Were it not for the natural spring that runs beneath the picturesque Welland Valley in Northamptonshire, this unique home would not exist.
It was the pure waters, which flow directly under this site, that led to the building of the early-17th-century parchment works that gives this project its name.
It may be little more than ruins today, but in its time the structure contained a flourishing business that transformed animal hides into writing materials rumoured to have been used by royalty. When the current owners – a semi-retired project manager for construction sites and his wife, a councillor at a local school – took over the property, they inherited not just these historic tumbledown walls, but also a Victorian cottage and a cattle shed.
Thanks to the vision of Will Gamble Architects, all three buildings have been connected for the very first time. ‘What we did,’ says Will, ‘was the last piece in the jigsaw.’
He’s talking about the striking glass and Corten-steel box extension, housing a new living area and kitchen, which sits neatly within the ruin’s walls. It links to the cattle shed, which now features a main bedroom and ensuite beneath its rafters, and the cottage’s more formal receptions rooms.
Planning regulations dictated that an archaeologist watch over every step of this delicate project, ensuring no damage was inflicted to the scheduled monument. They need not have worried, though. Everything about this build has been planned with the utmost respect for the past.
‘The whole concept was not to cover anything up,’ explains Will, who wanted to accentuate the individual qualities of all three elements of the house. ‘Even where old rusty nails were set in the walls, we didn’t want to take them out. It was a very honest project – we just made the most of the materials that were around us.’
And, as luck would have it, there was quite a lot to be found amid the rubble. Will and his team discovered beautifully preserved six-metre-long oak beams that they used as lintels above the doorways. An old stable door was converted into a coffee table and, where they did have to repair the ruin to make it safe, they used stones found in the garden. ‘They were an exact match – from the same time, quarry and aged in the same way,’ says Will.
When it came to the interior, the watchwords were: ‘clean, contemporary and minimal’. Will’s idea being that the furniture should not compete for attention with the architecture. At night, when the crumbling remains of the factory that form the courtyard are atmospherically lit, it’s hard to imagine anything upstaging the view. willgamblearchitects.com
For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration Country Volume 17, on sale now with free postage
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