Headline grabbing home in Lewes

Priory Barn
Priory Barn

Laura Cartledge learns about the challenges and successes of one Lewes build.

While Priory Barn might make headlines for its compact design and eco-credentials, any architect will tell you the devil is in the details.

Priory Barn

Priory Barn

“The meter covers we are very proud of,” confesses Ian McKay, director at BBM Sustainable Design. “They are usually horrible, stark, white boxes but here we have them encased in the cladding.

“It is testament to the craftsmanship, as is the polished concrete floor.”

As a result its location in Lewes is no accident, as the county town is somewhere Ian regards as experiencing a ‘reawakening’ when it comes to the value of handmade.

“There is a huge tradition of timber boarding in Lewes,” he explains, before adding that it doesn’t end there.

From the handrail to the sopisticated, elegant way the house’s name is embossed in the exterior wall, signs of an expert touch are everywhere.

So how did the project come about?

“The clients are repeat clients of ours, I think we have done three of theirs so we were the first port of call,” recalls Ian. “It was a very tricky site but we thought something was doable.”

Access was arguably one of the key challenges, something Ian explains is a common issue.

“There are very few new build opportunities and a lot of them are infill sites - tucked behind somewhere,” he says. “I think previously it was a shed or barn type structure, which is where it gets its name from, and it didn’t look like you could get a property in there as there are garden walls right up to the boundaries.”

However, as is often the case, the biggest hurdle directly resulted in what Ian deems to be Priory Barn’s biggest success.

“It is the compact nature of the design, the face we have a three-bedroom house and an expansive living area,” he enthuses. “The design we came up with is responably smaller than the original building so we could get some garden space too.

“It feels good when you make something work like that, when you achieve something somewhere noone else has,” adds Ian. “Plus it is a needed thing, we are behind where we should be - as a society - for homes.”

Testament to the achievement has to be the fact it doesn’t look like the building was a struggle at all, or compromises to fit, despite the fact Ian reveals ‘everything from elements to reduce over-looking to going from brick to timber was dictated by the site’.

“Congratulations have to go to the contractor for getting something like this built with the access as tight as it was. I saw amazing things done by delivery lorries,” he smiles.

“It impacts things like storage and where the construction site office could go, things like that can get overlooked sometimes. And thanks must go to the neighbours of course.”

While this may be the case, it is also very modest as BBM’s reputation for its skill at putting new developments into difficult plots precedes it.

Something Ian admits is easier when, like in this case, clients ‘let us get on with it’.

“It wasn’t a prescriptive brief as they trust us,” he says simply. “Whereas you can have clients that try to use the architect to make them the architect, and you can wince when they say ‘we were thinking this - we’ve done you a sketch’.

“It is an ideal situation when we can get on with it, but having said that you sometimes do have clients with fantastic ideas who can give you great points to explore,” he concedes.

To find out more about the project and BBM Sustainable Design visit bbm-architects.co.uk

This was originally featured in February’s etc Magazine, pick up yours now.

Pictures by BBM