Category Archives: architecture

Grand Design for sale

If you caught the recently aired episode of Grand Designs that showed a hexagonal, oak-framed eco house being built in the Cambridgeshire fens, you might be interested to know it is up for sale.

Eco house from Grand DesignsFor anyone not in the UK, Grand Designs is a TV programme that follows ambitious, elegaic, one-of-a-kind house building projects – from the burning eyed optimists clutching architects drawings at the beginning of a build to the broken husks they become at the end. They get worn down by endless problems like the custom-made windows from Germany being millimetres too large for the spaces, or (as always seems to happen) the wife gets pregnant halfway through the build and suddenly any delay to the schedule means she will have to give birth in the caravan they are living in while building their dream home.

Kelly Neville built most of this house literally by himself, coming day after day to a field with some oak beams and hand shaping them and fitting them together in order to make a home for his family. It was fascinating to watch, and the house came out gloriously. There are loads of photos on the estate agent’s website here, and some pics and a description of the build process here. £500,000 doesn’t seem too horribly expensive when you consider it comes with nearly 6 acres of land.

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Hunting signs of spring

Today is the equinox and the official beginning of spring. Signs of it are catching hold all across East Anglia. Yesterday I popped into the gardens at Blickling Hall to see their lovely dell full of hellebores – if the weather holds this weekend will be the perfect time to visit them.

It’s a blowsy spring joy seeing so many together among other spring plants and set off by the elegant browns of last autumn’s fallen leaves. There are some more daring combinations to – hellebores with black grass – is that Ophiopogon Nigrescens?

Even more unexpected – hellebores with tree ferns, which I would never have thought of but looked beautiful, somehow anchoring the alien form of the tree ferns into this very english garden.

The rest of the garden is laid out on impeccable classical lines, with a great deal of attention paid to vistas opening up and focal points as you move through the garden. If, like me, you fetishise lichen-covered urns and centuries old  mellow brick walls, then this garden is heaven.

It wasn’t until I turned back to the house that I realised there is a whole lake there as well. The views are so controlled for when you approach the front of the house onwards that you just don’t see it until you turn back on yourself.It’s still a little early in the year, but the bones of the perennial garden are beautiful and everywhere there are green shoots thrusting through the mulch. Definitely one to visit in full summer as well.

The house is a delight too – unlike many National Trust properties it is built on a properly domestic scale so you can actually imagine living there, with bright, cosy rooms, low ceilinged enough to heat and not so large you would have to shout to people at the opposite side of the living room. Add in beautiful decorative ceilings and wallpapers, and a glorious Long Gallery it’s a place to spend a little time. Everything is open Wednesday to Sunday at the moment, more in the summer.

Blickling, Norwich, Norfolk NR11 6NF
Telephone: 01263 738030
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Sliding House

Sliding House in Suffolk

As the seasons move and the weather changes from summery to blowing freezing rain in the space of 5 minutes, the Sliding House recently built in Suffolk looks more and more genius.

Wallpaper have done a great video all about it here which explains everything better than I would.

The architects are dRMM.

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Wysing Contemporary

Wysing Arts Centre is opening a new exhibition this weekend under the Wysing Contemporary banner, with a launch event on Saturday from 4pm with Matthew Slotover, director of the Frieze Art Fair. Greatness comes to the countryside!

Wysing ContemporaryWysing is interesting because it is one of these architecturally ambitious buildings tucked deep in the countryside, which functions mainly as studios for artists rather than being an exhibition space first. Wysing Contemporary is “[their] approach to the collection and sale of contemporary visual art. It is a brand new initiative for Wysing Arts Centre, with three exhibitions per year and an ongoing series of events around collecting contemporary art.”  

They aim to present some of the most interesting work being made in the East of England, on a non-profit basis, and see the exhibitions as part of their remit of nurturing artistic talent. Could be great, could be terrible, I’ll be interested to find out.

The building itself is surely worth a look too. Opened in Jan 08, it won a RIBA award. RIBA apparently said of it “The first view of Wysing Arts Centre approaching from Bourn is stunning, demonstrating in an instant that the architects have fulfilled the client brief to produce a ‘serious building’ and to raise the profile of the Arts Centre. Simple construction, natural ventilation, use of natural daylight and thoughtful detailing all contribute to a building which is direct and sophisticated. The black, ordered rectilinear elevation has the simplicity of a Dutch barn but the sophistication of a more complex building. Stunning architecture in the most unexpected location.”

The architects Hawkins/Brown have a nice page of pictures of  it.

Wysing building


ANIMATED runs Sunday 18 January – Sunday 1 March. Wysing is open every day from 12-5pm. Admission Free.

The centre is between Cambridge and Royston – they have a helpful find us page on their website.

Eco sneak peeks

If you’ve ever considered building your own eco-friendly Grand Design you should be in Norfolk next weekend. The Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is holding four days of Open Houses in a great range of properties around the county.

They run the gamut from eco housing developments to a traditionally built cob house, via converted farm buildings, strawbale structures and an ordinary-looking suburban house with discreet eco add-ons. There is even a beautiful old watermill that has converted its wheel to a micro turbine to generate electricity. Architects, designers and householders will be on hand to talk through what they’ve learned, which could be a really useful resource if you’re contemplating going down this route.

See their flyer here for the range of possibilities and book tours by telephone ASAP as they apparently get booked out very quickly.


Thursday 11th – Sunday 14th September – not all properties open on all days  

Book via the Energy Saving Trust on 01733 566910

CPRE Norfolk

 NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Hidden Art in Cambridge


The entrance to Kettles Yard.

Kettle’s Yard looks like a nice modern gallery from the street. They generally have interesting art exhibitions, and the quality of light is the gallery is lovely. So far so good, an ornament to Cambridge.

A while back, after visiting, I followed a sign out the back to the house at Kettles Yard, and fell down a rabbithole into somewhere extraordinary. 

Like all the best private houses turned museums, you have to knock at the door, and a kindly little old lady opens and settles you in, pops your bag in a cupboard and invites you to wander wherever you like, sit in the chairs, read the books. Then you are let loose into this lovely place. Originally four cottages, they were knocked together in the fifties to make one large house, open yet higgledy piggledy, full of light and wonderful objects.

The atmosphere is comfortable but informal. People really do sit in the comfortable armchairs and read, wander and chat. There are concerts there, the occasional talk. I left wanting to know more about who had put together such a wonderful home and then offered it up to the university.

It turns out Jim Ede trained as a painter and became assistant curator at the Tate in the 1930’s. He championed modern art, got to know everyone in the field, visited Brancusi’s studio in Paris, was a key part of it all. He became dissillusioned with the conservatism of management and about 1936 moved to Tangiers, where he built an early minimalist house, travelled a lot with his wife and continued to collect his favourite painters.

In 1956 he and Helen moved back to Cambridge, where he had grown up, and converted the houses and filled them with art and interesting objects. They ran an open house every afternoon, so people could knock on the door and he’d show them round (legend has it he even lent paintings for students to hang in their rooms during term time). Eventually they gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge, so that people could continue to enjoy it long after they were gone, and moved on to Edinburgh to start the next stage of their lives.

The upshot is that this warm and welcoming space is still open, up the only hill in Cambridge, and it’s a perfect place to spend some time of an afternoon – being surrounded by so much beauty must be good for the soul. Artists represented include Ben Nicholson, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and Joan Miró, but that is only selected highlights.

Another nice thing is the natural objects – a basket of rounded pebbles arranged as a gradient from grey to white, the wooden cider press screw that is several hundred years old and reads as a perfect plinth, a magnifying lens hanging in front of the house plants.

Go seek out this quiet gem. Knock on the door any afternoon except Mondays.

Castle Street, Cambridge CB3 0AQ UK

telephone: +44 (0)1223 352124


Pebble Spiral Kettle's Yard
Magnifying lens


Museum entrance by Andy Field
Museum interiors from Kettle’s Yard website   
Spiral of Pebbles by Ayres no graces   
Lens photograph by Major Clanger   

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.