Architect Caroline Cust derived inspiration from a renowned artist for the design of a modern new home in Walton-on-Thames, South West of London.

The client was very specific about what she wanted in her new family home. Besides serving as a place for entertaining business clients, it needed to accommodate large numbers of guests while also becoming the ideal family home. 

Walton-on-Thames, a small town by the River Thames, 24km south west of London was the specified location. Together, the architect and client looked at several buildings and plots, eventually identifying a property suitable for renovation and extension.

However, it quickly became apparent that the best option would be to build an entirely new house on the plot. Exacting in her aesthetic demands as she was about the functional aspects, the client commissioned Cust to design a house with a contemporary look that would reflect the fact it was designed and built to provide a framework for a modern lifestyle.

The house has a simple floor plan that facilitates free and natural links between the various rooms and functions. The plans for the new house fitted the dimensions of the old one, so the original footprint could be reused. In its basic form, the 9000 square feet floor plan consists of rectangular rooms in a range of sizes, some of which protrude from the overall square structure. The representative section, with an open-plan hall, living room and dining room, is to the south. 

One of the main features of the villa is the simple and deliberate use of space. Despite the overall size of the house, the architect has managed to avoid corridors on the ground floor, and for the most part on the first floor as well, where five bedrooms, each with an en suite bathroom, emanate from a central room with a sculptural helical staircase.

An ardent admirer of the abstract artist Ben Nicholson (1894–1982), whose works often incorporate cubist and geometric motifs, Cust let his artistic universe contribute to the design. Particularly inspired by the balance and understated subtlety in Nicholson’s compositions, she chose to work with different materials in the façade to achieve the same effect in a three-dimensional way. The façades alternate between white rendered surfaces, Kolumba brick and glass panels. Each façade is designed to look like a balanced composition, in which the vertical and horizontal elements are staggered and the materials alternate.

The decision to use lots of white plaster surfaces was taken at an early stage. According to the architect, the choice of contrasting façade materials was more difficult. Very late into the process, she came across a Petersen TEGL brochure featuring Kolumba bricks. The problem was in choosing one style from Kolumba’s 28 different types of bricks. 

Seeking a brick with a bright clear quality to offset the depressing winter sky in the UK, she decided to combine two light shades of Kolumba: a very light grey with a shimmering touch of white and a slightly darker grey. The mixture of Kolumba and the plaster surfaces suit each other beautifully with the two materials making up precisely the desired composition.