Its concrete form evokes a monolithic and unchanging quality; long, low and with one open façade

to far-reaching views of the beautiful Wye Valley and beyond

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Merging discretely with meadows on a wooded hill-side in the Forest of Dean is this exceptional eco-efficient, contemporary home, described in the Architects Journal as ‘one of the most outstanding new houses in Britain in a decade’.

Despite an internal footprint of over 5,000 sq.ft, the house is a stealthy and time- less architectural solution to the sloping plot, embedded within the natural insulation of the surrounding landscape.

Jean and Michael’s search for a new home began in 2007 when they started looking for a site to build a highly efficient home that would provide enough space to hold both their studios. Success came in 2010, when they found a Victorian cottage with a series of outbuildings in the Forest of Dean, overlooking the Wye Valley.

A four-year design and building process commenced, with Jean and Michael tasking Loyn and Co architects to make-real their vision. The resulting house, which has won or been nominated for every home award you can think of, reduces the site’s visual impact to a stealthy slither of contemporary architecture embedded into the hillside, and is almost undetectable when viewed from behind.

The London-based estate agency ‘The Modern House’ visited the couple to find out how they managed it:

Jean: We lived in a Tudor farmhouse with 15 acres in open countryside before. It took us three years to find this site, which has a stunning view of the Wye valley. We bought the property in 2010 and moved into the new house in November 2014.

Michael: The brief was to design living and studio space for two artists using all possible energy-saving technology. Jean was particularly keen to find a good modernist architect who could overcome the prevailing local preference for vernacular-style new builds with a really good design for this south-facing slope.

The solution was to wrap a new building around the original Victorian cottage and outbuildings so that the old buildings be- came courtyard spaces admitting light into the rear of the new single-storey building, backing into the slope so that the upper field extended on to the turf roof. Concrete was chosen throughout the construction to enable continuous insulation from floor to ceiling. The resulting heat storage is excellent.

Jean: I always had in mind a calm, uncomplicated space and the architect’s proportions are beautifully calculated for that. The concrete is a good background for art and furniture from any period. We have used what we have accumulated over the years and bought nothing new. The artwork we have is very varied; some well known, lots of friend’s pieces, and our own. People say when they visit that it is not like a modernist architect’s showpiece but a very lived-in space, and calm. This is how we experience it ourselves.

Michael: Jean has designed all the planting in the courtyards and the garden outside her studio, as well as a small vegetable garden and a few fruit trees at the kitchen end. The rest we used for grazing sheep, but the last one died a few months ago. The meadows have never been subject to agrochemicals and are full of wildflowers, and there is a local grasslands society that is led by a prominent botanist.

Jean: The two of us are here all the time, living and working, and there is no part of the house that isn’t used every day. Entertaining is tailing off because it is tiring, but we have always loved it.

Michael: For me, the big studios were a challenge and they’ve made me produce large paintings, which I have not been able to do before. Wall space has been deliberately alternated with the huge windows and there is no ornamentation to compete with the paintings.The local area is the Forest of Dean, now predominantly a tourist destination since the mines and railways were closed in the 1960s. The Wye valley is an AONB and the forest itself is patriotically defended against any attempt to sell it off. For me, the Forest of Dean is a natural UNESCO Biosphere reserve and I have been involved in environmental work here for 15 years.

Jean: Neither of us wants to move but we are getting less confident about driving, which is necessary to live here. We will miss it all badly, especially the consistent warmth. The next step for us has to be in a small town.

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The property, which is now for sale, with a guide price of £2,895,000, is approached via a private driveway, becoming a paved carport, with charging point for electric vehicles, and dramatic external hall, sheltered from the elements by a series of large sky lights. Internally, it is a building of two halves separated by a long gallery which, like an arterial road, splits the zones of the house running east to west along the route of the original driveway.

At the front are the south facing living areas, dining area and kitchen, with access to an external cold store, and two principal bedrooms. At the back is a bedroom and a series of expansive artists’ studios each with access to an external courtyard gar- den. These mirror the positions of the sites’ original buildings in a reversal of form and purpose, providing private, sheltered spaces and a source of light and air throughout. At the western extremity is an enchanting garden with raised beds, bordered by an original stone wall. On the property’s four acres are a fully insulated summer house, further raised growing beds, and a grazing meadow with field shelter.

The house is located on the edge of Brockweir, a small village on the eastern bank of the River Wye dating to at least the 13th century. The village has a traditional pub and a lovely community village shop staffed by local volunteers. Further pubs are available in Tintern, known for its abbey, including the excellent Kingstone (micro) Brewery.

The old towns of Chepstow and Mon- mouth are within easy reach for a wider variety of shops, restaurants, and regular farmer’s markets. Both have excellent schools for all ages. Bristol is around 40 minutes by car and there is now no toll charged for crossing the River Severn.


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Woo Gilchrist