The stone-built villages of the Cotswolds demand architects of great sensitivity, capable of delivering the finest craftsmanship. Robert Franklin, who has been practising here since 1978, has a portfolio including a Palladian extension to the Great House at Burford, a ‘sumptuous’ reconstruction of a much extended 15th-century Cotswold farmhouse, and a brilliant restoration of the second oldest brick building in Oxfordshire.
He says: ‘For a good match of stone, we rely on experienced quarrymen who know which will blend best. We don’t try to fake an old look, just to keep as much old material as we can, so that a house we’re remodelling still looks a lovely old building.’ He has an enviable ability to work in historical styles, producing not replicas, but new work so convincing that at first acquaintance it could be taken for the original.
Mr Franklin has kept his practice small so he can retain detailed control of design. Some of his most creative work takes the form of freehand sketches done while he is talking to clients. ‘Most have a clear idea of what they want, but not how to achieve it. If you give them a sketch, they see the possibilities immediately.’He describes the practice’s approach to conservation as minimalist. ‘We follow the SPAB precept of intervening as little as possible, given regard to structural stability, weatherproofing and longevity. We believe a high budget can do more damage to a historic building than a low one. Before making proposals, we request that enough time is allowed for a thorough analysis of the building and its problems. Needless to say, not all problems are found before work starts, but this approach pays dividends.’
Cost, of course, is critical. His experience is that quality and low contract bidding are incompatible. ‘Our preference is to select contractors and individual craftsmen we know are capable of the finest work and to negotiate the contract sum. We recommend clients to engage a good cost consultant experienced in high-quality work who can look after their financial interests independently.’
The choice of builder is the key to quality. ‘Currently, we are working with Symm & Co of Oxford, who are good tradesmen and good craftsmen.’ Significantly, the practice brochure credits the builders employed on each job Pethers of Burford, Alfred Groves & Sons of Milton-under-Wychwood. Another feature of his interiors is the superb ornamental plasterwork.
‘We use Clark & Fenn, who took over Jacksons and its amazing collections of historic moulds, including those of the Adam brothers. It also has an extensive collection of moulds for 17th-century friezes with intertwining oak leaves and vines complete with grasshoppers.’ Cast from the old moulds, these friezes add a wonderfully lively touch. The geometric designs of ceilings with interlacing ribs are his own, with exquisitely crisp details such as Tudor roses and sprigs of oak added in, using old moulds.
A new wing he designed has a generous stone spiral stair as good as Lutyens’ one at Castle Drogo, descending to a vaulted wine cellar designed for inviting friends to drinks. At the top of the staircase, he has designed a spectacular new arch-braced collar truss roof, which gives the attic bedroom the swagger of a medieval great hall.
The massive green-oak timbers are not just there for effect a Cotswold stone roof is the heaviest of any (bar one roofed in York slabs) and subject to enormous stress. ‘We did it with Carpenter Oak, which has experts in medieval jointing techniques it’s all fastened with traditional wooden pegs.’
Robert Franklin Architects
3?5, Middle Way, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 7LH
Andy Maclean The Old Bakery, Sheep Street, Charlbury, Oxfordshire OX7 3RR (www.stewartdesign.co.uk)
RIBA South Linda Mills, Regional Director, RIBA South, 2A, The Stables, Sandford Farm, Woodley, Reading
RG5 4SU (0118?969 8051)
RIBA Oxford Branch Charles Webster, chairman, Oxford Architects, Bagley Croft, Hinksey Hill, Oxford OX1 5BS (01865 329100)