WORDS – DOMINIC BRADBURY
PHOTOGRAPHS – DAMIAN RUSSELL
The one thing that Stuart Shave was hunting for when he went in search of a spot for a country home was silence. In contrast to a busy life in London split between home in Hackney and his art gallery close to Regent Street, Shave was looking for a place where he could spend weekends and holidays away from everything, with only the landscape and friends for company but no cars, no street noise, no rushing from a to b. With Stable Acre in Norfolk, Shave has found just the thing.
Here, at the end of a winding farm track set well away from the nearest road or village, Shave bought a former stable block looking out upon an acre of pasture with fields beyond. It was the perfect place to create a home that celebrated the open countryside and big skies, while also forming a backdrop to a carefully assembled collection of mid-century furniture. Stable Acre presented Shave with the opportunity to create the mix of simplicity and sophistication that he was after.
'All of us live in this very accelerated day to day atmosphere and when I first came here and turned down the track it did feel like leaving the world behind and arriving somewhere different,' says Shave, whose gallery, Modern Art, works closely with artists such as Richard Tuttle, Eva Rothschild and Nigel Cooke. 'I am really drawn to the Norfolk countryside and the house looks over a large pine forest and I see deer in the garden and have a resident owl. It's amazing to me to have this almost cinematic outlook and incredible how much more aware I now feel of the changing seasons and the weather.'
Shave first came across the building on the internet, lured in by the agent's description of the location. Shave grew up in Suffolk and was familiar with parts of Norfolk, especially the coast. But this rural enclave was not part of the county that he knew well until he decided to buy the former stables – a long, single storey brick building with a pitched roof. The stables had been poorly converted into a house in the early 1990s, with a warren of rooms and a twee set of French windows leading out to the garden. Shave thought he would commission a simple renovation and updating of the building, but was soon tempted by a more ambitious plan to radically reinvent the house, which he shares with his partner, curator Bart van der Heide, as well as his baby daughter, Juno.
'In the beginning I thought we might replace some windows and reclad it and maybe put in some new floor boards,' says Shave. 'But it turned out that we knocked down most of the original house and just retained three brick walls. We scooped the rest out and started again. The original house was completely different to what you see now.'
Shave turned to architect David Kohn, who had already worked on the design of Shave's gallery building, which opened in 2007, as well as extending the show space just last year. The house represented the chance to continue the collaboration with a new conversation.
'I was really pleased with the gallery design and the dialogue that we had together,' says Shave. 'That was a key aspect of both the gallery and house projects because I do have my own opinions. When I bought the stables I imagined a home where you could almost walk right through from one end to the other without having any doors, but where you could still create separate spaces.'
Kohn designed a new home within the remnants of the brick shell of the stable with a large, open plan living and dining space at the heart of the building, partly arranged around a new fireplace. To one side of this generous, light filled space sits a modest kitchen and to the other the entrance area, along with a long and open hallway leading right down to the master bedroom at the far end of the house. The master bedroom can be separated from the hall with a sliding door and – like all the spaces in the house – savours the views across the countryside. Two guest bedrooms also filter off from this dramatic corridor, as well as a bathroom with a bespoke concrete bath, designed by Kohn and again positioned to maximize appreciation of the vista outside.
'The relationship between the house and garden was central to the whole project,' says Kohn. 'The house really acts as a prism to experience the changing light through the day and the shifting seasons. Because the living room faces south the light is continually changing – every hour is different. It gives the experience of being at the house a vital character that's both calming and refreshing. I felt the house allowed me to be close to the landscape and that my senses were opened. And the fact that Stuart seems to love being there pleases me greatly too.'
For the interiors, Shave wanted to create spaces that were warm and simple, but that could also form a subtle canvas for a collection of furniture that he assembled over the course of three years from first buying the stables in 2007 to moving in. The beauty of Kohn's architectural detailing mixes with the raw simplicity of the concrete floors and the brick walls and fireplace, painted white. Along the rear wall of the house, timber panels add a more natural note, while integrated features such as the bookcase in the living room reinforce the sense of clarity and cohesion.
Shave has an interest in the simple beauty of Shaker design, but was also inspired by the work of mid-century architect Lina Bo Bardi, who built a famous house for herself in Brazil that became a backdrop to a series of collections of art and furniture. Shave's own treasures include a Charlotte Perriand day bed, Jean Prouvé dining chairs and a desk and chairs designed by Pierre Jeanneret for the vast 1950s Chandigarh development in India, created by his cousin, Le Corbusier. The vast and lovely timber dining table is based upon another Jeanneret design. Shave has so enjoyed seeing these pieces settled in the space at last, with space to breathe, that he has yet to decide upon which pieces of art he might also bring up to the house. He will take his time.
'I don't think of the house as minimalist because it's not about hiding things away,' Shave says. 'There are very few cupboards in this house and for me many minimalist houses are more about clearing away clutter. But there is definitely a sense of simplicity to Stable Acre.'
The completed house is a true retreat. As Shave doesn't own a car, or want to own one, he uses bicycles to get around or he might head off for walks from the house. When friends come to visit with a car, they might all head off to the coast.
'Being so remote compared to Hackney, days do take on a different kind of emphasis here,' says Shave. 'Preparing a meal is something that might take us a lot longer here and is always much the better for it. Most of our food is bought from farm shops that we can cycle to or people who sell produce at the side of the lane. I would say that being up at the house is pretty much about the simple things of life: sleeping, walking, cooking. It's just that you have the opportunity to be so much more mindful about it.'