns a laundry business, and their daughter Clear, 12. “The materials are just wonderful. The wood has faded to a soft colour and mimics the reed beds.”

Their architect, Anthony Hudson, has just won a Royal Institute of British Architects award for the house. “I had the image of the beach huts at Southwold in my mind, the old black tarred ones,” he says. “I decided to use black-zinc cladding for the more public faces of the house – a protective skin. Wherever we cut into it to create areas to sit outside, we used timber cladding.”

This is clever stuff, simple but rigorous, or “choreographed”, as he would say. Designing for something on the edge of the sea, where there is little more than wind and birds, was quite a challenge, especially as the spectacular views were to the north and the dreary ones to the south.

Anthony resolved this by creating a glass centre for the house which allowed the sun to slice right through and marsh views to be accessible to both sides. “When you arrive, you get an interesting silhouette of shapes, a slightly jumbled appearance of planes and faces which is intentionally picturesque,” he says.

“You cannot but appreciate the light and space. It is incredibly uplifting,” says Lucy. “Being modern, it actually reflects the way we live. The alternative is to take on an old house to bend and adapt.”

Bavent has two family bedrooms, two guest bedrooms and is wrapped in terraces offering shelter from the wind.

The house was also commended in this year’s Grand Designs awards. It isn’t the first time Anthony has attracted acclaim. Baggy House in north Devon, a modernist masterpiece with Art Deco overtones and intensely worked interiors, won the Riba Building of the Year award in 1994. It was built for Gavyn Davies, former chairman of the BBC and government economic adviser, and it continues to mesmerise everyone who becomes aware of it.

The Turvills stuck their necks out and chose a groundbreaking architect, but how many of us would do the same? Thanks to programmes like Grand Designs, a love of geometry and glass has begun to spread from the city to the country.

“Things have changed massively,” says Anthony. “It is still difficult to get new country houses built, in terms of planning and opportunities, but there is now a huge appetite for them. People love the image, style, light and space which make life more enjoyable.”

Estate agents and search agents acknowledge that the kinds of buyers who, 10 years ago, wanted only the quintessential English period house, will now happily look at modern ones. But modern comes in many different guises, from a brilliant original design such as Hudson’s to neo-Georgian or mock-Cotswold-manor, with many hybrids in between.

“People genuinely want modern now,” says Hugo Thistlethwayte of buying agents Prime Purchase. “The desire for them has rolled out of London. It is about the whole business of modern living now, rather than about old snobbish attitudes. Buyers have travelled the world, stayed in fantastic hotels, love new technology – which needs to be built in – and don’t want lots of little rooms off dusty corridors.”

Lovers of classical designs can go to an architect like Robert Adam (descendant of the great 18th-century architect). A classic modern house in the Georgian manner designed by his practice can be bought before it is built. Ranmore is a 97-acre plot in the Surrey Hills, with planning permission for six bedrooms, indoor pool and spa, barns, stabling, garages and tennis court, at £8 million through Knight Frank (01932 591600). The building would then cost £200 to £300 per square foot.

But at the very top end of the market – the multimillion level – international buyers are keen on “environmentally friendly funky-modern” as Mark Lawson, search agent with The Buying Solution, calls it.

“There is such a desperate shortage of Georgian rectories. The super-rich, who have houses all over the world, are so keen on modern now they want to find plots and design for themselves. It is the cool thing to do.”

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