Horsham's giant fun house:this couple took a tiny lodge and added an extension with secret passageways, rotating bath and fireman's pole

Architect parents designed a home that’s a perfect playground for their children. The fun features have local kids queuing for a playdate...

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This commuter belt dream home happened by accident. In 2012, architect Matt White and his wife Sophie, the managing partner of their London practice, were living in a house they’d built in Shepherd’s Bush.

They were staying with friends in Sussex for the weekend when Matt tried out a new property app, and the first thing that popped up was a tiny Victorian gamekeeper’s lodge nearby.

“It was a Saturday, so we just went and had a look,” he says. “On the Monday we put in an offer. Sophie was raised in the country, and fell in love with the cottage. But we never thought we would hear back from the owners. Then the phone went and they said if we were serious, it was ours.”

Matt, 44, and Sophie, 43, call their new family home The Barn. It is a magical and stunning extension of the original cottage, full of fun and secret passages, and links to the original lodge which becomes a perfect place for guests.

It sits in three acres in Horsham, West Sussex, overlooking the rolling hills on the edge of the South Downs National Park, a three-storey building of dapper black brick below and chocolatey zinc.

Magical home: Matt and Sophie White and their Sussex barn (Juliet Murphy)

From the panoramic glass doors in their new sitting room, the couple and their children Mia, 10, Daisy, eight, and Arthur, six, can see the seasons change — it’s like watching a huge TV.

When they moved in, Matt, who used to work with starchitect Norman Foster, was sure they would get planning permission to extend. They lived in the small cottage with the low ceilings and basic kitchen for a year while the process went on. At first he and Sophie discussed a conventional extension but realised it would destroy the cottage atmosphere. Then they had the brainwave of an attached building resembling a barn.

They submitted plans, and Matt visited all the neighbours to tell them his ideas. His enthusiasm was so persuasive that they all wrote letters of support. The plan was refused at first but went to committee, where Matt took models and explained the scheme. Permission was granted — and since the new extension doesn’t muck about with the cottage at all, it’s a brilliant solution. “I do the architecture, Sophie does the interiors,” Matt says. “We had a lot of fun here.”


The ground floor, with a boot area, a small office and a loo with pretty wallpaper, has hexagonal terracotta tiles, while exposed joists in the kitchen-dining area give a country feel. The marble kitchen bar-cum-island is extra high, a chandelier of wineglasses hangs above the huge deal table, and there’s a snug with green love seats to one side.

Keep it country: preserving the cottage feel with terracotta floor tiles and exposed joists in the kitchen-diner (Juliet Murphy)

The first hint that this house is a big box of tricks comes when you spin the kitchen’s handy bookcase of cookery books to reveal a corkscrew stair that runs right to the top floor.

There’s a lot more magic to come. Using the slope of the land, the huge sitting room with its views and lovely wide boards is a few steps down. Above a roaring fire, what looks like a circular mirror turns out to be two-way glass into a “priest’s hole” — as Daisy, climbing up and waving, demonstrates.

There are more surprises up the cheery staircase with its multicoloured treads. The children all have same-size bedrooms, each with access up to a loft space — in Arthur’s case, via a fireman’s pole, while the girls have ladders. Each loft space has a large flap into the shared playroom, while — yet another joyful touch — another revolving bookcase leads to the spiral staircase. “When we are old, we’ll put a lift there, so it’s very practical,” adds Matt.

The couple’s own bedroom, above the sitting room, is lined with beautiful Chinoiserie wallpaper, and has massive sliding windows that disappear into a pocket to leave a glass balustrade. Sophie opens two doors with gilded backs to reveal a hidden bathroom with a rotating bath, making it possible to bathe surveying the magnificent view.

For their final touch of fun, a small room in the loft has a polycarbonate dome for surveying the countryside.

Family space: the mirror above the fire is a two-way glass into a hidey-hole behind (Juliet Murphy)

All the local children are lining up for a playdate. The imagination and invention in this colourful, wonderful house are amazing and uplifting, and justify the 18-month build. Work is just finishing with the connecting passage between barn and cottage, plus a side passage to house the guinea pigs.

“My 80-year-old mother visited and went straight down the fireman’s pole,” Matt laughs. “When we have friends staying, we’ll hear a faint thud, and it’s one of them having a go. Nowadays with laser cutters and 3D printers, we can all be like film directors when we design our homes — you can design as far as you can imagine.

“We’re only here once, and people should have more fun. That’s what it comes down to.”


The cottage was bought for £756,000 in 2012. The extension cost £840,000. The house is now worth about £2.6 million.


  • Architecture and interiors: by Matt White, Elizabeth Owens and Sophie Hobbs at Matt Architecture 
  • Builder: James Chalmers at Chalmers & Co 
  • Zinc: VM Zinc 
  • Black bricks: Wienernerger 
  • Windows: by Velfac and Fineline 
  • Floor of 40cm-wide Douglas Fir: Purnatur 
  • Handmade terracotta tiles: from Fired Earth 
  • Wineglass chandelier: from stockists such as Wayfair or try eBay for similar
  • Green sofas in snug: Made.com 
  • Fornasetti II design wallpaper in the snug: Cole & Son 
  • Velvet sofas in the living room: from Graham & Green 
  • Circular mirror in living room: by Matt Architecture
  • Polycarbonate viewing dome in the loft: made by Talbot Designs 
  • Cacoon hanging seat in Daisy’s room: from Cacoon 
  • Rubber stair treads: from DRF 
  • Nonsuch Chinoiserie wallpaper in master bedroom: from Fromental 
  • Garden design: by Garden Sage on 01273 041785 (website under construction)

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