'Weekends in the countryside'
Times away from London spent in the country, offer a more physical reality. The opportunities for social times with friends and family or even moments of selfish stillness offer more intimate elements of delight when the country house has architectural moments of engagement, such as: window seats, nooks, winding stairs to sit on, fireplaces and hearths, porches and verandahs. Such examples can add to ones well-being. Victorians incorporated such domestic delights in their houses. Not for practical reasons but for the more romantic fashion of pastoral life which demanded small constructions for the handing over of posies, exchanging sweet words and delighting in moonlit moments. The Christmas card clichés of dogs and rocking chairs have never disappeared they have simply been replaced by Italian slim-line leather furniture and stainless steel hearths. The shabby chic of countrified urbanites reveals similar touchstones of tradition and it is this acceptance of timeless designs that can make the architectural small moments of country houses a delight.
It seems that many of my clients now wish to have something more intimate and delightful. A re-emergence of something akin to romance within the countryside is now returning to replace the more timely trends. It is not only better value because these designs last- both mentally and physically, but also the materials can be locally sourced and offer a robust character. Designs of extensions, porches, pavilions, summer-houses – can all have small simple elements of delight modestly designed into them. These better allow families and guests to engage with the house and each other. The poetry of the space in any good house design should be created by the poetry of how people use, touch and act in its spaces. The enjoyment of sitting in a window seat in the morning sun is much enhanced if the cat’s cushion is nearby and a tree with a bird feeder is within view of the sitter. These three elements combine to make that simple window seat a really great moment. This is not a memorable experience. But such quiet moments definitely balance one’s self in a way modern houses and city life cannot.
Similarly, an open kitchen with island and foldable façade onto the terrace and lawn can be that much better when the floor and island continues outside, and the height of the opening allows for the eye to see the clouds above the trees and for the sun to go deeply into the kitchen. Likewise, a poolside or bathroom bathing or showering experience can be that much more delightful if the materials chosen are locally sourced and roughly prepared. The robust and sensual experience denies the clinical urban bathing experience and reminds one of early bathing experiences of beach, river or pond. The local timber or stone can be cheaper and more roughly treated than the London masons elegantly cut imported marble. The social aspect of greeting in winter is yet another of many delightful small moments worth enhancing with the magnifying glass of architecture. In past times the porte-corchere offered a space we now know as being like a red carpet moment. The guests were the stars and they were received with great respect. So too, the humble cottage, with the small porch of thatch or tiled lean-too over the front door step. The combination of wood and wellie storage, deliveries shelf, post-box, light and doorbell are all important parts of the threshold engagement of greeting and fare-welling.
In conclusion, next time you visit the countryside -identify yourself as being inside the physical world. As you leave London you are not entering a state of voided life but in fact a richer, more experiential, physical opportunity for engaging in the landscape, home, family and friendships. Less intellectual experiences can, with constituent architecture, heighten rare moments of engagement and ultimately bring subliminal refreshment that is not simply about rest. Any additional small spaces of social, familial or quiet delight can offer us a reflection of our deeper selves – by allowing us to engage in the newness of the architecture of our homes away. Consider how your homes in the country, give you joyfulness due to a nearby outside view at a field’s scale – or also the delightful and romantic intimate details of engagement inside, at the furnished scale. Not only is the grass greener, but it is best seen close-up whilst lying on the lawn or peered at through a circular window as the pheasant wanders over the field at dusk.