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Phillips House

A home for a couple that are keen sailors and enjoy renovating Victorian steamboats. Weir Quay sits on the east bank of the Tamar some 10km upriver from Plymouth, some 1.5km southwest of the village of Bere Alston.

It ‘touches the earth lightly’, to float above the riverbank - paying homage to the great Australian architect Glenn Murcutt.

The site is a former dock for the lead and silver mines. The first lead/silver smelter at Weir Quay was built in 1780 and the Tamar Smelting Works in 1820, by 1849 tin was also processed here. In 1845 Weir Quay was deepened to allow vessels of up to 400 tons and coal from South Wales was landed here as well as ore from all over the world for smelting locally.

The house replaced a 1970’s ‘pre-fab’ and the concept was based on the idea of a kit-of parts timber frame – designed in collaboration with Woodenhouse Ltd.

The house is elevated some 1.5 metres, set 300mm above the worst case 1 in 200 year event plus climate change allowance, so it literally floats across the site – made more dramatic at high tide when the water just steals below the house. 

A linear plan roughly parallel to the road but sited close to the river creates an entrance court for dealing with trailers and boats. The house interacts with the river’s edge providing views south and across the river from all rooms. A small inset terrace to the southern corner off the master bedroom enjoys distant views downriver.

Walls are infilled in horizontal timber boarding and all timber stained to provide a grey tone.  A dark grey standing-seam monopitch roof rises up away from the river and has a projecting timber awning to provide solar shading.  To the front the house is quite blank, save a doorway with the upper part as a clerestorey set behind vertical timber slats.

The landscaping is preserved as found rather than being domesticated or ‘garden designed’ with shale slate chippings to the slipway and entrance court and indigenous low shrub planting to the ground surfaces. Low stone walls are retained along the river edge. A new timber-clad boat store sits behind the retained stone wall onto the road beneath a dark grey corrugated metal roof.

Client Mike and Susan Philips
Status Completed (2020)
Contract value £350000
GIA m2 145 m2
Structural engineer Fold Engineering
Ecology Brookside Ecology
Contractor WoodenHouse Ltd / SJK Building Contractors
Quantity surveyor APS Associates
Sustainability Consultant Darren Evans
Project Team Adam Jundi, Chris Gray
Photography © Jim Stephenson
"When we first contacted John, we were concerned that our house was too small a project for his practice. We need not have worried, he visited our site on the banks of the Tamar within weeks and sketched out a design inspired by the location. Our briefs for John were different, Mike would have been happy with a medieval barn, but Susan suggested the Barcelona Pavilion.

Incredibly it was exactly what now stands there- his instinctive reaction to the place was perfect. It soon transpired that our finite budget meant that a self build was the only way forward - and we had zero prior experience. However, with the patient guidance and support of the whole team the house was built on time and to budget during a pandemic.
We now have a home which lifts the spirits whenever we see it and is ideal for our needs and for its site."
Mike & Susan Phillips
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