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May 28 2011

Sarah Lucas: A country life

The Young British Artists have grown up, headed for the fields and found fresh inspiration. The results will be on show at Suffolk's Aldeburgh festival

Sarah Lucas can be a little sketchy on details from her past, but she remembers with absolute clarity the day – about 10 years ago – when it sank in that she had bought a farmhouse in deepest Suffolk. "We got the keys and I stood there thinking, 'What the hell are we actually going to do here? Are we just going to sit about drinking tea? I couldn't envisage it at all.'"

A significant pull for the 48-year-old, the bawdiest and most ideological of the Young British Artists, was that the house had been owned by Benjamin Britten, a new passion for Lucas, and slowly she realised there was more to life here than hot beverages. She found a pub where beer was drawn from the barrel and which didn't have "music or machines". She started to be inspired by the huge skies, the rhythms of rural life, and then, four years ago, she decided to decamp to the country. "I'd lived in London my whole life, so it was like coming out of the end of a tunnel," she says. "It's very magical somehow."

Lucas, it turns out, was not the only YBA to be growing tired of east London warehouses. Painter Gary Hume now has a studio in Suffolk and they have been joined by another Goldsmiths student, Abigail Lane, who Tracey Emin said "could show the contents of her fridge and it would be fantastic". Photographer Juergen Teller, more commonly found shooting Marc Jacobs ad campaigns, has a weekend place down the road with his wife, gallerist Sadie Coles.

With Lucas's artist boyfriend, Julian Simmons, they are a tight-knit bunch and they started talking about pulling together a group show. Lane was put in charge of logistics and it was mooted that they could crash the Aldeburgh festival, the summer jamboree Britten established in 1948. The result is Snap, which features the work of 12 contemporary artists, all of whom have ties with East Anglia.

Not all of the work, which includes sculpture, photography and sound installations, explicitly relates to the area, but the spirit of Constable and his haywains does appear to be rubbing off. Lucas has recently swapped her cigarettes and beer cans for flint blades and bark, while Teller, best known for his stark portraiture, has produced a book of Suffolk scenes and landscapes that will be given away to 1,000 visitors.

This generosity underpins the whole show and Lane is determined it should not be elitist – there is pointedly an "open day" instead of a "private view" and local Aspall Cyder will be served, not champagne. "I want the farmers to come in and complain, but actually get a bit drunk with someone who's come up from London," she says. "That's how it should be."

Snap runs from 10-26 June at the Aldeburgh festival (aldeburgh.co.uk). An edition of 12 large-format prints is available from paulstolper.com


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


October 01 2010

High design, low price: UK holiday homes

Alain de Botton's set of cutting-edge, affordable holiday homes is bringing modernism to the masses

The experience of spending a night in an architect-designed space is limited usually to those lucky enough to own one, or to afford a top-end boutique hotel. The philosopher Alain de Botton and a group of top architects are hoping to change this with his latest project, a series of contemporary and, he says, affordable holiday homes in the UK, designed by renowned architects. The aim is to persuade the less elevated among us to spend the weekend and return home more enthusiastic about modernism.

"We want people to discover what it's like to live, eat and sleep in an architect-designed house," says de Botton, who got the idea while writing The Architecture of Happiness. "Most modern buildings are in private hands, or tend to be places one passes through – airports, offices." I don't know; I've slept in a few airports in my time.

The not-for-profit enterprise, called Living Architecture, is a self-styled "educational body". As such, it is hoping that its prices will attract ordinary, non design-savvy people to its high-design houses. On a mid-week night during low season (November or February, say) you can stay for £20 a night per person, but prices rise to £65 a night per person for peak periods. Both costs are on the proviso you can fill every one of eight beds, so not suited to a weekend getaway for a couple.

First I head to Suffolk to see the Balancing Barn, which will be the first house to open, at the end of this month. It's extraordinary. From the front it looks like a small bungalow, but from the side, you can see it's a long silver barn – covered in reflective steel tiles – that hangs dramatically off the edge of a slope like the bus in The Italian Job. It even sways a little if you jump up and down in the living room. Mark Robinson, the director of Living Architecture, gives us a demonstration. "It used to be even livelier!"

The setting is exceptionally peaceful. The house, designed by Dutch firm MVRDV, is a few miles inland from Walberswick. It is surrounded by pine trees and wild plum trees. A disguised trap door fit for a Bond villain opens on to a cobbled terrace directly underneath the cantilevered living room. A swing hangs off the end.

Inside it's clad in timber. An expensive-looking open-plan kitchen – "it's actually only Miele", says Mark (they're keen not to be branded too high-end) – has floor-to-ceiling windows and designer crockery. It leads on to a long, light-filled hallway with wooden joists that slice diagonally across the windows. All four double bedrooms sit in a row off the hall. They are filled with tricksy digital art that references Constable and Gainsborough, bespoke beds, bespoke carpets and more geometric woodwork. All have en suite showers, and two have baths by the foot of the bed.

But it's the large living space that opens out at the end of corridor – the bit that hangs off the edge – that provides the wow-factor I'd been waiting for. A huge floor-to-ceiling picture window overlooks woods, meadows and a pond. And taking up most of the floor, like a large rug, is a glass window with a big drop below.

The room is spare. A TV is hidden away, shelves are empty except for one groaning with de Botton's entire works. It reminds me of a lobby of an advertising agency.

"We want people to take away ideas when they come and stay," says Mark. But I wonder whether spending a week here would instil in me a love of modern architecture. For all its showmanship, the Balancing Barn is a cold space, and a little isolated. Once inside and enjoying your break, it would be easy to forget its extrenal appearance.

How will they ensure that a wide range of people stay in their houses? In short, they're not sure. "There is a risk that only the demographic already interested in modern architecture will be drawn to them," Mark says. "But I think the interest is there. We're not trying to shock people – we've received lots of encouraging comments from locals and passers-by."

A few miles away on the coast is the Dune House, an altogether more inviting prospect. The location is sublime. It sits on a shingle beach a five-minute stroll from Thorpeness, with views of empty dunes, the beach, the North Sea and a vast sky.

The ground floor walls are almost entirely made of glass, the dunes rising up to the window ledges on the sides, giving the impression you are nestled within them. The first floor is clad in black timber, and the roof has four asymmetrical peaks clad in a rust-coloured steel. But it doesn't look out of place: the pointy roof and the steel are designed to mimic the terracotta tiles and gables on neighbouring roofs.

Inside, like the Balancing Barn, it's minimalist, but here it feels cosy and simple, softer somehow. Mark shows us round, saying architecty things such as "cupboards would have destroyed the space". Personally, I quite like cupboards. But instead, the four upstairs bedrooms each contain just a double bed, a freestanding bath located at just the right height for sea-gazing, and lots of pegs on the timber-lined walls to hang stuff. Downstairs, it's largely open plan, with a dining table, and a sofa huddled round a dramatic sunken pit. You can walk outside straight on to the beach.

The house, which opens in December, is designed by Norwegian architects Jarmund/Vigsnaes, apparently known for their "creative responses to the highly seasonal Nordic landscape". I think this means their houses are good in cold weather, and the Dune House is furnished with under-floor heating and a cosy log-burning stove to stave off those chilly easterly winds. It's a house to hunker down in, to get out the Scrabble and whisky, light the stove and settle in for the night with a gale blowing outside.

A few days later, I'm off to Kent. The Shingle House is a modern take on a wooden fisherman's cottage on other-worldly Dungeness beach in Kent, and opens next month. Actual fishermen live next door, fourth generation. It's practically my dream house: simple lime-washed timber walls, vintage furniture, four cosy bedrooms that sleep eight, sunken bath, wood-burning stove and a snug mezzanine with a huge window that overlooks the eerie landscape out to sea and, on a clear day, France.

The house is designed by young and hip NORD Architecture in Glasgow. It is the least architecturally demanding of the three, yet I took more delight in its clever details. The internal courtyard with slatted screens that pivot so you can angle them against the ever-present wind; and the fact that each room is designed around the time of day it catches the sun.

The existing cottage, complete with smoke house, was demolished. The Shingle House has been built on the same footprint to keep the planners happy, who wanted to retain the appearance of three separate buildings.

It's understandable: there are no holiday homes on Dungeness to speak of, and residents are fiercely protective of their beautiful, hostile landscape. It's a desolate expanse, dotted with boats and huts and a couple of lighthouses, overlooked by Dungeness power station. Tourists come to stare at Derek Jarman's garden, a stone's throw away.

Two more holiday homes open next year: the first, a medieval hall-type structure with a vast timber roof in Cockthorpe, Norfolk, designed by Michael and Patty Hopkins; the second, a monastic retreat in concrete near Salcombe, south Devon, by Peter Zumthor. After that, they plan to open one a year.

Guests staying in these extraordinary new houses may well be designers, architects and creative types from London. Or Living Architecture may succeed in its laudable aim of finding a wider audience. But either way, they are a welcome addition to the UK holiday home scene.

• Living Architecture (living-architecture.co.uk). Prices for a four-night mid-week break start from £725 (the Balancing Barn), £625 (the Shingle House) and £760 (the Dune House)


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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