In Hertfordshire, England, the ruins of an 18th century cottage have been converted into a contemporary studio by Kate Darby and and David Connor. But the home’s ancient bones, and the stories they tell, have been preserved.
In Hereditary, arguably 2018’s scariest movie, a family and their home is haunted – or, more accurately, tormented – by generations past. The inescapability of the past, as illustrated by Ari Aster’s explosive genre film and other haunted house thrillers, can be frightening.
But preserving and playing up the past is also a consideration for architects approaching adaptive reuse projects. Indeed, restorations often pay homage to a historic building’s bones. And in Croft Lodge Studio, architect Kate Darby and interior designer David Connor elected to keep the architecture’s bones – and make them a central feature. The results are equal parts beautiful and as unsettling as a home featured in a scary movie.
Located in Hertfordshire, England, Croft Lodge Studio rose from the remains of an 18th century cottage with adjacent stables. This wasn’t exactly a renovation project, though: the previous structure had been long-neglected, and was rotten past the point of repair. Yet it was listed as a heritage structure. “The strategy was not to renovate or repair the 300-year-old listed building, but to preserve it perfectly,” say the architects. “This would include the rotten timbers, the dead ivy, the old birds nests, the cobwebs and the existing dust.”
Darby and Connor’s solution was ambitious: They devised a plan to nest the cottage in a new envelope. First, they reinforced the house by installing over and around it a steel portal frame topped with timber rafters and a corrugated iron roof. The structure was then sheeted with OSB boards and insulated. The architects finally fit a modern skin – black corrugated iron – over the original walls, windows and roof.
The results are tastefully ominous, to be certain, but also high-performance. The insulated envelope is air-tight, and energy is supplied by roof-mounted photovoltaic panels and a solar water-heating system, enabled by 100 metres of glycol piping running beneath the iron cladding. When additional heat is needed, wood sourced from the surrounding forest can be fed into the studio’s wood-burning stoves.
Inside, Croft Lodge Studio, as its name suggests, serves as a workspace, but it can also be converted into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. The original stables were converted into Croft Lodge’s primary working space, with the original cottage – with rotting wood, birds’ nests and all – looming menacingly over a decidedly modern desk furnished with MacBooks. Visitors can climb into a second-storey bedroom to survey the studio below.
For atmospheric (creepy) charm, custom-made clay heads by Connor, a Hertfordshire local, fill gaps in the walls.
The living area, contained in the historic cottage, is surprisingly light-filled, defined by a double-height ceiling. Here, a gathering space featuring an old fireplace, a bread oven and liberal amounts of hanging ivy, meets a dining space where rotting wooden walls and peeling paint are front and centre. In walls that are especially corroded, daylight filters through cracks.
Throughout, the original cottage’s trusses remind that this building has been lived in – and completely abandoned.
Darby and Connor created a vaulted bedroom atop Croft Lodge Studio’s dining room, accessible via a steel staircase. Here, the modern merges with the ancient: drywall meets the home’s rafters; modern wiring tangles with roots and branches; and views of the adjacent Bircher Commons are framed by the murky glass of the cottage’s remaining windows. Indeed, this is a home that is haunted by its past, and refuses to forget it.
As this project was circulated in Azure’s office, the first reaction was to ask, “This home is definitely haunted, right?” The answer, most certainly, is yes.