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Q & A WITH LANDARTIST MARK MERER
Meet the visionnary behind Cubis Bruton, our modernist development of innovative, eco-friendly houses on the edge of Bruton, Somerset.
Mark Merer in front of his Cubis designs
What happens when a town realises it needs more housing, but wants to have a say in who builds what there? Well, they decide to take matters into their own hands and approach someone who can help them create the kind of sympathetic development they have in mind.
That’s exactly what happened in Bruton, Somerset in 1999, when the charitable trust realised they needed to provide more homes. Instead of being in thrall to whichever developer came calling, they approached sculptor and landartist Mark Merer to conceive a design concept that would complement the environment. They also wanted to explore progressive ideas in terms of eco-living and rustic style, thanks to the influx of artists and creatives into the local community, which is ever-growing today.
Merer, along with his father, the architect Stanley Merer and Mark’s wife, the sculptor Lucy Glendinning, had just completed renovating and reinventing a former grain store in Bruton and were delighted to take on this new challenge. Merer treated the project with an artist’s eye from the outset, commissioning the photographer Louis Porter to record the environment from wildflowers to weather-worn roof tiles to lichen-covered gravestones so they could create a source book (The “Bruton Atlas”) on which to base later design decisions like colours, cladding and materials to use in the build and therefore suit the surroundings. Merer then also sourced the site and negotiated with the landowner before approaching the developer, Acorn Property Group, to take on the build - which they did.
CGI Impression of Cubis by Mark Merer
The build, now named Cubis Bruton has just started in January 2018 and consists of modernist homes based on European ideas -rectangular shapes finished with natural exteriors, large light-filled rooms and an emphasis on green living, like low-luxe street lighting to minimise light pollution. The Town Council has been involved in every step of design consultation.
As Somerset Estate Agents, we are thrilled to be marketing the site and are receiving interest from all kinds of people, particularly downsizers and families with young children, all of whom want to live in the country but without the challenges of period properties and streets. So we decided to sit Merer down with a cup of tea and ask him all about his inspiration for his design and all the other projects he's currently working on, like his exhibition at the prestigious Venice at the Venice Biennale of Architecture this Spring and Glendinning has several exhibitions opening across Europe.
So Mark, how did you come to be involved with this project?
My wife, the artist Lucy Glendinning and I lived in Bruton in 1999 where we developed The Provender Mill together, converting an old steel grain store into a modernist living space. So when The Bruton Trust, (a group whose core aims are to encourage high standards in public planning and architecture in Bruton and its surroundings, as well as to maintain or improve local features of historic interest) decided they wanted to take control of housing development in the town, they approached me because of the work I had done at The Mill and work I was doing outside of Seattle.
Was that progressive of the town, to take control of how a new housing development was going to look?
Yes at that time, it is pretty unusual and really progressive. The Bruton Trust knew that the town would have to expand and they also knew that I had an obsession with development. I think the idea that a town really doesn’t have control of all its growth seems odd because the residents know what is needed.
Why did you choose the site that you did (Cuckoo Hill?)
When I started looking into it, there weren’t many suitable areas: you have to find somewhere where the community, landowner and the Council are happy with the proposal. This was an obvious site. Bellways had just built a new development close by and the cemetery was relocated to Cuckoo Hill. Bruton didn’t really have an entrance at that end of town, so it worked for everyone.
What attracted you to the project?
I’m interested in the shape of buildings because I am a sculptor, not an architect, although I have spent my life in buildings: my father, Stanley Merer, was an architect, my brother-in-law and two nephews are architects - my family is full of them!
My interest is to try and take the housing debate forward in terms of design. In the ‘70s, about 30% of new commercial housing developments had architects involved, now it has gone down to about 3%. And that’s been my beef with new developments around towns - very little thought is given to the general aesthetics of the buildings and how they sit within the landscape. It usually looks as if it has been pulled out of a drawer.
How did you research the project?
We looked round Europe to see how building was done particularly in Germany where they are producing much more highly efficient houses.
We treated the design like we do any arts project, which was to collect masses of information and then to try and draw out something that is very specific to that site.
We wanted a fresh look. We had artists like Louis Porter, the photographer, take recordings of the site, to produce a book as a design source.
We did a lot of experiments in terms of looking at washes and how one object can inform another. You can see it very simply in the beach; when the tide comes and goes, the sand around a rock creates a shape around it which is informed by the elements. It’s looking at nature and how things interact with each other, not just in the physical, but also in the social context and tying that into the psychology of the space. I try to get buildings to sit within their landscape. I am interested in how the landscape is built up generally so we wanted to try and get the development to look like a sort of sedimentary layer, like a strata. That’s one of the reasons the houses are flat, and that’s why we’re going to have green roofs on some of them; we trying to tie this into the landscape.
Can you explain how you have used the psychology of design in this project?
From the start The Bruton Trust sent out questionnaires asking what the community wanted and although not everyone feels the same, most people seemed to want larger rooms, lots of light, the indoor outdoor feel, The psychology of the space is affected by many variants such as proportion, space, light, layout and so on, We are also working on low-luxe street lighting as the town didn’t want any more light pollution. The materials used are more sustainable than usual builds; there’s a lot of timber and a lot of time has been invested in sourcing it and getting the right effect. The externals are a mix of timber, stone and render a lot of the houses have an overhang at the front with car parking underneath so people keep their cars within their homes rather than on the street, although there will be visitor parking too.
Why did you approach Acorn Property Group Property Group to take on this build?
Acorn Property Group were the only developers we found at that time who were really interested in design. They have employed on their other projects two Stirling prize winners so design is important to them, and having worked for them now for four or five years, we’re now moving onto another project. They have identified a gap in the market for well-built, design-led builds
Will buyers be able to customise their homes?
Yes to a certain extent they will be able to choose certain finishes and materials, and should they reserve their house early, their input with layout will also be taken into account.
You live near Somerton now but are you still involved in Bruton, and why would you recommend anyone lives there?
We are coming back actually and we do have a plot reserved at Cubis Bruton. It is a proactive and embracing community. There are lots of things going on so it’s alive and in that sense you get a lot of interesting people.
Can you explain your thinking about the landscaping and how it relates to the houses?
Well, it’s all about trying to get the space to come alive and designing the landscape so that it helps houses sit in it. It might not be that obvious when you are in the development unless one talks about it, but if you think of a block in the ground and how things weather and move around, it’s trying to latch onto a language that everyone will understand. It’s far more interesting than having a big flat area! We’ve got detailed planting schemes on a small scale from landscape gardeners The Richards Partnership. They are very excited because they see the landscape as another layer of design which of course it is. We want it to feel a bit wild.
Hopefully Cubis brings the environment alive - it’s something we should do everywhere in my mind because it can be so uplifting.
When will it be ready?
I think the show house will be completed around August and the first home will be ready around the end of this year/beginning of next. I think when the show home goes up it will be very exciting. It’s a tilted building so people from the other side of the hoarding will see it rising up out of the ground. It’s going to be finished in Corten steel and timber and sits at the entrance to Cubis. It will have a green roof so it will feel like the earth has been lifted up and the building is just beneath it.
The Cubis Show Homes
And finally, what are you most looking forward to about your own Cubis property?
Having the whole thing finished as well as living in a house that’s a finished home! A big thank you to Robin Squire and John Skok and the Acorn Property Group design team for making the project happen.
Interview by Catherine Rapley
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As Somerset estate agents, we're lucky enough to see inside a lot of beautiful and unusual homes. And while we research them thoroughly to give buyers the most accurate and informative information possible, it's always helpful to hear straight from the owners, who can give even more insight into the joy of living there. So here's what it's like to live in this four bed, upside-down property called Sheffern in Glastonbury, that has been enjoyed by the same family for nearly 40 years!
Exterior view of upside-down house Sheffern, Glastonbury
The sitting room: "Sheffern has been at the centre of our large family for nearly 40 years. We moved in with three young children and added another one a few years later. Our 3 daughters have got married from here, we've held many christening parties, engagement parties and various birthday parties over the years."
A large sitting-dining area leads onto the balcony, all of which is ideal for entertaining
Entertaining spaces: "Sheffern lends itself to large gatherings as the upstairs opens into one big flowing room and people are able to spill out on to the balcony or gardens to the rear."
Parties can spill out onto the rear garden at Sheffern
The balcony & the view: "At times we enjoy using the balcony to sit with a glass of wine and watch the sun setting or a Sunday mornings sitting with a coffee taking in the view and listening to the church bells ringing out across the town. Even in winter it's lovely to be warmed by the real fire, watching the weather rolling in across the levels."
Sheffern's balcony with its far reaching views
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At the end of last year, we decided to enter Lodestone for the ESTAs Awards - a national awards scheme for the residential property sector which is judged solely on the feedback of clients. We deliberated whether or not it was too early for us to embark upon this journey but then we thought if we did have success what a story it would be, especially as we are such new estate agents for Somerset. So in early January we wrote to clients present and past, as well as people who had bought our houses, to ask them to support us. And support us they did! We are hugely grateful to them. Yesterday (27 February) we received a letter informing us that Lodestone had been shortlisted! We are so pleased and it is real recognition of our team who work tirelessly to provide a high quality service to our clients. So we are off to London in April.......and incredibly excited about #goingtotheestas!
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Darracott, Curry Rivel
When we first visited this period property in Somerset, we were struck by how much it looked like a child's picture of a perfect family home, with its large windows, classic rectangular shape and centrally located door with a porch. Inside it's been substantially extended and is filled with light and colour, with 4 bedrooms 2 bathrooms and 3 reception rooms plus a good garden and 2 offices. Located in the village of Curry Rivel on the Somerset Levels it has plenty of amenities close by like a garage, post office, tearoom, primary school and general store and the thriving town of Langport is only 2 miles away. It's also close to Huish Academy and in commuting distance of major towns like Taunton and Bridgwater.
As estate agents for Somerset we see lots of dream homes and this one seems perfect for a family looking for space and somewhere to work from. But what is it actually like to live there? We asked the owners to tell us their favourite aspects of their home. Here's what they told us:
- The Light. "The house is so light even on soggy dull days. Most of the rooms are double aspect and so when the sun is shining it streams through the windows. There is always sunny patch to curl up and read in."
The View: "The view from the master bedroom is gorgeous at any time of year across to Burrow Hill and even though we are in a village it feels so open."
- The Kitchen: "We spend lots of time in the big kitchen, it's brilliant for fitting lots of hungry friends and family round the table for Sunday lunch. In the summer the bifold doors open all the way up so we can all spill into the garden and eat outside." And when it’s chilly outside the little log burner in the sitting room is perfect for making that room a lovely cosy nest.
- The Countryside: "There are lots of good walks from the house. Across the fields to Burton Pynsent Memorial is a great muddy one for dogs and children."
- The Village: "Two minutes walk is The Firehouse Pub, a brilliant addition to the village for a happy hour pint on Friday evening, delicious dinner or weekday early bird lunch. And on a Tuesday two for one on take away pizzas if the school night has got too hectic! And there is Living Pretty tea room if you fancy a good cup of coffee and cake. Curry Rivel is a lovely village."
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Well House, Butleigh
Exterior View of Well House in Butleigh, Somerset
When you're househunting, you try to imagine what it would be like living in the homes you view. So, to save you guessing what it's like owning this fabulous five bed house near Glastonbury, we've asked the current owners to tell us what they most love about living there. It's called Well House in Butleigh and has over 5,000 sq ft of living space, a 1200 sq foot kitchen, a double garage and parking space, an additional one bed cottage, party room, five acres of land and gardens and is in an excellent village location. And as estate agents for Somerset, we have plenty more dream houses to feature in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on our Facebook page for the latest updates! Now, back to Well House...
- The warmth of heated flagstones underfoot; the crackle and smells of roaring open fires greeting you when you come in from a cold winter walk.
- The atmospheric family room with delicious smells of lunch drifting from the kitchen area, the table set for a big Sunday lunch in the dining area; background music and the magic of children's laughter playing board games in the lounge area as they wait to eat
Seating area at Well House in Butleigh, marketed by Lodestone Property, estate agents Somerset
- Big social weekends with family and friends, some of whom stay in the cottage and annex; parties in full flow with so much space and room to accommodate all the games, dancing and fun
- Skipping the commute (which is actually very easy - from Castle Cary to Paddington) and working in the quiet home office that looks out onto horses grazing in the paddock. Also gazing at the open country views in between Skype calls and emails.
- The two minute walk to the Rose & Portculis pub where we relax and socialise with local friends in the beer garden and swap stories about our week. The pub is award-winning and serves real ale and food.
- The convenience of the Millfield Schools which are only five minutes' drive away (for drop offs, pick ups and supporting our older children at sporting events), yet seemingly a world away - three miles could be 300 miles because of the vast open countryside surrounding the Well House location.
Dining area at Well House in Butleigh, Somerset, with views to the garden
To read the full details click here, or to arrange a viewing call us on 01749 605099