Coffey Architects’ Arts & Crafts-inspired house in the suburbs is both playful and practical


Tim Soar

Inspired by nearby Arts & Crafts houses and with a playful spatial sensibility, Coffey Architects’ ‘Modern Detached’ house replaces an existing dwelling on a suburban site in Harpeden, Hertfordshire. Set among “poor examples of 1960s architecture”, says the architect, “the milieu required a tempered approach that married the client’s desire for an uncompromisingly contemporary design with the restrictions of local planning sensibilities”.


Coffey Architects’ typological examination of the nearby Arts &  Crafts houses looked at their complex symmetries, materials and mass. These sources are reinterpreted in a building comprising two distinct elements. A simple brick and plain-tiled ‘house’ form contains conventional cellular spaces, while an adjoining timber-clad element contains a double-height entrance, circulation spaces and an open-plan kitchen and living area which opens to the garden.

Outside, a palette of serrated brick details, black charred timber and bronze “bring a warmth and luxury, creating a stylish, contextually responsive new house”. The southern and northern facades have brick fin details that give depth to the elevation. The eaves are finished with cut bricks and recessed integrated gutters.

On the garden elevation, a ‘contorted’ glazed threshold creates shading for south-facing sliding doors and increases the extent of the boundary between inside and outside. A series of elliptical and circular dining and bird tables run from the dining area into the garden.

“Like many of the Arts & Crafts properties in the area, the house has a predominant parti with the central stair exposed to the street with a central hall and rooms accessed from it”, explains the architect. The brass staircase climbs through a triple-height volume lit from the south by a large ocular zenith window to create “a play of light and shadows”, says the architect.


“The richness of the materials offers a sense of the monastic, white walls, dark timber, recessed lighting and ocular windows create a place of contrast and delight, creating different moods from day through to night.”

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