AR Design Studio works local references into a Kent country house


Martin Gardner

Located in the grounds of a fifteenth-century house in Kent, Black House is an unequivocally contemporary building, but draws on inspiration from both new and older buildings and landscapes in the area, gathered on an architectural tour undertaken by the clients (a retired engineer and interior designer, who had previously occupied the Tudor house) and architect AR Design Studio.

“The floating form and massing of Black House was inspired by Sissinghurst Castle Garden, home of writer Vita Sackville-West”, says the architect. “The castle gardens are broken into a series of individual experiences hidden from each other by manicured hedges and weathered red brick walls. Only from the writing room in the central tower can the connection of the spaces and whole design be seen”.

Other references include Hastings’ historic net huts and the black timber-clad houses of Dungeness (which informed the use of vertical black timber cladding throughout), and David Chipperfield Architects’ Turner Contemporary gallery at Margate, which provided ideas for the interconnection of the low massing of black timber boxes and the brick tower.


Aerial view and massing diagram

The rectangular building sits on a former tennis court. Its massing was divided into blocks by key site axes, a view from the pool to a large tree, and an existing path to the site. Each block is linked to a distinct aspect of the garden, with a final connecting view provided from the roof of a brick tower. The volumes were separated to create a central courtyard, with a cantilevering roof to tie the modules together.


With each block linking to a different part of the garden, “a journey around the functions of the house is experienced”, says the architect. This begins at any of the three entrances, which are located along the axes drawn from the landscape to organise the building.

To the east, the kitchen/diner cantilevers 7.3 metres to capture the morning sun through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, which also provide views over an orchard and vineyard. The drawing room fronts the pool area to the west. A panoramic horizontal window frames the view from the formal dining room across the formal front lawn, and was influenced by Turner Contemporary. Bedrooms are located to the rear of the house, where woodland provides a sense of privacy and seclusion.


Ground floor plan

All of these spaces are connected by the central courtyard, which provides year-round sheltered outdoor space, and whose extensive glazing draws daylight deep into the house.


“Having constructed the house, the clients have chosen contemporary living over historical, a building designed for them, to suit the way they want to live today”, says the architect. “The result is Black House, a sequence of dramatic experiences linked to their garden, and is a contemporary response to the region”.

Additional Images


AR Design Studio
John Kettle & Associates

Timber cladding
Vincent Timber
Vande Moortel