Country Life’s Top 100: The magic of timelessness

Giles Kime's executive editor and interiors guru — and the man in charge of putting together our annual Country Life Top 100 — on what binds together our pick of the 100 best architects, designers and craftspeople in Britain.

The English language offers plenty of words and phrases that describe being current: ‘cutting edge’, ‘of the moment’ and ‘up to the minute’ are only three. There are fewer, however, that refer to those aspects of life that are timeless, perhaps because it’s a quality that isn’t considered worthy of note or even desirable. Or maybe it’s an adjective that is confused with tradition, which can have negative connotations in some contexts.

[LISTEN: Giles Kime on how the Top 100 is put together]

This week, Country Life publishes its eighth Top 100 that shines a light on architects, garden designers, interior designers and craftspeople with a track record of excellence in their respective disciplines. Many work in a classic style, some contemporary, most in a combination of the two. None are influenced by prevailing trends and the style of what they create is of less significance than their ability to design pleasing buildings, with high-quality materials, employing the appropriate skills required to bring them to life.

Look back at English rural houses of the past and you’ll see that these are the foundation of timelessness in domestic architecture and garden design, whether in the form of a 17th-century cottage, a Georgian manor house or some bucolic half-timbered vision dreamt up by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. What is exciting about the best houses being built or restored today is that, increasingly, they combine desirable qualities both from the past and the present.

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Today, few are burdened by museum-like historicism and instead are designed to play the role of comfortable, warm settings for daily life. In this sense, they are a true reflection of the era in which we live. There also appears to be a waning demand for startling modernist statements and instead clients are asking for discrete buildings and interventions that are sympathetic to their settings. In addition, a greater understanding of spatial planning and lighting is helping to create homes and gardens that are more fit for purpose—and well suited to the demands of life in the 21st century.

The new focus on sustainability is also having an impact; locally sourced and reclaimed materials are adding quality and character. Volumes tend to be modest, structures more thermally efficient. The cumulative impact of these shifts is a style and approach that is less likely to date than many of the country houses created in the last decades of the previous century. They are buildings with a capacity to evolve as needs change. Aesthetically and materially, they are less likely to be destined for a skip or landfill and more likely to become treasured homes that are handed from one generation to the next.

The Country Life Top 100 appears in the March 6, 2024 issue of Country Life; the full list will be live online on Friday, March 8.