The Field House was shortlisted for the Architect’s Journal Small Projects Award in 2021 and was featured in Elle Decoration Country Issue 19. In conversation with Elle Decoration, Eleanor Grierson expands on the project, its context and the impact it has had on her clients’ lives.
E . D What prompted you to build this space - what inspired the design?
E . G The building’s conception began with the discovery of a half-buried brick plinth within a wildflower meadow - there is always something there. The plinth may echo traces of a previous owner’s abandoned plans but its discovery sparked the ambition of my clients to commission their very first architectural project.
The brief was simple: to build a small structure on top of the plinth that could be enjoyed as a haven to retreat to, creating a spatially different place than any in the main Victorian farmhouse, and as a feature in the landscape to look out on to. A 21st-century folly - both barn and temple in equal parts.
E . D Please describe where it is – the location and what the surroundings are like? How do you get there from the main home? How remote is it?
E . G The Field House sits in the Vale of York, a flat landscape where fields of crops and trees, houses and barns stand out on the horizon. The structure sits towards the end of a meadow with a small wood behind it providing a seasonal backdrop; the wood is full of wildlife, particularly deer, and whilst only 6 miles from the historic City of York, perfectly serene and quiet - except for the calls of birds and the rustle of the aspens.
Designed as a place for the family’s lives to unfold over the seasons, the Field House is just a few minutes from the main house. In winter, a short run in wellies past the chickens; in summer a gentle stroll down a mown path in the long grasses. It’s the tiniest “commute” but the act of walking there from the farmhouse in the morning creates some form of transformation, separating space and mood, immersing you in a natural environment and fresh air.
E . D How do people use the space and what’s it like to work in? How is it better than a normal office?
E . G A building with daylight on four sides takes on different qualities over the course of the day, even more so in different seasons, as the sun animates the space through light and shadow both on and within the building. The quality of the space is also affected by the positioning of your body. Sitting at desk height, you can look out through the windows over the fields, connected to the surroundings. Sunk into a sofa, your view is restricted to that of the sky and the tops of the trees, altering perception through the simple act of sitting.
So many activities have taken place there. Upholstery; a degree thesis; theatre workshops; endless sundowners. The Field House creates a wonderful blank space for you to fill - or simply to enjoy the blankness. Quietness remains its most fundamental offering; deliberately we created no distractions in the space, no kitchen facilities, no built-in technology (other than a power supply). The structure becomes your canvas, perfectly aloof from the main house, but near enough to nip back.
E . D What materials is it constructed from and why?
E . G At the outset of the project, the clients and I cycled around the surrounding countryside to study the local vernacular of farm buildings. The Vale of York is scattered with large, greying larch barns. From a distance, these barns look still, even inanimate; on closer inspection, they become the stage on which farm life plays out - where lambs are born in spring and cattle huddle together in winter. These barns became an inspiration for the building.
In plan, the Field House is made of 3 squares of 3m by 3m. Two of these squares form an internal space whilst the third square is a covered external room, open on two sides. Sitting outside in the rain, but under-cover, is one of the quiet pleasures it affords. Large double doors fold back on themselves, enabling the whole space to be used for large summer lunches. In elevation, the Field House is a pitched, symmetrical, gable-ended form of 9 bays shouldered by larch columns with an exaggerated clerestory row of square windows that run along the front and around the side.
From within, the larch columns appear to run through inside and out - as if the timber structure was there first and then the internal space encased within it. This rhythm is continued in the external room where the timber frame is exposed and a central window inserted. This window helps shelter the corner from the wind and rain. Around this open corner the deep larch columns are almost human in proportion and have begun to gain character, crack and grow more beautiful with age.
The building was designed and constructed in close conversation with a local, family-run timber frame company. So, it’s made from local materials by local hands with untreated English larch and insulating rock wool and cork. Designing and building it was an act of collaboration; just as this was my first experience of translating a drawn idea into a physical thing from beginning to end, so the house was also the first project led by a newly qualified apprentice at the timber company
The order and form of the gabled elevation (almost a pediment) and the larch columns hint at classical proportions expressed playfully, with beautiful but modest materials in a rural, vernacular tradition.
E . D How is it furnished and why?
E . G Comfortably, quirkily. A sofa, an Ercol table and chairs and small armchairs in the process of being reupholstered. An old brass standard lamp from Germany inherited as one of only two items to survive wartime bombing. Four Acapulco chairs in the external room - pieces brought from Mexico, the family’s favourite country. It’s an evolving space so the furniture will come and go.
E . D How much time is spent there and how does it make you feel being in the space? Has it improved the clients’ quality of life? If so in what ways?
E . G The Field House came into its own in the last year. The whole adult family was home for lockdown; each of them used the space as a sanctuary and more - transforming it from an office to a yoga studio, from an isolation bedroom at one point to even a tiny rural nightclub. But it was most cherished as a place for the family to come together. Moments of calm amidst the chaos of 2020.
And for me, the notion of an office in the middle of the countryside (here literally in the middle of a field) has been intriguing and inspiring. Why should future projects always be designed from an office in London? I am hopeful that my emerging practice will evolve in locations which feed the imagination.
E . G . A ’s current projects include the complete reimagining of a family house in one of Islington’s landmark Georgian streets, a photography studio in south London, the refurbishment of a terrace in York and a collaboration on a permanent art installation with a renowned land artist.
More to follow...