Traditional Architecture Group
A Linked Society of the Royal Institute of British Architects

Subscriber Newsletter No. 8

2nd February 2011

Lutyens House Refurbished and Extended By Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards writes:

Work on the house at Sullingstead and the rill and large outbuilding were finished in 2010 .The summerhouse,  was completed in the spring of 2010 along with finishing touches to the new gardens and sculpture. The pool house extension was the overall winner in the most recent  Waverley Design award competition

Sullingstead is the fourth or fifth major Lutyens country house that we've been lucky enough to have worked on. Our family practice, Frances & Michael Edwards Architects, goes back  for many generations to the early 1800s and we now tend to work on Traditional Architecture in the vernacular rather than experiment with more Classical forms but these two projects have elements of both.

Conversation with Peter Kellow ...


Peter Kellow Could you explain something about your approach to designing the extension. Did you want it to appear to be by Luttyens or not? What was the client's input? Etc?

Michael Edwards By devising solutions in the true vernacular, in terms of volumes; two dimensional and three dimensional forms,  and so on, as well as materials,  the resulting buildings are eminently traditional architecture, with or without Classical elements.  Indeed, Classical elements are used sparingly so as not to detract from what is traditional in these parts.  West Surrey largely missed the Classical intrusions of other areas, benefitting from the survival of an unusual proportion of vernacular buildings.  With the coming of the Railways that opened up the district, the Arts and Crafts tradition came with it and there is thus a continuous development of more traditional forms, which we embrace, as with most of our work in West Surrey.

PK On the rear view of the house is any of it new extension?

ME The right-hand (east) portion of the elevation features the reinstated Lutyens kitchen chimney, missing for many years, allbeit now with the addition of the high level squint window and two low-level, glazed elements that provide light alongside the kitchen range within.  The "Elizabethan" group of three chimneys towards the west end of the house are also reinstated and previously missing.

PK I take it the extension is your design - or is it based on something there before?

ME The extension is based on vernacular details rather than something either on the site before or on a building elsewhere by Lutyens or his contemporaries.

PK What is the accommodation in the extension?

ME The extension consists of a deep, underground passageway leading from the house to the internal poolside and alongside the pool are the changing rooms and a modest spa.  Then, via a glass stairwell, access is provided up to the gym at ground level above with a view out over the pool and via the leaded glass oriel bay towards the outdoor rill (canal) and distant views to the east.


PK  What are the bricks and the roof tiles?

ME Bricks for the house were Freshfield Lane clamp-burned stocks to match the existing, although for the chimneys we used Charnwood 50 mm and 65 mm red stock brick, again to match existing.  All were bedded in a lime mortar.  Roof tiles were either re-used existing or new Keymer 'Shire'  range tiles

PK What is the construction of the small panes of glass in the extension?

ME The small panes were single glazed, traditional leaded glass and surrounded larger sheets of glass so as to afford best views out of the summerhouse, all set in Clement steel window and door frames, set in turn into oak.

PK Could you tell me a little about the timber used - sourcing, fabrication, etc.

ME Most of the oak framing is of green oak although the internal oak columns in the kitchen were fabricated from laminated joinery oak to maintain as stable a form as possible.  We tend to use either French or English oak and we have developed our own refinement of jointing so as to suit inevitable shrinkage.  We were pleased to work with the Timber Fame Company of Glastonbury for all the oak structures at Sullingstead.


PK Are the new garden elements, paving, etc all your design or based on something by Lutyens?

ME Some are what remained of old planting on terraces to the south of the house, now restored by the gardeners, while to the west we recreated borders, missing but drawn in a perspective by T. Raffles Davison.  Then to the east we replaced an unkempt lawn and where had possibly been a laundry garden by a new rose garden.  Some minimal Gertude Jekyll details are archived at the Surrey History Centre but most of the surviving gardenshad few drawings or planting plans to work from.
The south terrace alongside the house was originally a simple lawn and gravel paths but we returfed it and set into it the series of stone spiralling details that were consideredbetter for walking on and less likely to upset the interior with grit on shoes.

PK Do the spiral designs have any significance or association?

ME Lutyens had frequently included 4-centred spirals of brick tiles or slate in his hard-landscape details and, over the years, testing ourselves means of achieving accuracy, we worked out his mathematics.  Then, for the rose garden we revisited the geometry, this time to create 6-centred spirals and these allowed arrangements of a circular form.  Having calculated the necessary geometry, working with our regular masons, they quickly set these out and then filled out the shapes withtiles and stone elements.

We have regularly introduced geometrical forms into paving, not just reminiscent of Lutyens's work but more so of Cosmatesque detailing, working closely with our landscape masons who are now able to interpret our minimal sketches or sometimesfollow extremely complicated devices!

PK What was the brief for the rose garden and what input did the client have?

ME The client brief was (generously) simply to provide a foreground to the remarkable distant views. The immediate area was flat but had sensational rolling views to the south and east while being now overlooked by the family kitchen, instead of what was originally the servant's hall. On the area was an abandoned aviary which we replaced with the octagonal summerhouse, dropping the ground slightly to avoid an over-high roof in the protected landscape.  The pergola site was devised as optionally on one side or the other and ended up to the north as part of an essential retaining wall for higher ground.

PK What materials are used for the paving?

ME As most of our external paving in these parts,  we used clay creasing tiles, Bargate and York stone.  The York stone was generally reclaimed but large quadrants of new sawn York stone were used as features.

PK The summer house - is this the octagonal gazebo like structure?

ME This is the gazebo structure set on the line of an axis centred on an arched niche in the west elevation of Lutyen's music room.  Special long and short bonnet tiles permit the octagonal form of the roof with the traditional, under-played lead capping.  The octagon is extended by four rectangular bay windows, with each roof projection supported on Tuscan columns set on slate cills.

PK What is the rectangular garden structure with the steps leading up to it?

ME Lutyens devised a small detached porch-shelter that we believe was intended to draw attention to the low level main entrance that was otherwise hidden when approaching the house.  Unfortunately, its precarious location may have led to its demise and we needed to establish details from archive documents, ensuring that new foundations and framing details were developed to provide a long life.


PK What is the listing for the house?

ME Grade II, to date.

PK How was the ride through planning?

ME Disposition of the several new and replacement outbuildings needed to maintain the integrity of the Lutyens structures.  The site is in Green Belt and within the Surrey Hills AONB.  Being a Lutyens House with remains of Jekyll gardens, the sensitivity of the project was second to none.  The original building by Sir Edwin Lutyens is well known as one that he returned to and extended with typical inventiveness and so a considerable degree of care was necessary to develop any kind of extension or outbuilding on the site. The local town planning authority is the Waverley District Council and its attention to detail is well known.  Extensions and outbuildings policies in the Local Plan were to be adhered to and the setting of the pool-house in the excavated landscape was especially complicated by planning requirements.

The following notes appeared in the Lutyens Trust newsletter in August

Sullingstead – now restored, this is one of Lutyens’s most celebrated early country houses, dating from 1897, but best known as a project he returned to with later (1903) additions, famously in an uncompromisingly different style for the music room, changing from half-timbered, tile-hung Surrey vernacular to high-windowed Georgian.

The house, like too many of his works, suffered the collateral damage that inevitably results from many changes of ownership, with consequent alterations diluting the changes made by Sir Edwin himself.  The loss, for example, of major chimneys, staircases, fireplaces, main entrance porch and important garden walls, together with the addition of French windows, passageways and numerous outbuildings, has disappointed visitors but the present owner, as well as returning the house to its former character, re-constructing missing chimneys, fireplaces and so on, entailing a good deal of forensic research by his architect, decided to replace modern outbuildings with more appropriate forms.

It must have been in the late 1980s when I originally visited Sullingstead, then called High Hascombe for a time, and, having put away the photos taken, I had not given the house a great deal of thought until being offered a commission of refurbishing it for new owners.  Then, comparing the photos with those published in 1913 by Country Life (Houses and Gardens of E.L. Lutyens by L. Weaver), clearly a large number of important features had disappeared – just about every one of the views published at the time lacked key elements.... but we were fortunate in having a client eager to restore these items!

Completed last year, the house is now recognizable again – for example, with the front door always sensibly on the north side, the focal point at the front of the house: the entrance porch that Lutyens used to draw attention to it as one approached the house down the hill, had been removed, possibly due to condition faltering in the weather here on this exposed hillside site.  Peering at no doubt the original architect’s drawings that, like a lot of his otherwise missing plans, had been miniaturized for publication in 1913, as well as box brownie photos taken by a housekeeper many years ago, we were able to detail this precariously-located feature so that it would serve its purpose for a much longer period.

Chimneys – very substantial ones – were missing too, and the composition, with its two Lutyens extensions in place by 1913 (the kitchen wing and the music room), had been upset by such tall brick features having been removed, particularly the main end chimney in Lutyens's little sketch that he sent proudly to Lady Emily, remarking on how pleased he was with the amount of work he was doing that particular day in January 1897: "all your doing" as he put it.
French doors, but also a very prominent gable that had replaced the two south-facing dormers, had spoilt the iconic music room addition. Weatherboarding details were changed to tile hanging and together with this over-large projection at roof level, Lutyens's composition was much changed.

Brick-flanked bay windows to the dining room, too, were missing and so were the two main staircases, both having been replaced.  These features, again, were unravelled and restored from the plans in Weaver, helped by two remaining newel posts and kite-shaped changes of level in the foundations, convincing us that Sir Edwin had indeed used a spiral stair down to the music room, and not the more recent "dog-leg" form!

At first floor level, the disposition of the originally planned dressing rooms and bedrooms was fortunate (as we've found on other Lutyens houses) in allowing adaptation to current family needs and, though in need of slight adjustment of layout here, like the ground floor, this house shows how, despite the passing of more than a hundred years of family life, it can still perfectly suit present family needs into the future.