Good things come to those who wait, as the architect Heinz Richardson discovered when he finally got to build his own home. We take a look inside this award-winning, sustainable house in Amersham. By Jessica Jonzen
The first thing that strikes you about architect Heinz Richardson’s home is a sense of harmony. Discreetly sited on a corner of a lane in the conservation area of Old Amersham, it looks absolutely suited to its site despite its revolutionary design.
The angular and modern exterior is juxtaposed with a traditional choice of building materials, rooting the house to the area. Clad in black-stained timber reminiscent of the agricultural barns of the surrounding countryside, and snapped and knapped flint to echo ancient buildings of the town, the result is an elegant merging of old and new.
Once inside, the house is truly awe-inspiring. There is a wonderful sense of space, with double height volumes and huge picture windows that perfectly frame considered views across the two landscaped gardens and the Chiltern Hills beyond.
It is also a model for sustainable living, generating virtually all of its energy with photovoltaic panels and two ground-source heat pumps. It uses no fossil fuels whatsoever, and rain water is harvested and used for washing clothes, flushing loos and watering the garden. There’s also a bee-friendly wildflower garden. The sedum roof, and an Earth tube ventilation system keeps the house at a regular 21 degrees Celsius, no matter the weather.
‘Building my own home has been a long-harboured ambition and gave me the opportunity to test some ideas and put into practice some of the things that I’d been working on throughout my career,’ says Richardson, 62, a director at the architecture practice, Jestico + Whiles. ‘I designed the house for the site rather than for myself because I’m not going to live there for as long as the
house will exist and so the house has to be flexible. It works brilliantly for us as we’re very sociable people and hold lots of parties.’ It is set up with three bedrooms, but it can easily have five.
It’s not surprising to discover that this thrilling house has won the 2016 RIBA South Awards and has been long-listed for the 2016 RIBA House of the Year Awards. What is surprising, however, is that when Richardson and his wife, Jenny, applied for planning permission, they were refused by a majority of 12 votes to nil. ‘It was described as the ugliest house they’d ever seen – they were pretty vicious about it,’ says Richardson.
It was a great setback for the couple, who had been looking for sites from the East Coast to the South Coast for several years. Richardson grew up near Amersham and plays cricket on the local cricket pitch, but it had never occurred to him to look there for a site. He says: ‘The plot came up serendipitously. It had a 1950s bungalow on it, which wasn’t very interesting. There was a lot
of interest and it went to sealed bids, but we were lucky and able to buy it.’
Several months after the rejection, Richardson lodged an appeal. He says: ‘The appeal inspector looked at the site and granted approval for the house as it was designed with no changes. He said that as it is a sustainable house, it needed to be looked at in its own right.’ The house took just 15 months to build and Richardson ensured he used as many local suppliers as possible.
‘Sustainability’ can sound a little humourless, but the house is anything but. Upstairs, the serene white walls are punctuated by sliding doors painted in bright yellow, ‘just for fun’. In the hallway, Richardson installed a huge floor-to-ceiling door, so that when guests arrive at the house for parties, it can be opened to reveal the open plan kitchen, dining and living area with open fireplace in all its glory ‘for a sense of theatre’. Outside, there is a boules court that the couple and their two daughters, Zoe, 28, a teacher, and Ava, 25, a trainee architect, enjoyed throughout the summer. The back of the garden slopes to provide a grassy stage and play area for children.
But the feature that delighted me the most, and the one which roots this house in the area, is the clock on the chimney. ‘I thought it would be nice to put a clock up so that anyone on Barn Meadow
could tell the time. It was something for the community,’ says Richardson.
This is a house that looks to the future whilst respecting the past. ‘The idea is that it moves on the discussion about how you make contemporary architecture that is still relevant to its context, and is beautiful and poetic. Perhaps you have to look a little bit beyond your own prejudices about what you think those things should be,’ says Richardson. If only all architecture could be this thoughtful.