Susie and Rob Eatwell take us on a tour of their hillside Winchester home
PUBLISHED: 10:45 14 October 2014 | UPDATED: 10:45 14 October 2014
Take one view, add light and space and what do you get? Emma Caulton couldn't wait to see inside a new house high on a hill above Winchester
Ugly and unloved are the words Susie Eatwell uses to describe the house she and her husband Rob bought on a hillside above Winchester.
They only viewed the house because the one they had been hoping to buy fell through. Susie remembers: “When the agent brought us round he asked, ‘Do you want to go inside?’ And I replied, ’No, not really.’ It was a sad little house.”
What they were interested in was the potential of the plot, which was very generously sized for a city where space is at a premium. What it had in particular, from the first floor bedrooms, was a view. It was this view that inspired architect Andy Ramus, who came recommended via an unconventional route - a girl Susie met at her exercise class who had told her: “You must meet my architect!” So Susie did.
“When Andy visited the house the first thing he asked was, ‘Do you have a view?’ He ran up the stairs and said, ‘Oh, my God, yes, have you got a view!’”
Andy Ramus heads up Winchester-based AR Design Studio, a relatively young practice specialising in elegant, yet imaginative contemporary homes. His approach is creative and radical. He has not only thrown away the rule book, but created his own; redefining shape and space, playing with line and levels, and allowing walls to veer off at angles. A house designed by Andy Ramus excites and energises like a breath of fresh air. And Susie and Rob gave him his head.
Susie continues: “I told him the day we complete I’ll call you. We completed on a very cold February day, and when we arrived Andy was already in the garden measuring up.”
When Andy showed them the drawings for the house Susie and Rob were so delighted they didn’t change a thing.
“Andy is really creative. If I had been more prescriptive I wouldn’t have got this. The only brief I gave him was that I wanted the house to incorporate a garden. So he came up with this single old olive tree in a central, inner courtyard. It is quite a reflective space.”
Planning permission was granted in July and the build went out to tender. Susie and Rob moved out of the old house in December 2012. The house was knocked down just before Christmas, construction began on 6 January 2013 and Susie and Rob moved in, in March 2014.
“I can’t tell you how brilliant Andy and his team were; They held our hands all the way. It was the most straightforward it could have been in every way. Now I am looking to do another! I loved the process. It is so exciting!”
What! Give up this house? This view?
Susie shrugs: “I like the doing more than the sitting!”
Stunning and statement are the words I would use to describe Susie and Rob’s new home. The house has even been shortlisted for the Sunday Times British Homes Awards.
Between them, Andy, Susie and Rob have created an exemplary house designed to maximise an astonishing view: a wide, breathtaking sweep across the Itchen valley and over Winchester to the hills on the horizon beyond. In the green dip below are the spires and towers of Winchester College, the Cathedral and St Cross. You could become drunk on a view like this. You certainly feel heady. This could possibly be the best view in Winchester.
And Andy has made the most of it. For a start he has played with levels using the slope of the site to position the living spaces on the first floor. Next he has structured the house to incorporate four interlocking boxes, which splay out so that the house is wider at the back. And then he has worked with the detail of the design so that the view is framed: again and again and again.
The entrance has drama: angled stone treads lead up to a glass door in a cedar clad frontage which opens onto a grey stone floored, light-filled hallway which appears to float. As a visitor I am temporarily stunned. Immediately ahead, simultaneously revealed and concealed by the interior courtyard, is the tantalising glimpse of skyline.
I visit on a sweltering summers day. The floor to ceiling glass doors of the first floor living room are pushed open onto the deep, sheltered glass-sided balcony running the width of the room. A breeze ruffles pleasantly through the house. An almost transcendental calm laps around us. We are surrounded by light – spilling in not only from the windows, but from the inner courtyard and from skylights punctuating the corners where each of the four ‘boxes’ intersect; as Susie says: “It does feel like being outside really.”
The kitchen, living room and dining room open off from each other and run along the back of the house. The styling in each is kept quiet and minimal; nothing detracts from the view.
In the kitchen the chic minimalist units were supplied by Myers Touch in Kings Worthy, the breakfast table is glass, so it does not obscure the view, and window seats float above the valley below. Bulbous metallic shades hanging above the island unit are reflected across the courtyard where three similar shades, although in a different metallic finish, hang above the table in the dining room. In the living room the low, grey sofas are quite 1960s, the coffee table is glass and any clutter is swept behind built-in cupboards as discreet as a blank wall.
“It’s quite an empty house, but Andy wanted it to be emptier!” laughs Susie. “I think his favourite time is when the house is completed and no one has moved in!”
In contrast, the bedroom accommodation downstairs is cosy and snug. Susie comments: “Andy was very keen on that; it is typical of his style.”
It’s about the contrast between open public space and enclosed private space. Downstairs there’s a central sitting area, called the garden room, which opens onto a huge covered terrace running across the back of the house providing a fabulous space for alfresco entertaining. There are four bedrooms, so enough space for their grown-up children to come back to, although one room is currently used as Rob’s study. In the master bedroom Susie’s choice of ornate bed all French flourish and curve, introduces an element of indulgent frippery. I love it.
She insisted to Andy: “My bathroom is going to be my boudoir! He went with it and sourced those gold leaf tiles for me.” The look is glam and luxurious with a fabulous wall of gold behind a sensuously curved freestanding bath tub. The effect is a retreat that is as cosseting and enclosed as the living accommodation is airy.
Susie recalls picnicking in the house before they had moved in: “We had fish and chips here and said ‘wow’, we did it!”
To me what appeals is the play of outside and inside with the exterior finishes running into the interior; the perfect balance of void and line, the sense of space, the use of light... I could eulogise but Rob puts it more succinctly: “Coming home makes me smile.”