The story behind this stunning contemporary home in Cookham Dean

PUBLISHED: 12:56 15 August 2014 | UPDATED: 15:54 23 March 2015

The Penny House at Cookham Dean sits on an elevated spot with great views

The Penny House at Cookham Dean sits on an elevated spot with great views

Copyright nicholas yarsley photography/

When Christine and Duncan Penny decided to replace their Cookham Dean property, the result was a stunning contemporary home. Sue Bromley tells the story

Family areas offer plenty of space to make the most of entertainingFamily areas offer plenty of space to make the most of entertaining

There’s no doubt that the Penny family like to get about a bit. Duncan, an executive with a power supply company, and Christine, a nurse, have so far enjoyed a life which has taken them to living in far off places like Singapore and the States.

Along the way two children have arrived, now teenagers, and a house in Cookham Dean which they bought in 1998. But with all the moves abroad it wasn’t until 2011 that they seriously began to consider what they were going to do about turning this property into their perfect family home.

The layout of the existing 1960s house on the site was haphazard thanks to numerous extensions over the years and it was expensive to run. But they didn’t want to move from their elevated plot adjoining a Conservation Area. So how would they end up with a contemporary and sustainable house?

Christine explains: “We love airy, open plan spaces and letting the light in. It’s a big thing for us to have the outdoors coming indoors, and the indoors extending out.

Balconies lure you to make the most of the weather and viewsBalconies lure you to make the most of the weather and views

“Then we saw a project on Grand Designs that might solve the problem. We really liked the philosophy behind Baufritz, the designers and builders, and after looking at various companies commissioned them to do the project.”

This meant temporarily moving into a rented house while the work took place, but the Penny family are used to packing up for moving, and this time the result would be their personal dream home rather than one connected with their professions.

Obtaining planning permission for a contemporary new home next to the Conservation Area was challenging. Baufritz’s solution was to build the house into the hillside site, and split it into three distinct elements beneath separate roofs to break up the volume.

Even though the family might be used to ‘upping sticks’, timescale remained a factor as no one enjoys paying out extra rent for a property they have no intention of spending much time in. Thanks to the Baufritz’s prefabricated timber frame construction, the timber and render exterior was erected within three days, with the house complete and ready to move into soon afterwards.

So what do they have now?

The entrance elevation presents as two modest wings arranged in an L-shape. Slender columns support the first floor, giving the house a lightweight appearance. The main external materials here are white render and red clay tiles – a contemporary palette that nevertheless blends comfortably with the setting. The garden elevation, on the other hand, offers something quite different and a much livelier composition. Here three storeys face the large south-facing garden, with a tall grey timber-clad section that juts upwards and contrasts with the pale render and clay tiles used elsewhere. A large timber terrace with a steel and glass balustrade runs across, with a glazed verandah that forms an elegant outside living space.

Inside the 450 square metre house, the main open plan space contains an entrance hall leading to spacious living, dining and kitchen areas. The feeling of space is enhanced by generous amounts of light entering the house from three sides through full height windows, leading to a generous series of balconies and terraces. To one side, a smaller living room can be partitioned off by sliding doors to create a more intimate space.

Upstairs, four large bedrooms each have their own private bathroom. The master suite is particularly impressive, with full height ceilings extending into the pitch of the roof to enhance the sense of space. On the lower ground floor there is a wine cellar, music room and a large games room with sliding doors opening onto the garden.

Sustainability was a key criterion for Duncan and Christine and their new home’s design exceeds Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. On top of that, 90% of the demolished house was removed for recycling, while the prefabricated timber frame construction method minimised construction waste.

The property is extremely well insulated, with walls filled using a 37cm thick and 100% natural layer of wood shavings, providing a U-value of 0.195W/m2K. The house is carefully orientated to maximise natural light and solar gain during winter, with stylish external blinds to reduce overheating during the summer. The house is an incredible 100 tonnes gross carbon store, and has provision for solar hot water or PV cells on the main roof. A rainwater harvesting system is in place for WCs and laundry. Total annual emissions are a very low 16.74 kgCO2/m2.

It’s now one year since Penny House was completed and it was Highly Commended in the Best Eco-Living category at the 2014 London Evening Standard New Homes Awards.

It’s stylish, spacious and we’re not surprised that friends of the teenage Pennys love to visit. “Yes, we do seem to get a bit more of that than our fair share, but it’s not a problem when there’s so much space for us to spread out!” laughs Christine.


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