Appoint the right architect and build your ideal country property

When buying a house, you inevitably end up having to compromise on some elements as nowhere will fit the brief perfectly, but there is a way around this: buy a plot of land and commission the house of your dreams. It’s a scenario that’s not uncommon, according to James Carter-Brown of Knight Frank’s rural consultancy, which acts as a building consultant on precisely these kind of projects (01488 688523): ‘There are certain parts of the countryside where there are some amazing sites. And with some clients who have a dream and can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s best to start from scratch.’ Once the relatively easy part of finding and buying the land has been completed, what are the next steps?

For the purpose of this exercise, we’ve chosen Redgrave Park, a 458-acre estate near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, which is on the market with Savills for £5.75 million. It has superb Capability Brown-conceived parkland and was formerly the setting for Redgrave Hall, a classical house that was demolished in 1968.

According to selling agent Will Hargreaves of Savills (01473 234822), Redgrave is the perfect setting for a new country house: ‘The resurrection of Redgrave Hall is perhaps the only project not undertaken by the current owners and, subject to the appropriate planning consents, will be the final chapter in returning Redgrave Park to the splendour of its Georgian heyday.’ To that hypothetical end, we’ve asked Hugh Petter of ADAM Architecture in Winchester (01962 843843) for his advice.

Choosing the architect

Interview more than one architect, recommends Mr Petter. ‘That’s very good advice,’ agrees Mr Carter- Brown. ‘At every stage of the journey, you or your advisers should secure at least three quotes.’ But it’s not just for financial reasons—the relationship needs to work. ‘I always say that I’m like a very expensive Savile Row tailor; we need to get on well,’ explains Mr Petter. ‘I need to understand what you want to achieve and you need to have confidence that I can interpret that. It can be really fun if you get the right chemistry.’

At this stage, you’ll also have to commission a topological survey, investigate the history of the site and make a survey of the character of local country houses. ‘Preferably, ecological elements such as newts

The landscape

Appoint a landscape architect at the outset. ‘Together, you can think about how the house locks into the landscape:  the approach, the gardens, the parkland, the stableyard or garage—the whole ensemble,’ explains Mr Petter. ‘For planning purposes, the house needs to enhance the setting and, of course, if designed well, the setting will enhance the house. For projects that rely on paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework, visibility of the house from public footpaths is important for planning permission. This all needs to be thought about as a whole rather than trying to rationalise them afterwards.’ At this stage, a planning consultant should also be appointed.

The architecture

When it comes to choosing the style of the house, go and see some others for inspiration. ‘And read Country Life,’ adds Mr Petter. ‘I often encourage my clients to keep a folder of clippings of houses and details that they like as this helps your architect to understand your taste and aspirations.’ In terms of Redgrave and its setting, a Classical design would suit, but, within that, there are many options: Palladian, Baroque or something more contemporary.

Architect’s brief

With a pencil, both the architect and the landscape designer will produce some drawings that give an idea of the size of the house and the interior layout. Mr Petter adds: ‘Quick pencil studies, which can be modified in meetings with tracing paper, are, in my view, the best way of establishing a dialogue with the client.’ Sometimes, planning states that houses need to be big enough to hold the landscape. ‘Clients can go a bit pink at this stage, but it’s possible to design a smaller house that gives the impression of scale needed by the planners.’

Interior design
It’s far better to appoint an interior decorator now, rather than trying to make things work later. They will have strong ideas about the layout of the rooms and how the circulation will work as well as lighting and furniture placement.

The initial budget
A quantity surveyor will now produce a preliminary budget estimate. This involves an ‘order of magnitude cost’, which is built up from recent tender information so it reflects current market prices. As a general guide, a brick house with simple details will cost about £400 per sq ft; in natural stone, the cost rises to £600 per sq ft. ‘And then it’s onwards and upwards,’ says Mr Petter. ‘But it’s always important to have the dream first, then we can wind it back if necessary.’ However, you will change your mind,

Planning submission
‘Talking is good: talk to neighbours, local PCCs and other interested bodies. It may delay the application, but, if you can achieve consensus, you may well benefit from a swifter journey through the planning process,’ advises Mr Petter. Submit the planning application and then stand down the team until permission is in hand.

Once that’s done, you can start to think about the internal finishes and any specialist craftsmanship you might want. The Bloomsbury-based Art Workers’ Guild (020–7278 3009) is a good source of contacts.

Tender the contract
‘I always advise my clients that the design of the house needs to be frozen before engaging any builders—changing your mind after this stage will be very expensive,’ says Mr Carter-Brown. Once the contract is appointed, the build can start. ‘And an impartial and knowledgable project manager should make sure that the budget is contained, the programme runs to expectation and the quality is maintained,’ he adds. In parallel, the landscaping team should get on with the planting. ‘It makes a huge difference to the setting when it comes to moving in,’ believes Mr Petter.

Need to know: planning permission
The planning paragraph that allows for new country houses to be built on greenfield sites has gone through four versions since John Gummer introduced PPG7 in the 1990s. The current policy (paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework) requires the house to enhance the landscape. However, in the case of estates where a house has previously stood—including Redgrave—it’s not a paragraph 55 application in its purest sense because the principle of the house has already been established. You still, of course, need planning permission.
Build your own country house
The potential rebirth of Redgrave Hall as conceived by Hugh Petter of ADAM Architecture (01962 843843). Although smaller than the original house, with a bold, projecting Ionic portico, it would still have the appropriate impact of a grand house in this beautiful landscape. £5.75 million (for the plot) through Savills (01473 234822)

* Search country houses for sale

* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter