Rooms with a Suffolk view
PUBLISHED: 11:31 18 August 2014
Sophie Humphreys insists she didn’t want a demanding project when she started looking for a new Suffolk home. So why did she end up buying somewhere she later decided to demolish and replace with an uber modern, award-winning residence? Sheena Grant went to find out
Two things beguiled Sophie Humphreys when she first set eyes on a house down a sandy track on the outskirts of Aldeburgh.
One was the owner, who had lived there for decades.
“She was such a lovely lady,” says Sophie. “She told me about the place and its history and I just fell in love with it. That may sound mad but it was definitely one of the reasons for buying the house.”
The second reason was the view.
And what a view it is: vast skies, meadows and the waters of the River Alde as far as the eye can see.
These two things conspired to persuade Sophie to do something she hadn’t really planned – leave her home at the other end of town and take on something that turned out to be ‘a project’.
Today, the original house has gone, replaced with one that couldn’t be more different. All that remains of the first Broombank is the name, a tennis court in the grounds and a little timber summer house.
“I really wasn’t looking for something like this,” explains Sophie. “I always said that the only thing that would make me move was a fantasic view but even then I wasn’t intending to take on anything too demanding.”
Having bought the house, however, it soon became clear that in order to create the contemporary living space, flooded with light and commanded by those stunning views that she so desired, drastic action was needed.
The original house dated from the 1930s and had been extended over the years.
“It was a mish-mash of styles but it very much had its own charm,” says Sophie. “At first I wasn’t sure whether to refurbish it or replace it but when we looked into the costings of what it would take to make it contemporary, it just wasn’t cost effective to keep it.
“I have always liked contemporary architecture and wanted to create a home that felt absorbed into the landscape, with the inside and outside melting into each other and capitalising on the light.”
Even when the decision to replace the original house had been taken Sophie was hoping it would be possible to incorporate something of it, if only the existing foundations, in the new design. But the first drawings that came back from her chosen designers – London-based Soup Architects – weren’t what she wanted and she realised that in order to get it right, they were going to have to start completely from scratch.
The result is a triumph. The house has already won a Royal Institute of British Architects award and is shortlisted for another.
The design plays with your expectations. At first sight, its low slung, industrial grey form conceals the very thing that made Sophie fall for this location in the first place: those views.
But as you approach the timber-clad entrance door you catch just a glimpse, a tantalising hint of what lies beyond. Through the glass of the sitting room window the observant visitor may just notice the watery expanse of a swimming pool beyond and still further in the distance the waters of the Alde.
But even that is no preparation for the sensory shock that awaits once the front door is opened and the eye is led through the hallway, across the wide, open plan living space and out of the vast sliding doors to the full majesty of that view.
“There are different places where you get glimpses through but you can’t really see the full view before you come into the house,” says Sophie.
On one side, the building nestles into an earth bank, which again helps to obscure that incredible view as visitors first approach.
“The concept of the views gradually revealing themselves came from the architect but it is very much part of how I like to live – very open and clean design.”
For Sophie, who also has a house in London, where she works in child protection, coming back to Suffolk is like exhaling deeply.
“I’ve been coming to this area a long time,” she says. “My sister is now in the place I used to own in Aldeburgh and the fact that we are here is just meant to be.”
The house was completed for Christmas, when Sophie, her children and partner, allowed themselves the decadent indulgence of turning up the heating to the outside pool and taking a mid-winter dip. Now summer is here and school is out they plan to make fuller, more seasonal use of the area.
The house may be architect designed but Sophie has had more than a hand in the finished result.
“I gave the architect a brief and he interpreted it,” she says. “I don’t know all the technical stuff but I do know what I like. I love brutalist, quite harsh architecture. I think the front of the house looks quite hard, like an electricity sub-station. I like that. But then you come through and get the softness. That is the idea.”
Materials were important in the design. The bricks, for instance, are Danish clay, handmade and fired three times. They came at a price.
“I like the shape of the brick – it replicates the house – and I like the colour as well. We looked at other things but they just weren’t the same so in the end we had to just go for it,” says Sophie. “We had to economise on other things. The kitchen, for instance, is very low specification. What was important to me was to get the main structure and outside right. We can change other things later.”
Inside the house, which has four bedrooms, light is king.
The rear wall is all window and upstairs, the shower room has a glass roof. There is also an upstairs balcony to capitalise on those views.
The industrial feel, so important on the outside, continues inside with a power floated white concrete floor in the main living area.
Sophie also had references to the Barcelona Pavilion incorporated into the design after visiting the city and noticing the criss-crossed pavilion pillars.
Perhaps it’s not surprising Sophie likes the industrial look. Her great grandfather, she reveals, pioneered the use of corrugated iron in building construction. James Charlton Humphreys even made a (still surviving) flatpack hut for the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton to use as his Antarctic base camp 100 years ago. In homage to that past, she’s had a corrugated iron table tennis building erected in the grounds of Broombank.
The garden has also been overhauled since Sophie bought the property, removing much of the mature landscaping to open up the view with a simple wildflower meadow.
“I want the house to be really clean, with clean lines but the landscape around is quite wild and left to do what it does,” she says.
Other environmental features have been incorporated too – a green sedum roof that can be viewed from the top of the grass bank, an air source heat pump, solar-powered hot water and mega insulation.
And although the original house is gone Sophie likes to think something of its spirit remains in the footprint of the replacement.
“Everything was positioned in the old house much as it is with the new one,” she says. “It has always been about the view here.”