It's now six years since the original Country Life Top 100 was published, but the aim hasn't changed: we name the very best architects, interior designers, craftsmen, builders and garden designers in Britain.
We are fortunate to live in a golden age of British architecture, interior design, gardening and restoration. Much of this is thanks to a greater depth and breadth of expertise than ever before, which springs from the growing number of ever-more knowledgeable and inventive practitioners offering exciting opportunities to build new houses or bring old properties to life.
Increasingly, these projects involve seamlessly blending old and new, creating buildings that combine styles that are not only sympathetic to their setting, but which also meet the growing demands of modern life and of sustainability. It’s a process that is reinventing the way we live, as well as engaging a vast range of ever-evolving skills, from design and craftsmanship to the creation of thermal efficiency in period buildings.
Country Life is delighted to present its own selection of practitioners with a demonstrable track record of excellence, as well as the fresh additions bringing new ideas to the fore.
- Best architects in Britain
- Best interior designers in Britain
- Best garden designers in Britain
- Best builders and craftspeople in Britain
2023’s new additions to the Country Life Top 100
Named after the childhood home in south-west France of founder Patrick Williams, who earned his pocket money — and understanding of traditional buildings — by applying lime render to his parents’ 18th-century farmhouse, this company embodies Mr Williams’s passion for restoration and sensitivity to fine craftsmanship.
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These qualities are something Mr Williams shares with his wife, Neri, with whom he runs the studio and the couple’s inspiring furniture shop in Bath. Many of the wares are the result of collaborations with local artisans, creating individual pieces with distinctive charm. Specialising in period buildings and restorations, in both residential and commercial sectors, the studio, founded in 2009, has a reputation for its responsiveness to each property’s history, evident in its projects, which currently include a canal house in Amsterdam, dating back to 1616.
Mr Williams’s maxim is ‘the building is the client and should dictate what is done to it’. Shunning today’s throwaway culture, the interiors have a time-honoured and gracious appeal, celebrating the old, yet sympathetically introducing the comfort of the new.
A true family business, this interior-design and build practice was founded in 2011 by husband-and-wife team Nick and Pamela Cox, their son, Tom, and daughter, Kate. They offer a range of complementary skills; Nick has extensive experience in upholstery, flooring and commercial projects, Pamela in antiques and interior design, Tom has an eye for construction, architecture and colour and Kate a curiosity for new designers and fresh brands. The team head a studio, named after the Old English word for homestead, which undertakes all aspects of design, such as new-build construction, consulting on exterior and interior architecture, spatial planning, landscaping, joinery and interior decoration. They can deliver a full turnkey solution or help with simpler room refreshes.
The practice has a reputation for distinctive interiors with a relaxed feel, combining the elegant and eccentric with an imaginative use of colour and antiques, and is equally at home blending tradition and modernity in a new-build country house as it is in converting a former net loft in Cornwall into a quirky two-bedroom home. In 2020, it launched homeware store Studio HÁM, an interiors emporium-cum-design studio in the Hambleden valley, Oxfordshire. Expect a mix of antique and custom-made furniture, as well as decorative pieces, art and homeware.
01491 579371; www.haminteriors.com
Turning her expert eye from townhouses in Chelsea to hotel rooms and treehouses at Wildhive Callow Hall in the Peak District, Isabella Worsley takes them all in her stride. After a degree in architectural history at the University of Edinburgh, she cut her design teeth at Guy Goodfellow, then began working closely with Firmdale Hotels creative director Kit Kemp on award-winning interiors in London and New York. The experience, she says, has given her the courage and confidence to create distinctively original spaces that celebrate joyous colour and pattern.
The niece of Country Life’s late Architectural Editor Giles Worsley, she set up her own studio in 2018, focusing on residential and boutique-hotel projects. Interiors have a classic sensibility, attuned to English country-house style, combined with a contemporary edge of character and charm. Current projects include the conversion of a longhouse in the Brecon Beacons, the restoration of a traditional farmhouse on the Côte d’Azur, a beach house in Wittering, West Sussex, and a Georgian home in Buckinghamshire.
020–8075 5232; www.isabellaworsley.com
There are only a handful of interior designers expert at classic English decorating with a contemporary edge and Olivia Outred is fast earning her rightful place among them. Known for injecting colour, art and the unexpected into traditional interiors, her work is imaginative, fresh and far from stuffy. After graduating with a degree in interior and spatial design from Chelsea College of Arts, Ms Outred joined Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, where she worked as assistant to Philip Hooper. Going on to run the interior-design arm of the widely admired Lulu Lytle’s Soane Britain, she set up her own east London-based practice in 2014.
Strong on creating comfortable and inviting homes in London and, increasingly, in the country, Ms Outred has a versatile approach evident in her recent projects. They include a villa in Primrose Hill, a Georgian townhouse in Mayfair, a farmhouse in the Cotswolds and a row of charming Victorian terraced cottages in east London.
020–03393 5919; www.oliviaoutred.com
Stanhope Gate Architecture
Established in 2002, this practice enjoys an international reputation for its immaculately detailed classical architecture. The firm’s work encompasses new-builds, master planning and refurbishment of listed and historic buildings, as well as collegiate, hotel and resort projects in the UK and overseas.
Led by principal Alireza Sagharchi, who is a leading practitioner and exponent of contemporary classical architecture and traditional urban design, the practice’s private residential work extends from the reimagining of a country house on the Isle of Jura to a new-build home in Holland Park, a Caribbean retreat in Nassau with its own lighthouse and a 27,000sq ft new-build house in Berkshire. Other work includes a large equestrian facility in Spain and The King’s home, which is also a training centre and educational facility, in the UNESCO-protected village of Viscri, Transylvania.
Some of the projects can be enjoyed in Mr Sagharchi’s book, Classicism at Home (£65, Rizzoli), in which he reveals his vision for combining the wisdom of the past with the needs of contemporary living. The architect is also particularly well known for his contextual approach to architecture — an understanding that the building must work in harmony with the locality, whether it is a house in the desert or an eco-resort on the edge of the Danube.
020–7451 0955; www.stanhopegatearchitecture.com
Specialising in bespoke residential schemes and commercial landscapes across the UK and internationally, Gavin McWilliam’s and Andrew Wilson’s garden-design studio has won more than 40 national and international awards since it was founded in 2010. Today, Mr McWilliam heads the studio and Mr Wilson acts as consultant. Garnering attention for its carefully tailored and contemporary designs, the studio has a reputation for crisply detailed construction, bold lines and abundant planting schemes in soft, muted colours that blend effortlessly with their architectural surroundings.
Expect attention to detail, a considered use of materials and, often, a sense of discovery and an element of surprise, all hallmarks of Mr McWilliam’s skill. Recent and current projects include a family garden for an Arts-and-Crafts house in Hertfordshire, contemporary designs for reimagined houses in the Home Counties and a large family garden in Holland Park with terraces for entertaining, as well as country gardens in Oxfordshire and for an estate by the river in Berkshire. Mr McWilliam will reveal his Transcendence garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this May, which promises to be a calm and spiritual space designed to reflect end-of-life experience.
07704 277304; www.mcwilliamstudio.com
Tried and trusted construction firms, expert in complex building projects, are hard to come by, which makes Knowles an especially welcome addition to the Country Life list. Founded by Robin Knowles in 2010, this company provides a comprehensive service, from concept to completion, and undertakes construction, structural and heritage work across London and the Home Counties. A commitment to retaining in-house management and specialist skills is designed to make the firm less reliant on subcontractors, to provide a consistent and reliable service. It has particular experience in working with councils and privately owned estates, such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council, as well as the Grosvenor and Cadogan estates.
Mr Knowles, who has more than 30 years of experience in the construction industry, represents the second generation of the family-owned company and has now been joined by his daughter Megan Steele-Knowles.
London projects include alterations to and the restoration of the Grade II-listed Castle Club in Fulham as a luxury commercial scheme, two super-prime private residences in St John’s Wood and a collection of luxury townhouses in Knightsbridge, as well as private country estates in Gloucestershire, Surrey and Berkshire.
020–7313 4169; www.knowles.uk.com
T. M. Lighting
Specialising in the lighting of art, T. M. Lighting was founded by directors Andrew Molyneux and Harry Triggs in 2012. Now, it enjoys an enviable reputation for designing and manufacturing the best-quality art lighting for the home, as well as heritage properties, galleries and institutions, with clients ranging from Historic Royal Palaces, the Rothschild Foundation and English Heritage to Frieze Masters and Masterpiece London. The firm advises clients on how to illuminate art, demonstrating how lighting can help to create a good atmosphere in a room, as well as a balanced effect.
Recent projects include lighting the paintings at Burghley House in Lincolnshire; Spencer House in London and Goodwood House in West Sussex, as well as in private houses. The firm also produces its own range of contemporary and classic picture lights, accent lights, gallery lights and mounting systems. Although early LED lights were often considered too cold or too ‘blue’, T. M. Lighting has focused on developing museum-grade products with excellent colour rendition and consistency across different products to achieve an even distribution of light.
020–7278 1600; www.tmlighting.com
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