The irrepressible rise of the black house – a journey through Britain’s finest

Something has been happening in Britain’s residential architecture scene… and that something is the colour black. You may have spotted it while searching for ‘contemporary holiday home’ and found yourself looking at cute black buildings in locations as far ranging as the Isle of Skye to the moors of mid-Wales. Or maybe you’re familiar with (arguably) the UK’s most densely populated area of individual black homes, Kent’s Dungeness, where converted old railway carriages and swankily updated fishermen’s shacks – even a rubber-clad one – emerge like black sculptures out of the disarmingly barren landscape. The architectural language here developed, as Simon Condor who designed the rubber house puts it, “through improvisation and bodge.” But it’s a distinctive feature of the place none the less.

As Britain’s only official desert and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Dungeness is also home to an RSPB reserve, two nuclear power stations (one decommissioned), two lighthouses and an increasing number of artists who have followed Derek Jarmon’s lead by going there to live or holiday regularly. Jarmon’s widely lusted-after Prospect Cottage was one of the earlier black houses. It’s reminiscent of the distinctive tall fishermen’s huts along the coast in Hastings, which feature a thick, slightly reflective coating normally used to protect boats. The Grade II star listed huts – there are around 50 of them – were built as a weather-proof stores for fishermen to dry out their nets and originate from the 16th century, although they have been rebuilt a number of times since then.

Hastings fishermen's huts | The Chromologist

Image from Wikipedia

Boats and fishing huts aside, there are a number of influences that have shaped the increasing move towards black buildings here in the UK – architecture traditions of Japan and Scandinavia among them. But the fact that they look wonderful against the green of rural nature, the grey of cities and the blues and yellows of the coast, is likely a big factor. Judge for yourself as we take a trip through some of the eye-catching black homes of Britain – some of which are holiday-lets if you fancy trying one out for yourself.

Some of the black houses of Dungeness

Derek_Jarman's_garden | Wikipedia image

Image from Wikipedia

Prospect Cottage, which also gave the world the idea of yellow window frames and is more famous for its garden – read Howard Sooley’s touching story about the house and garden and its most famous owner.

Jesmond Cottage, a beach shack with orange as a highlight colour.

Black Rubber Beach House | Simon Conder Associates | The Chromologist

Image from Dezeen

Simon Conder Associates‘ more futuristic looking rubbler-clad Gelon Hanna house – a converted 1930’s fisherman’s hut. Any buildings erected in Dungeness must follow the footprint of the previous building so the private client has added an Airstream as a guest bedroom for the bijou home.

Rodić-Davidson-Architects | North Vat Dungeness | The Chromologist

Image from Rodić Davidson Architects

North Vat house by Rodić Davidson Architects replaces a fisherman’s cottage and its architect Siniša Rodić said of the project’s colour, “the existing sheds and cottages were clad in black timber. We felt that the site’s contribution to the larger scale assembly of black buildings and clusters was important to retain.”

Shingle House Dungeness | Nord Architects | The Chromologist

Image from Living Architecture

Nord Architects were commissioned by Living Architecture to create their Shingle House that you can let as a holiday home. The inside is, in contrast, awash with white.

Rural new builds across the country

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Image from The Black Shed

The Black Shed holiday rental on the Isle of Skye has proved to be hugely disappointing for families looking for a stylish holiday, only because it strictly sleeps two. Bringing accessible contemporary style to the islands of Scotland, the remote house must be a dream to wake up in.

Bothy Project | Sweeneys-Bothy-7

Image from The Bothy Project

Positioned on another of Scotland’s beautiful islands – Eigg – Sweeney Bothy was designed by architect Iain MacLeod and artist Bobby Niven who together founded The Bothy Project of purpose-built and off-grid residency spaces for artists. They collaborated with artist Alec Finlay on this one, the wing of which is finished in natural wood, a fabulous contrast with the black section.

Life House John Pawson | Living Architecture | The Chromologist

Image from Living Architecture

The newest addition to the Living Architecture family of spectacular architect-designed holiday homes is this stunning black house by John Pawson in Wales. The building forms a striking focal point in the slightly bleak landscape with its many peaty tones. The interiors in contrast are pure monastic white.

Dow Jones | Totland Bay isle of Wight | The Chromologist

Image from The Modern House

The Sett by Dow Jones Architects is located in the village of Totland on the Isle of Wight and takes inspiration from black-painted fishermen’s sheds on a nearby beach. A holiday-let available through The Modern House, it sleeps eight people and won a RIBA regional award for best new build just last year.

Black House Camusdarach Sands Scotland | RAW-Architecture | The Chromologist

Image from RAW

The simply named Black House by The Raw Architecture Workshop is located in Camusdarach Sands, Scotland and forms a sculptural element in the wilds of this northerly place.

Urban and Suburban

Dirty House | David-Adjaye | The Chromologist

Image from David Adjaye

The next time you’re roaming Shoreditch searching for the most recent cool shop, have a look for David Adjaye’s Dirty House, which he completed in 2002 for Brit artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster. A giant black cube that was one of the first whiffs of gentrification in the then boutique-free neighbourhood around Redchurch Street.

EdsShed | David Adjaye | The Chromologist

Image from Dezeen

And speaking of black cubes in London by David Adjaye, this one was designed for photographer Ed Reeve in De Beauvoir, Hackney. It makes a dramatic modern interruption between all the terrace housing that’s typical of the streets round there.

MOLE house | Mole Architects | The Chromologist

Image from Mole Architects

Meanwhile in a village in Cambridge this house on stilts is by architect Meredith Bowles from Mole Architects for himself and his family. He chose black to mimic the bitumen paint used on many barns in the locale.

Peckham house

Image from Planet Property

And finally, it’s amazing what a lick of black paint can do for a bog standard 1950’s semi-detached in London’s Peckham. It’s created a sleek beauty of a home next to the ordinary-bod housing it’s joined onto. Painting traditional properties black is a trend that’s been sweeping through cities, as propagated by interiors tastemakers such as Abigail Ahern and the stylish Darkroom ladies.

 



Jill Macnair

About

Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.


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