To celebrate The Studio, our new space located within our Mayfair showroom, architect William Smalley writes about the ultimate bespoke project, the retreat he designed for our Founders:
Why does something crafted by hand have more meaning than if it had been turned out by a machine? The Founders Retreat is an attempt to answer this question.
We are apt to ask the wrong questions. “What set of plates can I just about bear to live with?” instead of “What is the best possible set? What set of plates will give me pleasure every time I use it, will I remember after they are gone or have with me for the rest of my life. What set, even, will outlive me?”
And so, “What would be the best house to spend the weekend in? To recharge, to energise, to reflect, to connect, to remember?” This is the Founders Retreat.
It is a weekend house for a woodland clearing in rural Sussex for the founders of The New Craftsmen, Catherine Lock, Nathalie Melton and Mark Henderson, to retreat to. When we started working on it, I went with Catherine to the Weald and Downland Museum nearby, where orphaned timber frame houses have been reconstructed in their original simplicity. We decided our house should sit comfortably among the medieval houses, without needing to ape their historicism.
Three blocks, one for each of the Founders, house their bedrooms, as well as the kitchen and larder (in Natalie’s - the chef), the library (in Catherine’s), and an outdoor bathing chamber (in Mark’s; he also gets the wine cellar). They are placed to form the entrance court, doors in and out, and to frame the central living space - a place in which to come together under the shelter of a huge timber framed roof.
Bedrooms lead out into the landscape, clad outside in wood-fired clay tiles, colour-graded to lighten as they rise. Each has an external stair to a gently vaulted roof, where the local clay of the tiles and the massive slabs of Hornton stone on the hall roof tie the house to its place.
It is intended as a house of craft, one in which every material and surface bears its makers’ mark – a visual onomatopoeia of soft brushed lime wash, sand-rolled glass and hand sawn stone and timber.
The same can be said of the objects chosen to be commissioned for the house: an oak-tanned leather chair, slipware tiles forming an abstracted image of local hills, woven wicker screens, a cast Jesmonite bath, textured cushions and blankets woven from Highland wool. It will need a record player and a Land Rover, but The New Craftsmen’s craftsmen and women have supplied everything else.
It is a house for stories to be told, to be made – and whose inventory would be a storybook in itself.
The best clients understand that making is part of the process, to be enjoyed rather than merely tolerated. Patience is needed: it takes time for an interior to come together, just as it takes time to craft a beautiful object. To commission well, to bring a building or object carefully to life, is a wonderful and rare thing. It comes from asking the right questions.
A crafted object – or house – belongs to the narrative of our lives. They tell the story of their origin and the care that went into their making. This is what gives them meaning: is it too much to imagine that in their use, through us they pass that care out into the world?
With thanks to William Smalley for this joyful imagining of a true home for craft. An architect of rare sensibility, William established his studio in 2010 and shares a deep understanding for old buildings and their contexts with an excitement for new spaces. We will be returning to the Founder's Retreat next month to explore William's visit to The Studio where room by room he has curated a series of dream commissions from our makers. Visit williamsmalley.com to find out more about his projects.