BEST REVENGE | ONE17 NOTES MAGAZINE | AUTUMN/WINTER 2018 | ISSUE 9
Having gone through the rite of passage that is doing up an old wreck of a house, the burning desire to design and build his own home flamed bright in ONE17 partner Kevin Drayton’s heart. If only he had some money…
The time: the early 1990s; the place: darkest West Yorkshire. If the natives were restless, the comers-in were even more so. It’s every young architect’s dream to design their own house. It’s many a middle-aged architect’s dream too. However angst strewn the process appears, it’s nothing compared to raising the necessary money or – and here’s the killer – finding a site. It’s a well known fact that land increases in value because production ceased some time ago.
Land on which it’s possible to get planning approval for a single, modest, radical but nonetheless non horse frightening house is virtually out of stock and they’re unlikely to be getting further deliveries soon.
Job number one: find a site. OK, job number one: sell your present house. OK, job number one: get planning approval for change of use from residential to offices. Job number two: sell your present house/office. Job number three: find a rental house then go on holiday to cheer yourself up because you are never going to find a building plot that does not require a long lost aunt to bequeath you her vast fortune.
Come back from holiday with a brilliant idea: approach someone who has a garden far too big for them to cope with and ask if they would give you first refusal if you could get planning approval on part of the site.
You get the idea. These things don’t just happen. Once the land is secured the next thing is to go back to those piles of sketches that have accumulated over the previous three years and discover how few of the ideas will work with the site you actually have. No matter – the game’s afoot. Just the planners, the highways officer, the trees officer, building control and the neighbours to satisfy and we can do what we like! Piece of cake.
What do you mean there’s no drainage in the road? What do you mean we can’t excavate any further because we’ve reached the roots of that tree with a preservation order? What do you mean the design will cost at least twice as much as our budget to build? What do you mean you wished we’d never started this?
But of course all this is a long way in the past. Today reactions to the house vary. Some people can’t believe we have been in residence for nearly a quarter of a century, so radical does it seem. Alternatively someone asked if we had photographs of the building before we converted it…
It was in many ways an experiment; an opportunity to try out various ideas that even with bribery or threats of violence I couldn’t persuade clients to adopt in their schemes. Over sized doors; raw steel angle door frames; fair face block work internal walls; exposed galvanised conduit; raw plaster ceilings; flexible open-plan living space over two levels with a double-height section and a vast toplight that lets the light flood in. Controlled views and a distinction between looking out and letting the sun in. Best Revenge is primarily about light and space. When we moved in there were no skirtings, no architraves, no curtains, no carpet, no paintwork. Just a simple stone built barn-like box under a pitched slate roof that didn’t seem out of place in its West Yorkshire setting, but which could accommodate the radical, pared back interior that we craved.
Once the land is secured the next thing is to go back to those piles of sketches that have accumulated over the previous three years and discover how few of the ideas will work with the site you actually have.Over the years things have changed. Because it is a house designed for two specific individuals it seems unusual to many. Why have three sitting areas but only two bedrooms? Why do we keep moving things around? Why haven’t we got a garage? Isn’t it cold with blockwork walls? How do you manage to live in such a place with two cats and a dog that models himself on a mobile compost heap?
All these questions and more are most easily answered by visiting. Shortly after we moved in (late November) we invited two friends who lived in a chocolate box cottage to dinner. Their house is beautiful: beams, chintz, overstuffed sofas, open fires, rugs on carpets. They had heard about the hard, radical and therefore, logically, cold interior we had created and so turned up wearing several sweaters and sheepskin coats. When invited to take off said coats they declined.
After half an hour they felt confident enough to shed the sheep and half an hour later remarked “It’s quite warm isn’t it?” We ended the evening in shirtsleeves sipping nightcaps and coffee by the log stove in the cosy glow of candlelight.
Best Revenge has changed a lot of people’s perceptions over the years. The ones who remain sceptical tend to be the ones who have never actually visited. I have spoken to people who did not know it was my home who have told me it is an accountant’s office. Another frequent response is “Best Revenge? Who are you getting your own back on then?”
When the time came during construction to apply to the local authority for a house number they said that with regret numbering along the road was in such a tangle we would just have to give it a name. Hmmmm …. That’s just too much temptation for a man who thinks he should have read English instead of Architecture at university. So did many of his lecturers, but that’s a long time ago.
“Living well is the Best Revenge” said George Herbert, the early 17th Century Welsh-born poet, orator and priest. After the tribulations of realising our dream and the fact that my wife is Welsh, it seemed only fitting. An inscription by the front door now gives the derivation.
A few months after taking up residence we began to meet the neighbours, including one George Herbert. Spooky eh?