Inside the super-smart flint house:Amersham's award-winning eco-friendly and fully-flexible family home

Architect Heinz Richardson and wife Jenny tore down an old bungalow and built a super-smart eco-friendly family home that they can adapt in years to come. 

The word “sustainable” sounds a bit worthy. But as architect Heinz Richardson’s award-winning new house for his family in Amersham, Zone 9, proves, it is possible to be both sustainable and fabulous.

The house is thrilling. It’s spacious, with soaring double-height volumes, huge picture windows, light from all sides, two picturesque gardens, an open fire, and spectacular views.

It also generates almost all of its energy with photovoltaic panels and two ground-source heat pumps. Soakaway gravel captures grey water to flush loos and wash clothes, there’s a wildflower meadow for bees, a sedum roof, and very clean air. These sustainable ideas that Richardson, 62, has refined for more than a decade, are something all house-builders ought to incorporate as standard.

But frustratingly for Richardson and his wife Jenny, while not one neighbour complained about the design, their innovative house was refused outright and again at committee, because the planners felt it wasn’t in keeping with the nearby houses.

The exterior is in snapped and knapped flint, with black-stained timber cladding. Both are traditional local finishes — the local church is flint. The planners didn’t care for its orientation, either. Unlike its neighbours the house is set sideways on its plot to achieve maximum solar gain down its long, south-facing flank. So the couple appealed. The adjudicator, himself a planner, agreed such technically advanced houses must be judged by different criteria, and gave the go-ahead.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

German-born Richardson grew up in Yorkshire. He decided to be an architect aged 10 when a teacher gave him The Observer’s Book of Architecture. After moving to London and studying at The Bartlett, he met Jenny, now 55, an occupational therapist, through a mutual friend. They married in 1982, when Jenny was 21, and bought a Victorian terrace house in Tufnell Park, where daughters Zoe, 28, a teacher, and Ava, 25, a trainee architect, grew up.

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Traditional finishes: the house’s handsome exterior, with snapped and knapped flint and blackstained timber cladding (David Butler)

Now a director of architects Jestico + Whiles, Richardson had extended the Tufnell Park house up, out and sideways, so the time was ripe for the couple to look for a plot to build their dream home. The search began in 2008, but the plots were too remote. “We’re sociable,” Jenny says. “Older people need a social life. I didn’t want to be isolated.”

Most summer weekends, Richardson played cricket in Amersham. On his birthday in 2010 he and his wife spotted a bungalow for sale near the ground. It seemed auspicious. “We hadn’t planned a tear-down,” he says. But they went to view right away. With 11 bidders, the sale went to sealed bids and they won.

Celebrating in the pub, they each wrote their wish list for the house, including Jenny’s open-plan kitchen-living space with views, and Richardson’s award-winning design, and he did a rough plan and sketch. Amazingly, six years later, that is almost exactly the house they have built — right down to budget.

Demolition began in June 2014 and building that September, with Richardson as architect and costs consultant. The project took 15 months, which is impressive given the high finish and the complex underground works — the ground-source pipes go close to 110 yards down. This house uses neither fossil fuel nor gas, just a bit of electricity now and then, and stays a piping 21C. A ventilation system of pipes and louvres moves fresh air around, even airing the wardrobes.

It’s an immensely stylish home. From the first glimpse of the fist-sized split flints hand-set in lime plaster, to the tall, modernist chimney with a clock big enough for the cricketers to check teatime on, it is very much designed for family.

LOOKING FORWARD

It is also future-proofed, with an area that could become a complete downstairs place to live if ever needed. Meanwhile there’s a huge, stunning living space with a dramatic central fire and a chimney that appears to hang in midair, and a long wall of south-facing glass doors leading to the sculpted formal garden. When you walk in you see right through to the informal garden at the back, a haven of poppies and daisies with a curved grass bank to lounge with a Pimm’s as the sun goes down.

Upstairs each white, calm bedroom has its own heating system. The master bedroom has views in all directions, even upwards; the upper hall on to the double-height hall below has fabulous views of rolling hills.

Completed by a sophisticated palette of large French-grey ceramic tiles downstairs and softer, washed-oak floors above, plus white walls, and yellow pocket doors for fun, this is a truly lovely family home with a really good feel.

And since it came in slightly under the budget Richardson envisaged in 2010, no wonder it has just won a RIBA Regional Award. Hats off to that planner who said: “Yes.”

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Sculpted — but still a place to play: the formal garden, complete with stylish sun loungers, is reached by a long wall of south-facing glass doors. A chain “sculpture” acts as a drainpipe, delivering rainwater from the roof to a planted border (David Butler)

WHAT IT COST
Price paid for the bungalow in 2010: £500,000
Plot costs can vary hugely, and it is vital that you check whether you will be allowed to demolish and build a new home before buying
The cost of building a similar house: about £750,000, excluding architect’s fees

GET THE LOOK


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