Gregory Phillips has had his fair share of scuffles with planning authorities. ‘You have to be nimble on your feet when working with local councils and conservation areas,’ he maintains, ‘It is all about how you communicate.’
But his experience has evidently paid off. When local authorities rejected plans for a new house amid woodland in Wiltshire – time and time again – Mr Phillips came to the rescue. His design for a two-storey dwelling was accepted immediately. ‘Buildings must sit quietly in the landscape or urban setting,’ he maintains, ‘I decided to do a modern interpretation of a simple barn, nestled sleekly into the trees.’
Mr Phillips is sitting quietly in his West London office, surrounded by cardboard prototypes of vast commercial and residential developments and an impressive array of framed awards. A love of drawing led him to study at the Glasgow School of Architecture and he has been running a successful architects firm in London for the past fifteen years. His projects have ranged from bars and restaurants to individual private houses and uniquely, he handles both the architectural and interior design sides of a brief. ‘There aren’t many people in both camps,’ he admits, ‘It is a different mindset designing inside and out and requires the use of many different specialists’.
But Mr Phillips is being humble. His all-encompassing vision renders him capable of designing both a complicated rooftop extension on a listed London townhouse and painting patterns on De Stael tiles, or commissioning a soap dish. The Wiltshire annexe was voted ‘Most Outstanding New Building’ in the Salisbury Civic Society New Buildings Award Scheme 2003 and the following year he won the Contemporary Residential Room award at the Design and Decoration Awards. Although most of his projects are urban, a love of natural materials, classical styles and space often leads him to take on projects in the country. Norfolk and Suffolk are his A-list counties and if given free reign, a ‘modern villa, freestanding in the landscape at the edge of water or in a forest’ would be an ideal project.
Mr Phillips is a calm, sagacious figure who evidently creates a successful dialogue between the architect’s ivory tower and the individual demands of a client. ‘Often a client cannot verbalise the brief,’ he explains, adding that there are standard questions he asks in order to extrapolate a brief for each room. In the next meeting, he shows them some preliminary plans and receives feedback on them. ‘Often my first ideas are the best,’ he says, ‘although it can lead to a better design when the client rejects things. Jobs often work best if clients give me their requirements without a solution.’
But site is another all-important factor that has to be considered. Some clients, according to Mr Phillips, mistakenly believe their site can be altered to suit a project. Mr Phillips adopts a ‘work with what you’ve got’ mentality. ‘It is much easier to go with the world as it is,’ he laughs, ‘there are always two disparate elements in a project, the client and the site ? it is a question of pulling them together’.
The Wiltshire Annexe exemplifies this text book style. Mr Phillips opts for building in, rather than on the landscape, accounting for the surrounding trees and undulating woodland floor. The barn, ‘an up-to-date reinterpretation of an old building type’, has a timber frame, pitched roof and a wooden coat. ‘There’s no need to throw out all the heritage,’ he maintains, ‘you can use traditional techniques and create a modern building. The inspiration for the barn’s exterior ranges from English vernacular to European modernism.’
Just as the building slots into the landscape, the interior is in harmony with the outer design. The bare concrete in the entrance hall, state-of-the art kitchen and spacious proportions give the annexe a modern feel. Smooth wood tables, stone and wood walls and stripped wood floors compliment the leafy surroundings without being overly rustic. Eclectic lampshades and cushions, bold print wallpapers, tapestry rugs and brown leather upholstered chairs add a personal touch. ‘A living space has a big impact on the way you feel,’ Mr Phillips explains, ‘It should be a sanctuary with all the modern requirements.’
But will what is modern now, become tired and outdated – the downfall of much twentieth century architecture and design? ‘I don’t want to be overly fashionable,’ Mr Phillips retorts, ‘It is a question of finding a balance between luxury and longevity.’
The no-frills structural simplicity and the use of natural materials certainly give the Salisbury annexe a feeling of timelessness. Mr Phillips feels his other projects retain the same durability and claims his basic designs have not altered much since he first started. ‘Either I’ve been doing the same thing or the world is more aligned to what I do,’ he laughs.