The story of Caring Wood
The story behind the contemporary English country house, winner of RIBA House of the Year 2017, as told by the client himself.
Caring Wood in Kent, unlike most houses, is built for multiple generations of a growing family allowing grandparents, parents, children, siblings and cousins to reside under one roof – cleverly accommodating their desire to be together and their desire to be apart.
"There is an aspect of building a house for yourself (I have now done it twice, plus a number of drastic conversions) which is a bit like painting a self-portrait – you confront some truths about yourself you did not expect. The task has consequences that are too significant to pretend or lie to yourself about. But it is also, and partly because of this, an addictive and exciting thing to do.
"It starts as an idea made up of some experiences, some needs, some dreams and some hopes, sits in the head for a while, growing and changing as if on its own, until it reaches a size too difficult to disregard and only waits for the opportunity to come to make it possible. The transformation of something in your head to something real in the world is for me the most enjoyable I know.
"Here are some of the components that in the end resulted in Caring Wood:
"Visiting cloisters in Italy and discovering the pleasure of the inner courtyards, calm enclosed around a centre and open to the sky with covered walkways ready for the peripatetic reflections.
"A growing family, daughters, their husbands, their children, my grandchildren, and the growing pleasure of spending time together. Family brings the realisation of the opposing forces in operation – the need children have to leave and have their own lives, and then with time and the arrival of grandchildren, the need and pleasure to be together, the peculiar pleasure we grandparents have of us all being together, which luckily we discovered we all share.
"Building my first house, and discovering the excitement, the difficulties of problems to overcome, the richness of the thousands of small and big decisions to take, and the pleasure of working with the architect, the builders and the many others involved. The whole is a journey into the unknown, with tangible results. Scary and therefore wonderful if it works out.
"The idea that grew in my head over more than 15 years was of a structure growing from a central inner courtyard surrounded by a square house able to accommodate the range of activities involving the whole family (there are 15 of us), with four individual houses attached to each corner of the central house, for the three families of my children and us. This was meant to accommodate both the desire to be together and the desire to be apart in a single connected structure representing all the family together. A house to be a self-portrait of our family as it is now
"I was lucky that a time arrived when I could attempt to realise the plan, and I was incredibly lucky that one of my daughters married an architect who became a friend, and who would be the ideal partner in making a family self-portrait.
"Now the house is standing and we will discover together how well we have portrayed ourselves, our needs, and our hopes. One thing I know already – when our seven grandchildren are there together, the place becomes powerfully theirs, and we are the fortunate visitors in their changing world."
Deborah Saunt, jury chair 2017
"Caring Wood stands as a model for multi-generational living. Like branches, the four towers, with interlinking roofs provide intimate spaces for immediate families, but these are united by the central block, a communal space where the whole family can be together.
“Beyond the impression of sublime craftsmanship and spatial grandeur this house offers, Caring Wood leads us to fundamentally question how we might live together in the future.
"At a time when we are increasingly atomised, individually preoccupied and lost in personalised digital worlds, designing homes where families come together - in their many permutations - is an increasingly important aim. Whilst this might seem to be a particular brief for one extended family, it is one taking huge risks in asking how we collectively might live inter-generationally as social structures evolve.”