New development at Castle Hill, Derbyshire
Mike Smith looks around a superb new development on the outskirts of Bakewell.
For his popular Grand Designs television series, Kevin McCloud scours the country for exciting new-builds, skilful conversions and idiosyncratic recreations of period features. Eat your heart out, Mr McCloud. I've found wonderful examples of all three on a single plot of land, which also happens to be one of the finest locations in England - a stretch of hillside at the heart of the Peak District National Park.Situated just below the earthworks of a twelfth-century castle, the sloping site lies within the grounds of Castle Hill House, a grand mansion built by Alexander Bossley in 1785. After its purchase by the Duke of Rutland in 1846, the house was used as a residence and office by the manager of the Rutland Estates. In 1920, it was acquired by Robert Greaves Blake, a local Justice of the Peace, who lived there until his death in 1947. The house then served as a country club until it was acquired by Lady Manners School. Initially used as the headteacher's house, it became a dormitory for boarding pupils. Five years ago, this fabulous site was acquired by Cathelco Ltd, who realised that there was the potential to create an upmarket development within walking distance of Bakewell's town centre. As with all grand designs, there would be plenty of difficulties and obstacles to overcome. The Georgian house was in dire need of renovation and, as a Grade II listed building, it would have to be treated with the greatest respect. Also, the Peak Park's officers would be sure to go over Cathelco's development proposals with a fine toothed comb. However, the opportunity was too good to miss. The house and the adjacent stables block could be sub-divided into several residences. A former gardener's cottage would provide an additional unit, but a concrete dormitory block, which was added in 1962, would have to go. Realising that the planners would be only too pleased to see the back of this unsightly building, Cathelco's property manager, Jonathan Edwards, wondered if they might be prepared to accept a 'footprint swap' that would see its replacement by a brand-new building. With this thought in mind, Jonathan asked Stuart Hodgkinson of Lathams, the Derby-based architectural practice, to come up with design proposals that would include a new structure, as well as conversion schemes for the Georgian house and the gardener's cottage. Excited by the prospect of creating something new on the hillside, Jonathan and Stuart began to look at ways of 'pushing the boundaries', with Frank Lloyd Wright's famous cliff-side houses as their inspiration. The pair had a pleasant surprise. Rather than regarding this daring design proposal as the replacement of one incongruous structure by another, the Peak Park's officers greeted it favourably. Under the guidance of their chairman, Narendra Bajaria, they are beginning to show a preference for contemporary designs rather than mere pastiche, with a strict proviso that new structures must be of the highest quality and pay due respect to neighbouring buildings and the surrounding landscape.Given his successful track record of contextual new builds, Stuart was well-equipped to produce a design that would be acceptable to the planners. Knowing that he wanted to take full advantage of the hillside location without unduly disturbing the natural contours, he came up with a proposal for a building which would have a glass-fronted upper level, but would be built into, rather than onto, the hillside. A sedum-seeded flat roof would also help to blend the building into the hillside - as well as increasing its energy efficiency. In order to follow the contours, the structure would be sub-divided into two houses, with one slightly set back from the other. The lower level of both houses would be clad in local stone.When I met Jonathan and Stuart on the forecourt of No 9 Castle Hill, the left-hand half of the new-build, I was immediately struck by its remarkable combination of presence and deference. Half-buried in the hillside and faced on its upper-level with a great swathe of glass, it looks like something out of a James Bond movie, and yet it manages not to be intrusive.The lower level takes the form of a plinth which continues the line of the garden wall of the old mansion. One set of doors opens onto an integral garage and adjacent double doors provide a very wide entrance into the lobby, where further double doors open onto a spacious hallway, which is flooded with light from a large sky-light. This floor contains a family room, a utility room and a shower room that is large enough to accommodate a sauna.A wide stairway leads to a huge open space on the first floor, where the dining and sitting areas occupy the full width of the building, which is entirely glass-fronted and opens onto a balcony. Needless to say, the views are spectacular. Jonathan had a major hand in the design of the glass-walled kitchen, which is fitted with an impressive range of Miele appliances. However, any fears that their operation might prove to be as complex as flying an aircraft are allayed by the fact that Miele send out an instructor to give lessons in gadget-operation.All the external glass walls have high-performance glazing; direct sunlight is filtered through a brise soleil in the projecting roof and there is under-floor heating throughout the house. The master bedroom has a walk-in dressing room, as well as an en-suite bathroom, and two further bedrooms have bathrooms and an interconnecting dressing room. A peep into No 10 Castle Hill revealed that it is a mirror image of its neighbour, but has a floor-cladding of limestone rather than marble.After touring these 21st century dwellings, I was taken by Stuart and Jonathan to the second grand design on the site: the conversion of the Georgian mansion into seven houses and one apartment. We entered the complex by walking into the cobbled courtyard of the old stables area. A turreted building at the far corner of the courtyard has a touch of Scottish Baronial about it, while that at the near corner still carries its label as the Rutland Estate Office.Praising Stuart's conversion of the old mansion, Jonathan said, 'Stuart is highly skilled at understanding the three-dimensional nature of a building and how to re-use it.' The architect's re-use of this particular building includes the conversion of the entire top floor into a single apartment, which has a reception room with a ceiling that is over four metres high. The rest of the house is sub-divided into seven dwellings, all with state-of-the-art fittings and appliances.Each house has been given its own character. For example, one dwelling has unusually shaped rooms, another has a space that is sub-divided by the arm of an old cruck-beam and the old Rutland Estate Office has retained its shutters and oak-panelling. The founder of Cathelco Developments, Teifion Salisbury, is so impressed by Stuart's conversions that he has moved into one of the houses and added his own touch by installing a sculpture of a Welsh dragon on the terrace.For the final leg of my grand designs tour, I visited Honeypot Cottage, the former gardener's house. The conversion of this building into bedrooms, bathrooms and a study is impressive enough, but the creation of a new kitchen and reception area is something else entirely. These rooms occupy a 70-ft-long glass house that has been grafted onto the building. Stuart has no qualms about adding this audacious re-creation of a Victorian garden feature because old Ordnance Survey maps show that a glasshouse once occupied the same footprint.All the construction work on the hillside site has been carried out by the Linford Group. Their executive chairman, Simon Linford, said: 'Castle Hill is an outstanding example of a sustainable grand design. The fact that it has won planning permission in a national park stands as testament to the high design and construction values built into the project.'Because construction work on the site is nearing completion, it is too late to put forward the project for inclusion in Kevin McCloud's television programme, but the three grand designs on Castle Hill are sure to be strong contenders in the next round of Peak Park Design Awards.