An Arts & Crafts ethos infuses the Push-Pull House in Amersham by Cullinan Studio
A poorly planned, lit and insulated house in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, with an extension that formed a barrier to the garden, has been replaced with a building by Cullinan Studio with totally contrasting attributes. The open, light-filled, thermally excellent house was commissioned by the dissatisfied owner, a busy family with two boys, two dogs, and visiting grandparents with limited mobility.
The client wanted a sustainable timber home, and had considered buying a kit house to maximise efficiency and reduce waste. However, Cullinan Studio proposed a bespoke solution, built from cross laminated timber (CLT) and brick, that met the sustainability criteria of a comparable kit house, but which was tailored to the particular needs of the family.
The ‘Push-Pull’ house is located in a residential area first developed in the 1930s at the end of the Metropolitan Line. Mostly built in an Arts & Crafts manner, the houses are now fiercely protected, and local planners’ preference is for new houses to be sympathetic in both form and detail. Somewhat ironically, given that Cullinan’s roots, through founder Ted Cullinan, are firmly rooted in Morris, Lethaby and Arts & Crafts ideals, reconciling the family’s needs with planning criteria initially proved challenging. But the planners were persuaded that the design of the new house, with its simple, solid forms and roof planes and palette of timber and brick, reflected an Arts and Crafts’ ‘truth to materials’ ethos.
Comprising an exposed spruce CLT structure, designed with solid timber specialist Eurban, the house echoes the Arts and Crafts ethos of simple forms and ‘truth to materials’. The architects have “pushed and pulled” the footprint of the previous house to better suit the family, orientating the new house more towards the garden. By slicing apart the volume of a pitched roof, pulling it into three parts, daylight is introduced into the heart of the home.
The main volume of the house is symmetrical in plan with an entrance hall and main stairwell through the centre. The recessed entrance hall is flanked by two mono-pitched volumes, with a brick base of Chiltern brick and lime mortar topped with black-stained vertical timber panels. The grey-tile clay roof seemingly floats over the high-level eaves windows. which allow views from the bedrooms into the tree canopy without overlooking neighbours. The first floor has four bedrooms in each corner: the master bedroom and en suite bathroom, two bedrooms for the children with a shared bathroom and ladders to high study ledges, and a guest bedroom with en suite. The eastern pitched roof slopes down to an open-plan, single-storey volume containing a large kitchen and living and dining rooms. On the west side is an accessible bedroom for visitors, a study and workshop. Beneath the living area is a basement den. Full-height glazing on the ground floor, top light from the middle hallway and clerestorey, and windows above the hall help maximise daylighting.
“Before we had built anything, we noticed that the family already had a favourite place in the garden, a place where the west sun swept round behind the north-facing frontage”, says Practice Leader Roddy Langmuir. “By sliding the living room wing back into the garden we were able to catch this afternoon and evening sunshine. Free corners frame views out to the garden, allowing the family to connect to their garden and the tall trees of the street. Glimpses of changing weather and sky follow the family as they go about their day.”