At Home With | Architect Jeremy Spratley

When it comes to design and layout, it’s the most successful home they have ever created for their family. Berkshire-based architects – and serial renovators – Jeremy and Jo Spratley may have finally found their forever home. By Jessica Jonzen.

If our homes tell a story about who we are, then none can be more autobiographical than the home of an architect. Step inside the converted barn of Jeremy Spratley in Cookham, Berkshire, and it is a story of both form and function. From the light-filled cantilevered timber staircase to the democratically partitioned children’s bedrooms, this is a home in which cutting-edge design and
family life blend seamlessly together.

Winter Hill Farm Barn is the 10th house that Spratley – the founder and director of Henley-on-Thames based architecture practice Spratley Studios – and his architect wife, Jo, have renovated over the past 20 years. They share it with their four children, Will, 22, Tom, 20, Polly, 15, and 13-year-old Katie, as well as two dogs, two rabbits and a cat. The couple have succeeded in creating a magnificent home, which works with busy family life and in which they can also express their creative vision. ‘In terms of design and layout, it’s the best we’ve ever done and it would be very hard to persuade ourselves to do something else,’ says Spratley.

It’s not hard to see why. The brick and oak barn sits within a sprawling two-acre plot at the peak of Winter Hill, complete with outdoor swimming  pool, commanding stunning views over Marlow and the Thames Valley. In the master bedroom, Spratley has capitalised on the view by incorporating a corner slot window: ‘Every morning, I sit in bed with a cup of coffee looking at that view and that’s what it’s all about.’

It’s hard to believe that just five years ago, it was an unconverted barn full of pigeons, but having converted four barns to live in himself, and countless more for clients, Spratley knew what challenges to expect. ‘We had to do everything, from putting in concrete floors, partition walls, drainage – everything. People come round now and ask if these are the original floor boards,’ he laughs.

This house provided Spratley with the opportunity to indulge himself more than he’d been able to previously, and the first thing he did when work started was dig the hole for the 10-metre swimming pool. ‘It’s something I really wanted to have and I thought: “If I dig the hole then I have to do it!” I’ll get into it at 6am on a sunny morning and I can’t help but smile from ear to ear, it’s wonderful.’

The two principal elements for the barn itself were the staircase and the glazing. ‘As a design, the cantilevered staircase was something I desperately wanted to do and I managed to achieve it. It’s the centrepiece for the house.’ To open the front of the house up to the garden and let in plenty of light, the Spratleys opted for two sets of fine sliding glazing bars.

In previous developments, the couple had always bought their kitchen from Ikea, but this house offered an opportunity to upgrade. ‘We got it from Cu Cucine, a great supplier in Watlington where everything is imported from Italy. You get great design and it’s not outrageously expensive, but it is a pleasure to be in every day.’ The couple also recently invested in a set of Charles Hansen Wishbone chairs for the kitchen table.

From an architectural point of view, Spratley was excited about how much the ecological technology had advanced since their last build, so they could make the barn much more eco-friendly. ‘It was one of the big drivers for doing it actually,’ he says. ‘By insulating it better, it reduces the running costs, the boiler is much more efficient in this house, we’ve got a borehole so we extract our own water and don’t pay any water rates.’ The whole of the rear south-facing elevation is covered in solar panels so the family earns about £1,000 each year in electricity back from the grid, whilst the LED lighting technologies mean that energy consumption is kept to a minimum. Spratley says: ‘In this house we pretty much don’t have a bill to pay now – it’s the way all new houses will be going.’

The gardens were also an important factor with this project: ‘Previously we’d always done the landscaping ourselves and I’m no landscape gardener, so this time we wanted to get it right.’ To his good fortune, Spratley found himself working with Chelsea gold medallist Sarah Eberle, who produced a master plan that they work on bit by bit. ‘The garden is such an important part of the process and it ties the house into the landscape,’ says Spratley.

Having now lived in this property for four years, it’s the second longest time that the family have lived anywhere. ‘When I first told Jo that I’d seen the site for this barn, she was very anti it – even when I brought her up to see the site – but if you asked her now she’d say it was the best thing we ever did.’ So will this be the house they stay in? ‘That’s the trouble with being an architect: when you’re doing it every day for people, you’re always getting ideas and everything changes so quickly. Who knows what’s around the corner?’

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