Set within a conservation area, and with a grade-II listing, the Georgian House in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, that Prewett Bizley Architects was appointed to overhaul required delicate handling. But the alterations made to the three-storey building are part of a long history of change and adaptation. With origins in the 1670s, the building was “gentrified” into a Georgian townhouse around 1800, later subdivided into three dwellings and then re-amalgamated into a family home, notes the architect. “Successive ad hoc alterations had given rise to quirks and eccentricities that ranged from the charming to the plain awkward. Notably, day-to-day comings and goings took place at the side of the house, leading the visitor through a small kitchen and then through a narrow dark passage to the reception rooms at front. The large garden was divorced from the house by an abrupt level change and the almost complete lack of a connecting view”.
The clients wanted to reorganise the rear of the house to create a more amenable family area with a strong connection to the rear garden, and to improve the organisation of the main house, all with a focus on energy-efficiency.
An extension at the rear allowed the entrance, kitchen and dining area to be re-planned. A top-lit central hallway that links the new kitchen/dining space with the historic elements of the building. The new roof form pitches up to the garden, “inviting the landscape into the house and defining an area to share food”, suggests the architect. Although the changes have significant effects on the use of the building, the amount of demolition “was quite modest and reserved to a few twentieth-century blockwork walls”, notes the architect. Levels and openings have been carefully arranged to step up towards the garden, “making the natural fall of the land part of the internal landscape and avoiding the abruptness of the previous arrangement”.
The hallway has an “introverted, rustic feel that retains some of the character of its historic agricultural function” thanks to the exposed spruce roof structure, the repaired historic stone wall the three concrete ‘portals’ that define the doorways into it. These portals frame a view right through the house via an enfilade of rooms from the street to the garden and have “a scale and materiality not usually found in a domestic environment, massive yet intimate”.
Internally the architects adopted a palette of softwood and board-marked concrete for new work, materials “which have something to say to one another and the existing stonework of the house”. Externally, rose-coloured zinc was chosen with the intention that its subtle variations would complement the soft tones of the surrounding materials.
Original fabric has been repaired, and modern paints and plasters stripped back to reestablish both an architectural and a moisture balance. The old stone roof was relaid with insulation and all the windows are now either double-glazed or secondary glazed.
The clients’ desire for improved energy-efficiency is further addressed by compact and super-insulated fabric, with heat trickled in by means of underfloor heating in winter, and the massive concrete floor and opening kitchen rooflight acting to moderate the temperature on hot summer days.