The new low-energy home of Ian and his wife Gill stands in the former kitchen garden of a large period property in a picturesque south-west Oxfordshire village. The first thought that comes to mind when you spot the almost hidden one storey property, with its curvaceous outline and flat green roof peeping out over the tall brick walls, is that the house is constructed in this way because that is what the planners demanded — a low-impact home with a decidedly green flavour.
Nothing of the sort. The house is the product of Hertfordshire-based architect David Kirkland – who specialises in sustainable design and whose previous credits include the Eden Project – and his clients, who were convinced that this was the sort of house that would best suit the site and their lifestyle.
When Ian and Gill bought the land for £285,000 in August 2005 – with the proceeds of their house sale – the plot came with plans for a four-bed modern brick house. The couple then spent two years on site living in a caravan with their son Hamish, then two, finding a suitable architect and builder. “Quite simply we wanted the house of our choice — something that was very low energy, that was specifically designed to make the best use of the plot and its location, that we would love and want to stay in… something that was really ours,” Gill explains.
The couple have achieved exactly that. As well as its planted roof, the house, which with a little licence could be called crescent-shaped, has its outermost sections of wall constructed from straw bale. The entire inner curve is timber frame, with around 70 per cent of the area glazed with large sliding doors. This sinuous inner form was designed to allow the sun to shine into the bedrooms in the morning, warm up the south-facing heart of the building in the middle of the day, and then bring brightness to the family room and kitchen in the evening.
“When you enter the house via the deliberately understated front door on the rather hidden north side, you feel as if you are shutting the door and leaving the world behind you,” says Ian. “After nearly two years in the house we can say it works really well.”