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Stoking the flames: how the hearth anchors Shingle House and more

Stoking the flames:  how the hearth anchors Shingle House and more

16.02.18

Stoking the flames:  how the hearth anchors Shingle House and more

“Forget any preconceptions about coastal architecture, Shingle House at Dungeness is dark, dramatic and soulful ... Dungeness has a mysterious beauty and this house is the perfect way to enjoy it.” The Independent

Before Shingle House, there was Pearl Cottage, also known more recently as The Smokery. The original structure was two simple net sheds reconfigured over the years into a timber fisherman’s cottage - a single room, with a net loft above. Like the neighbouring dwellings - vernacular structures ingeniously expanded by both fishermen and other long-standing residents of Dungeness - Pearl Cottage had acquired a lean-to kitchen, bathroom and numerous outbuildings.

Only the brick chimney inserted between the two original sheds was permanent and unchanging. As the rest of the house shifted and changed, it held firm. And when Pearl Cottage fell into disrepair, and made way for architect Northern Office for Research and Design’s (NORD) Shingle House, this central totem was the last to disappear.

As Shingle House - alongside the original smoke house - rose from the landscape, again it was a hearth that anchored the building. Echoing the serrated profile of Pearl Cottage, the new design comprised a cluster of different rooms, united around the central fireplace and concrete spine that runs through, and across the house. In time-honoured fashion, the hearth is indeed at the heart of this house, and is the structural source for the rest; the stairs to the mezzanine level, the floor of the glass corridor and entrance ramp, the kitchen surfaces and bathroom.

No self-respecting home is without an open fire these days. Stoves or bowls, logs or smokeless, where once a fire was a practical necessity, the only source of warmth and heat for cooking, it has been elevated to the epitome of lifestyle chic.

Living Architecture houses are both designed for holidays, and located in remote or coastal locations, so our architects have incorporated a working fireplace at the centre of each. In Life House, Wales, John Pawson chose a white Dick Van Hoff tiled stove to complement the neutral, peaceful tones of the living space. In A House for Essex, the double-sided stove is a feature of both the tiled kitchen and adjacent high-ceiling gallery sitting room, where guests can watch the flames under the shadow of a full-sized ceramic of Julie Cope. Both draw on the traditional tiled stoves which once were the mainstay of most European apartments and homes.

A double-sided stove also invites families and friends to gather around at Hopkins Architect’s Long House. MVRDV’s woodburning stove in Balancing Barn hovers within a wall of black reflective glass at one end of the living room, inviting visitors to leave their seats and cross the glass-bottomed floor to stoke the flames. At Dune House by Jarmund/Vigsnæs, the sunken fire pit provides the focal point for losing oneself in thoughts of a day spent exploring the Suffolk coastline.

After a day’s work, or the toil of ferrying the kids back and forth, most of us no longer gather around an open fire. Indeed, if you remember having to light a fire out of necessity like the fisherman of Pearl Cottage, then a radiator hanging on a wall which comes on automatically, is the height of luxury. Yet today, given the opportunity to spend a few days away exploring the coast or countryside, most of us are still drawn back to a primal instinct of gathering around open flames, for a simple moment of reflection.

Stoking the flames:  how the hearth anchors Shingle House and moreStoking the flames:  how the hearth anchors Shingle House and moreStoking the flames:  how the hearth anchors Shingle House and more
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