When a city-dweller dreams of leaving the rat race for the country, certain stock images appear. Most likely there will be fields of golden rapeseed, sheep bleating on hillsides and church spires reaching into an overcast sky. But deep into an ancient forest in East Sussex, you’ll find a light-filled construction of glass and sandstone blocks that breaks all the rules of countryside living.
Hartfield House is the creation of acclaimed architect Michael Wilford CBE, who has worked on the Tate and National galleries along with the redevelopment of 1 Poultry and Paternoster Square in the City. But he journeyed into the depths of Ashdown Forest in 2000 to build a modern home for his family. The secluded site isn’t just famous for being the setting of AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, it was once the location of an ancient hall that fell into ruins.
In its place, Wilford has built a two-bedroom home over four floors, including a separate summerhouse and studio. The main house also has two living rooms, a study on the mezzanine and plenty of space inside and out to enjoy the surroundings, with an outside terrace off the drawing room and a designated “garden room” in the centre.
Modern houses such as these are slowly but surely carving a market for themselves in this green and pleasant land. But why has it taken so long? Albert Hill, co-founder of online estate agency The Modern House, which is handling the sale of Hartfield House, has a theory.
“It’s a combination of conservative British tastes and slightly archaic planning laws,” he says. “I’m pleased to say that both those things have improved massively over the last decade, but it was pretty difficult to find something like this right up until the 1990s. ”
But times have changed; advanced heating technologies have replaced the need for heavy furnishings and bricks, while the disappearance of separate quarters for children and staff means open living spaces are more desirable. “It really is the most peaceful, secluded place you’ll find without moving to the Scottish Highlands,” Hill says. “I’ve never been anywhere like it in my 15 years of visiting properties.”
Hartfield House is on sale with The Modern House for £1.75m; call 020 7704 3504 or visit themodernhouse.net