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Material Matters: seven houses with a tactile touch

Not only do materials inform a building’s structural integrity, but also the way we live in it – and its likelihood to survive the centuries. As with everything, textures and substances go in and out of vogue, but here at Inigo, we delight in celebrating when the historic and the perennial make for downright brilliant modern prospects, as this edit of materially minded houses shows

Sophie Sims
Material Matters: seven houses with a tactile touch

Mapstone Hill, Lustleigh, Devon

Exposed wooden structures are, for many, the foremost sign of historic heft in the UK. And, with what might be some of the oldest beams in the south-west, Mapstone Hill is a testament to the impact timber can have in a home. This is true in the sense that the house’s exposed details attest to the passage of time and the talented hands that once, many moons ago, built it. But there’s also something in the warmth their deep tones can bring to a space.

Here, the timber is nothing short of a structural spectacle, set above the house’s solar – a historically private and often elevated medieval reception chamber seen most commonly in the country’s castles. With a web-like form that extends up into the room’s elegant pitch, the cross-beam creates a grand feel and atmosphere fit for a king – or for a cosy film night at the very least.

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Brenchley Road, Matfield, Kent

Timber can pack just as much of a punch when used externally, as this Grade II-listed house near Tonbridge Wells in Kent proves. Picture perfect with its white timber-clad weatherboard façade, the 19th-century structure is wonderfully symmetrical, with playful trimmings of forest green that give it a contemporary edge.

Beyond its whimsy and romance, weatherboarding serves a practical purpose too, protecting buildings from the elements. Here, this functionalism was applied when the adjacent chapel (also included in the sale) was built in the early 20th century. Somehow both in contrast to and harmony with the surrounding woodland, the house and its ancillary building, which has planning permission for conversion into accommodation, demonstrate the enduring delight that wood outside can bring. Inside, matters of material are similarly pleasing: admire the masterful selection that includes hardwoods, sisal and quarry tiles.

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Ansell Road, Dorking, Surrey

As the saying goes, things are built one brick at a time – and a compelling case could be made for the result being even sweeter when those bricks are red. The material of choice for much construction in 19th-century industrial Britain, the deceivingly humble red brick has remained a stalwart of building ever since, thanks to its durability as well as its visual appeal.

This house, forming part of a run of Victorian cottages in Dorking, Surrey, proves the perennial prettiness of the red-brick house. Each along the terrace has a fittingly sweet brightly painted front door (this one’s is a deep green) that provides a jolly contrast to the russet behind. Meanwhile, a reddish theme is carried on inside, where terracotta floor tiles in the kitchen are paired with white-painted brick walls in a canny reversal of the red-brick façade with its white windows.

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Liverpool Road II, Chester, Cheshire

Sometimes, it’s the smaller decorative touches that make the biggest statements. And, when tessellated together, they make an even larger one, as proven by the Minton-tiled hallway in this spacious Victorian house in Chester. If the building’s proud façade, with a huge tripartite bay window and sunshine-yellow front door, wasn’t enough to stop you in your tracks, we’d place a bet that this hallway would.

Mintons, a giant of the 19th-century Staffordshire pottery industry, was – and still is – revered for its mosaic-like ceramic tiles that married durability and ornament in a distinctly Victorian way. Those here are particularly lovely examples, with warm honeyed tones that make a striking first impression. Back when the house was built, they undoubtedly would have made a mark on those visiting for a polite sit-down dinner; today, they’re guaranteed to make you smile after a long day.

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Chapel Road, St Tudy, Cornwall

Despite its use over thousands of years, lime plaster has a surprisingly contemporary feel. Pared back and pretty, it makes an ideal backdrop to elaborate ornamentation and simple interiors alike. In this Grade II-listed fairytale cottage in St Tudy, its natural tonal variances call to mind the sandy beaches within easy reach of the idyllic Cornish village.

During the loving restoration undertaken by the home’s current owners, the building’s original plastered walls have been revealed. One was left exposed, while the others have been painted in lime-based paint in a sympathetic beige hue by Bauwerk, creating a cosy sense of cohesion. Reflective of a gentle yet considered approach to the cottage’s decoration, the lime stands as an exercise in choosing materials to replace those that time hasn’t been so kind to.

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Tavistock Terrace, London N19

Working out how to pair materials takes serious thought. When done correctly, though, a well-chosen union can have wonderful, even transformative, effects, with each substance serving to amplify the qualities of the other. Halfway down Tavistock Terrace in north London’s Archway, this house stands as case in point, evident at first sight in the combination of its red-brick façade with contemporary dark windows.

But while it’s a crowded field, it might just be argued that the most masterful pairing of materials here can be found on the rear dining-room extension. Clad in Shou Sugi Ban timber – wood that’s undergone a historic charring preservation process originating in Japan – it has a beautifully dark hue. The real magic comes when looking back at the building from the garden, where the interplay of the blackened wood and the Douglas fir that lines the internal walls is most visible.

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Royal Crescent, Ramsgate, Kent

It could be said that thoughtfully updated historic homes are Inigo’s thing. Hence our feeling that this apartment on Ramsgate’s Royal Crescent – at once so in tune with both its history and with the demands of modern life – is so special. One of nine flats renovated by Fleet Architects in the row of Mary Townley-designed houses, it has been thoughtfully updated to celebrate the coastal light and views so coveted by those looking to move to the seaside.

Guided by the building’s Regency proportions, the design interventions make the most of space, most notably in the kitchen. The confluence here of materials and colours is perfect: oak-veneer cabinetry, tactile, warm-toned and stretching the full height of the room, meets oak parquet floors and neutral walls, which enhance the south-westerly sunshine that comes in through a six-over-six sash window. Here, every hour is golden hour.

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