The National Park planning authorities get a lot of grief for their strict and sometimes unprogressive approach to new buildings.
But the guardians of our historic landscape revealed a forward-thinking attitude when they approved designs for a contemporary annexe to a Victorian vicarage in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The decision surprised many and came as a big relief to the owners of Stow House, Sarah and Phil Bucknall.
The couple bought the property in Aysgarth two years ago after making the life-changing decision to leave their careers in London to turn a traditional B&B into an ultra-contemporary guest house.
The viability of the business depended on creating separate owners’ accommodation and their architect, John Mason, of White Hart, and Gary Hutchinson, of Arcadia Builders, convinced them that it wouldn’t be a problem.
“Everyone said we wouldn’t get permission for the annexe but we had faith in John and Gary, so we went ahead and bought the property,” says Sarah.
“The planners said ‘yes’ on business grounds and with the proviso that the annexe couldn’t be sold separately.
“We were relieved as the B&B wouldn’t have been viable if we had to live in, because we were reducing its 11 bedrooms down to seven.”
The success of their application was also thanks to the unobtrusive design. The separate two-bedroom annexe sits on the site of an old greenhouse, just a few metres from the kitchen door of the main house. It is single storey and cannot be seen from the road. The living sedum roof also means that it can’t be easily picked out from an aerial view.
Work on their new-build home was last on the Bucknalls’ “to do” list when they got the keys to Stow House. First, they honoured the summer bookings taken by the previous owners, then they closed the B&B from October until April the following year for a major modernisation.
“The couple who ran it previously had been there for 23 years and, although it wasn’t really our taste and it needed updating, we could see it had potential,” says Sarah, who previously worked as a copywriter, while Phil was an art director in the advertising industry.
Arcadia Builders spent seven months revamping the property, starting with a new roof and insulation. Every window in the house was replaced, oak floors were laid and old radiators were swapped for Victorian-style cast-iron versions.
A series of five small rooms, including the old kitchen, pantry and utility room were brought together to make one enormous open-plan kitchen. To enhance the feeling of space, the boarded ceilings were removed to expose the trusses and give extra height.
The 11 letting bedrooms were reduced to seven and some of the tiny en-suites replaced with sensational, large bathrooms. On the ground floor, they changed the old bar into a snug/library and installed a wood burner, while another reception room was turned into a bar/sitting room.
The décor is bold, the walls of the snug are in Farrow and Ball’s Pelt and an old chaise longue re-upholstered in orange and purple adds zest. One of the bedrooms is pale pink and red and all of them are full of surprises. The Glasgow toile du jouy lampshades from Timorous Beasties appear classic but, look closely, and you’ll see someone being mugged and someone else smoking a crack pipe.
The couple’s contemporary art collection is also on display. It includes prints by Pure Evil and Dan Baldwin, along with photographs by Bob Carlos Clarke and Phil’s friend Tony Briggs, who took the Kes-inspired photographs.
Their new annexe also reflects their love of modernity. It is constructed from breeze block and clad in stone and cedar.
The grey aluminium windows reflect the slate roof on the main house, while full-height sliding glass doors on the front of the building bring natural light and sensational views over Wensleydale. Light wells in the roof have been painted blue to give the impression of a bright sunny day outside.
The canopy between the old house and their new accommodation was a big expense thanks to the amount of steel in the construction but it creates a visual link and is very practical.
“It’s made a walkway, which keeps us dry and it’s a great place to store logs,” says Phil.
Inside, there is a large living space with a kitchen with units by Jolly’s, plus an en-suite bedroom, a guest bedroom and a bathroom.
There’s also a drying room at the back of the building, which houses the hot water tanks and the controls for the underfloor heating.
There is evidence everywhere of the couple’s ingenuity, including the wine boxes fashioned into shelves and wired up to double as wall lights.
Phil was in charge of colour and chose a combination of mainly white walls, with the odd feature wall in Farrow and Ball’s Arsenic and in Cook’s Blue, which is supposed to deter flies.
The annexe took six months to build and cost about £160,000, including VAT, which the couple were forced to pay when the Inland Revenue classed it as ancillary accommodation rather than a new build.
“That was annoying but we have got what we needed and we love it. It gives us some separation from work, and guests also like that as it makes them feel more at home next door,” says Sarah.
“The annexe is also a very tranquil space. Sometimes we’ll just sit here and admire the view.”
* Stow House guest house, Aysgarth, 01969 663635, stowhouse.co.uk
Arcadia Builders, arcadiabuildersltd.co.uk
White Hart Architecture, whitehartarchitecture.co.uk
Jolly kitchens, Brompton on Swale, arjollylimited.co.uk
Lifetime windows, Harrogate, lifetimewindows.co.uk