Perched on a Devon hill and formed from rugged rammed concrete, ‘Secular Retreat’ was designed by Atelier Peter Zumthor for Living Architecture, which commissions and builds holiday houses where paying guests can enjoy an immersive experience of the work of leading contemporary architects.
The retreat has been over a decade in the making, with the company’s first approach to the architect made shortly after its foundation. Seduced by the secluded site with expansive views, “I could not resist o try to create this house”, says Zumthor.
The building sits above the small hamlet of Chivelstone, about a mile from the coast, and replaces a ruined timber house built in the 1940s. Monterey pine trees planted to shelter that house are now 20 metres tall, and informed the placement of the new structure. They are supplemented by an additional 5000 local trees and shrubs, in a garden planting plan by South Devon-based Rathbone Partnership. Around the house, terraces and pathways are made of roughhewn Somerset Blue Lias stone, set on edge.
Five bedrooms are spread across two separate wings which lead from the large, multi-faceted open-plan living space. This room has a taller roof than the bedroom wings, which is held aloft on chunky columns and freestanding chimney breasts, all formed from hand-rammed concrete. Internally, the continuous ribbons of concrete are set against stone floors. Slabs were sourced from a Somerset quarry and each is a different size and shape.
Bedrooms are conceived as large niches‘carved’ from the concrete fabric, which is softened by the addition of Pearwood floors, along with doors, inset shelves and wardrobes made from apple and cherry woods. Freestanding tubs in the ensuite bathrooms are also made of wood, as are the bespoke kitchen units. Zumthor also designed the loose furniture, including sofas, chairs, tables and lights.
The horizontality of the 375-square-metre house in the landscape is emphasised by its flat, oversailing roofs and by wide expanses of glass both in the main living area and in the long corridor in the larger bedroom wing. From the bedrooms, full-height and full-width triple-glazed windows take full advantage of the views of surrounding valleys which inspired and informed the layout of the house.