Inside the RIBA House of the Year hopeful hidden behind a garden wall

·3-min read
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson

‘There have been delivery people come to the front gate and ask, “Where is the house?”,’ says Nigel Dutt, with a smirk of satisfaction. ‘They are looking right at it!’

The confusion is forgivable. This home, belonging to Nigel and his wife Eileen, is designed to be ultra-discreet. The work of architecture firm McLean Quinlan, it is nestled behind a high wall. An extension of the original garden wall found on the grounds of this historic country estate in Devon, this red-brick veil cleverly disguises the contemporary, sustainable house that sits beyond.

Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson

From the bricks used on the façade – chosen to reference rather than emulate those of the original wall – to the black render and floor-to-ceiling windows of the sloping building that extends behind it, everything was designed to disappear.

The garden is the star of the show here. In fact, this home’s layout was fashioned to follow the path that once led from the walled garden to the gardener’s cottage. At the heart of the whole four-bedroom space is a winter garden, blessed with sunshine by a large roof light overhead, with all of the rooms arranged around it, facing outwards to the woods and orchard.

Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson

‘Inside as outside was the aesthetic game we were playing,’ says Fiona McLean, co-founder of McLean Quinlan, who, with fellow founder Kate Quinlan, obtained planning permission for this special home under Paragraph 79, the clause that grants approval to exceptional, one-of-a-kind homes in the British countryside.

Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson

A large part of this property’s charm is how respectful it is of its natural surroundings, stepping lightly not just in its styling, but also in terms of its eco footprint. It not only conforms to tough Passivhaus standards that set the benchmark for energy-efficient homes (it was picked out as a finalist at 2021’s Passivhaus Trust Awards, as well as making the shortlist for the RIBA South West award and, recently, the longlist of the RIBA House of the Year prize), but it also produces 40 per cent more energy than it consumes.

There’s air-source heating, a heat recovery system and carefully positioned solar panels, as well as top-notch insulation and air-tight triple glazing. ‘We can feel virtuous about that,’ quips Nigel.

Photo credit: Nigel Dutt
Photo credit: Nigel Dutt

In keeping with this sustainable sentiment, natural, neutral and minimalist were the key words when creating the interior. There are several iconic Scandinavian furniture designs on display alongside Nigel and Eileen’s collection of ceramics, bespoke storage for which was built into the design from the beginning.

Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson

‘There is a consistency and an integrity throughout,’ says Eileen, who, when she is not concentrating on returning the gardens to their former glory, enjoys sitting in the library looking out at her handiwork. ‘It’s almost like there is a space for whatever mood you are in,’ she adds, noting that the courtyard is the perfect place to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails.

‘People have said that as you come in you feel your shoulders drop,’ she adds. Indeed, there is a calmness to this new home. A quality that comes from doing good and living well. mcleanquinlan.com


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