This modern barn-style build in Kent blends contemporary rustic charm with an industrial edge
Nestled among the trees and the rolling Kent countryside, Astrid Zala’s contemporary home was inspired by a traditional barn, to complement its rural setting
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Sitting on her sofa, Astrid Zala can see the colors opposite gradually change. This seasonal spectacle of autumn leaves on the trees outside is accentuated further by a mirrored reflection into the water below.
Even from inside the leaves seem almost touchable. Dramatic is an understatement. ‘The main view was always to be of the pond with the woods behind it,’ explains Astrid, ‘because I’d always wanted to look out onto woodland.’
After 25 years in London, Astrid and her former husband Jamie were keen to make the break to the country. ‘We were after a more peaceful and soul-nurturing lifestyle,’ she explains, so along with daughters Olympia and Atlanta, they eventually made the move 10 years ago. ‘At first, we thought we’d buy an old farmhouse or such like. But the ceiling heights were so low, the rooms dark, and the configurations of the houses bizarre,’ she laughs. Hence the decision to build their own. ‘We had also completely renovated our previous London properties, so “doing a project” was what we were used to.’
With the site purchased and the existing dwelling demolished, Astrid and Jamie called architect Andy Martin. ‘We shared a studio in London 20 years ago and I always loved his designs and the houses he lived in. I trusted that once he’d visit the site he’d work his magic,’ Astrid says.
The brief was simple: ‘I just didn’t want a modern house that looked like it belonged next to the sea,’ explains Astrid. ‘I wanted it to look more natural in its environment. There are plenty of barns in the countryside, so the house is a modern take on a barn. The curve that Andy put into the roof line reflects the undulating fields surrounding it.’
Andy’s sympathetic approach is also reflected in the choice of materials for the building, with zinc and chestnut cladding creating an exterior that delivers a slice of modern rustic, cleverly bonding a ‘woodland setting’ with an ‘agricultural barn’. The effect is nicely complemented with large bespoke expanses of glass.
‘The windows upstairs are particularly unique and go up the side of the building and partially wrap over the roof,’ explains Astrid, describing the most difficult design challenge they encountered during the build. ‘As the roof is curved and each panel of glass on the roof has different dimensions, it took the glazing company eight attempts before getting it right!’
Inside, a poured and partially polished honed concrete floor complements the clean lines of the luxurious modern kitchen. The simply furnished, utilitarian backdrop is ideal for the many industrial design classics amassed over the years.
There are Verner Panton chairs, a Knoll table, and Bertoia wire mesh dining chairs, as well as plenty of designs left over from when the pair ran Jam Design back in the late 1990s, upcycling industrial junk long before the idea was in the mainstream. Astrid points them out: ‘There are the Robostackers (a storage unit made from old washing machine drums), a screen and lamps made with discarded movie film we’d found in skips in Soho in the 1990s as things turned digital, a stool made from a TV’s inner tube (pre flatscreens) and a console table made from ladders. And we even have paintings of the Queen, which we commissioned a Bollywood poster artist to make years ago, giant foam teacups we made for a project that act as waste paper bins, and artwork by ourselves and friends who we’d trade things with makes up most of what is seen throughout.’
Inside and out creative ingenuity, it seems, really is at the heart of this home.
Let's take the tour:
A monochrome scheme creates a striking effect in the entryway. The table is made from a steel ladder, originally designed and made by Astrid and Jamie’s company Jam Design in the ’90s
A bespoke floor-to-ceiling window dominates the interior and also provides a spectacular view over the pond to the woodland, which Astrid was so keen to achieve and enjoy from the living room.
Astrid opted for a pared-down modern kitchen to complement the modern rustic style.
The bespoke kitchen is made from Valchromat wood fiber panels and plywood. The concrete kitchen countertops are from Concreations (opens in new tab).
The dining table base is upcycled, and paired with a plywood top. The Bertoia wire mesh dining chairs are from Knoll (opens in new tab), and the wicker lampshades are from IKEA.
Astrid’s bedroom is a quiet and simple space. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide uninterrupted views over the countryside.
Exterior and garden
The barn-style building sits comfortably in its woodland setting. In the warmer months, Astrid swims in the clear water.
A combination of zinc and chestnut has been used to clad the building, which will weather beautifully over time.
'The provides a wonderful sense of space, not too large, but not too small. I particularly like the clean lines, the modern living, and the quietness of a rural life,' says Astrid.
Ruth Doherty is an experienced digital writer and editor specializing in interiors, travel and lifestyle. With 20 years of writing for national sites under her belt, she’s worked for the likes of Livingetc.com, Standard, Ideal Home, Stylist and Marie Claire as well as Homes & Gardens.
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