For those building their own country house, what are the latest technology and design trends?
Whether it be chutes to the laundry room or dedicated rooms for hobbies, today’s country houses provide an insight into the lives of a 21st-century family. However, one constant across the spectrum of new-builds, be they in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire or Berwickshire, is that they’re places to have fun. Sandy Mitchell, who runs RedBook, an agency advising clients on creating new houses (020–7060 6222; www. redbookagency.com) says: ‘Everyone knows that a country house is expensive to run, so it’s important at the outset to invest energy into creating something that the owners will really enjoy.’
He has clients who are currently restoring a house in Derbyshire and installing a zip wire from one of the turrets down to the garden. ‘That’s not something we see every day, but is suggestive of this movement to be less formal than perhaps people were in the past. There’s a trend towards relaxing boundaries both inside and outside and a focus on family and children, on entertaining and sharing the space.
New country house trends: Layouts
These tend to change depending on how deep into the countryside you are, explains Hugh Petter, director of ADAM Architecture (01962 843843; www. adamarchitecture.com). ‘Houses closer to London—or any city—tend to have less emphasis on boot rooms and instead have more luxurious garages or large basements with cinemas, saunas and steam showers as well as huge master suites with separate “his and hers” bathrooms and dressing rooms.’
As it’s considerably easier, for planning- permission purposes, to increase floor space by digging down into the basement rather than above ground, new country houses will often make the most of the subterranean space. Janine Stone, which works on new build projects in the immediate Home Counties and beyond, has recently created a basement garage for a client that was embedded into the landscape. ‘This delivered a major statement for the client, but, importantly, the design didn’t impact on the landscape of the surrounding countryside and the house,’ explains founder Janine Stone (020– 7349 8888; www.janinestone.com).
New country house trends: Interiors
The open-plan kitchen and breakfast room forms the heart of a new-build country house—however, regardless of whether it’s within the M25 or not, kitchens in such properties are more subtle in design than they have been in the past. ‘A lot of bling isn’t popular now,’ says Stuart Cole of Knight Frank (020–7861 5101; www.knightfrank.com). ‘More subtle finishes are better.’
He adds that cinema rooms are becoming less formal than they have been, with ‘fewer rows of cinema seats— instead, people go for large sofas so that the space can be used after the film is over as a “chill-out” room’.
Carpets are out and wood or stone floors—at least, at ground level—are in, says Stuart. A lot of the details will be ‘influenced by hotels that clients have visited,’ adds Sandy. ‘Gone are the days when you’d expect to be a little less comfortable in a country house and the expectation is that the interiors will look and feel as sophisticated in the country as they are in London.’
New design trends: Technology
The amount of technology clients are fitting into new country houses has taken a few steps back recently, believes Malcolm Stewart of Kensington Audio Visual (020–7736 1483; http:// kensingtonav.com). ‘The primary concern is that owners will be able to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning effectively. You can easily run up annual heating bills of £50,000 in large houses and, if you have spare bedrooms, you want to be able to “turn them off” when they aren’t in use.’
Next in importance is security, with CCTV, panic alarms and security doors in remote areas where police response times can be a concern. ‘Then, I’d say the focus is on lighting control, music systems and audio-visual distribution to avoid having to have multiple satellite boxes cluttering the house and, finally, access controls, which are important if the house has two entrance drives and staff.’
Nevertheless, whether it be because technical aspirations might be stymied by slow broadband or because there’s a conscious aspiration to put ‘clear water between home and the buzz of the city’, the further away from the bright lights you get, the less technologically advanced a new house will tend to be, adds Hugh.
Two marvellous modern country houses for sale
Somerset, £1.6 million
Perkins Court, Freshford
5 bedrooms, 3,913sq ft, cart-shed garage, garden
Savills (01225 474501)
This house forms part of the Freshford Mill development based around a renovated mill straddling the
River Frome. The garden has a terrace with views down to the lake. The village, six miles south-east
of Bath, lies in the Cotswold AONB and has a train station, a community shop, a surgery and a pub.
Dorset, £7.5 million
Vanquish, Poole Harbour
6 bedrooms, indoor pool, private mooring
Hamptons International (01202 709283)
The entire top floor of this contemporary house is dedicated to the master suite. Full-width sliding
doors take full advantage of the view onto Poole Harbour and the nearby Parkstone Yacht Club. A lift
provides access to all the floors of the house and on the lower level is garaging and a media room.