The Houseboat

Architect: Mole Architects and Rebecca Granger
Developer: Solidspace

Hi, I'm Gus Zogolovitch and I run Rare Space. In today's blog, we're down in Poole, specifically Hamworthy, a little place just outside Poole, at the Houseboat. You may have seen this in magazines, it's been captured by the press. It's an amazing house, was built by my father Roger Zogolovitch and designed by Mole Architects and Rebecca Granger.

I'm getting my dad Roger to walk us around, so hopefully that will give you kind of an interesting idea.

The Concrete

Concrete makes up an integral part of the Houseboat, and here we take a look at the way it was used to create to create a desired effect in various parts of the house.

Roger: This is an exposed aggregate concrete. It's a normal concrete, it's got a high level of GGBS. The two parts are just cured differently because the way you make exposed aggregate concrete is you put retardant on the face of the shutter. And depending upon whether it's raining or what are the thermal conditions, it will look different. Although this is exactly the same retardant, these are two lifts, which is why you get a different feel.

That line you see is called a cold joint. One part would be poured on a different day to the other, and all of the first pour has come out with slightly different texture to the second. But actually, in terms of the mix, and in terms of the process, it's identical.

That shows that concrete is a kind of fluid, sculptural material. That's why we used it.

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If you follow this curvature around, you'll see that this is actually made in horizontal pours, so we actually made the shutter in long strips, and then poured all the shutter, the whole length of it, but only up to a certain height.

So this is unusual, a lot of concrete is poured with vertical pours as opposed to horizontal. But I wanted to get this effect of this feeling like it's a kind of massiveness, so this actually makes it feel even more like a piece of masonry, like a stone sits on another piece of stone.

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This is the solid concrete coming up inside the house, and this is very similar to a stone staircase you would find in a historic house. So in the historic house you would go from the entry level which is the hallway up to the piano nobile, and that staircase would be a stone stair. In this case I've used concrete as my stone, which in fact it is.

Heating and Cooling

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If you look inside here, you'll see that this is actually a damper, so that this piece of metal has got no glass on the inside, and if you put your hand there you actually can feel the air going over you. So that's therefore actually acting as a ventilator to help the air from the outside go into the inside.
Gus: This is your clever passive ventilation. I quite like all the sort of M&E stuff and I'm a big believer in mechanical ventilation and heat recovery units. You've done it all passively you're not into that at all. And slightly annoyingly to me the people that actually were here said it worked really well.
Roger: Yes.

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In terms of your heating and mechanical ventilating, these are trench heating, very kind of very shallow trench heating, which is a water system based on a boiler. And they operate from a thermostat and they work very efficiently in the sense that they come on and go off very quickly.
So because the house is so well thermally insulated, the actual time that these are needed to come on is very small. So in about 10 or 15 minutes the whole house gets up to temperature.
Gus: That's very good. Because actually one of the problems with underfloor heating is that it can take a long time. Because underfloor heating typically sits under a screen which is some concrete, and then underneath the floor which might be wood, and all of that actually needs to heat up before the heat can kind of get to the rest of it.
Roger: Whereas this is virtually instantaneous. And it also then saves any potential danger of... I like to use solid materials. Solid concrete, textured materials, so this is another solid material on the floor which is walnut, solid planks of walnut, and those actually then those aren't going to be damaged by any underfloor heating.

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And what's nice about the solid planks of walnut is that as it comes near to the light they'll start to bleach so you get this textural change in terms of colour, between the bits that are in the central part of the house and the bits that are closest to light, and that will continue to change over the length of the ownership of the house.

Energy Efficiency

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Roger: This is the end of the boat if you like. So when we were looking inside you were seeing the view, and outside we've actually got a completely glazed facade. You can see looking at the glass that it's slightly reflective and that's because it's a coated glass, which means that it actually modifies the amount of heat. It's called a four seasons glass and it works very effectively because this is the west facade, and it actually gives you maximum heat from the sun in winter and excludes the heat from the sun in the summer.
Gus: I have to say I was a bit skeptical when you told me but it's incredible. I've been in here in the heat of summer and it really has made a massive difference.
Roger: Yes normally it's hotter when you're inside a glass, in this case it's cooler. And that then also helps cut down the spiking of temperature, and it's all part of that passive cooling effect, as is the concrete.
The concrete itself actually acts as a thermal flywheel, and therefore it actually keeps the heating stable. The whole thing is actually designed to have a stability, and part of the thing is as a research exercise in how to do that with a combination of timber and highly insulated (ie. timber frame) but also using the thermal effect of concrete. So you're combining the two materials, which is unusual.

Building Energy Efficient homes

Gus: Well it is interesting, in Germany they get it the right way around, and they don't think about all these regulations, they think about comfort. And after all, isn't that what it's all about? It's about how comfortable you feel in your own house. And we're going to have so many problems because in a way we've insulated our homes; which is a good thing, we don't want to kind of waste energy leaking through things.
But actually it's not about insulation, it's about comfort, and making sure we don't think have to add air conditioning into UK homes. I've started seeing it in some places and that's just purely bad thinking around the way that you think about building your home.
Roger: It's a failure actually of really understanding. What we should be doing, I believe, is actually ensuring that the energy output of our homes are low, that's our responsibility. And what's interesting here is I've chosen to buy my electricity from Eco-tricity, it's a company that specialises in buying green electricity.
And so the carbon footprint per kilowatt hour is 11 grams, whereas any other average suppliers is much more like 500 grams per kilowatt hour. So all the cleverness I can do in the building is never going to answer a 90 odd percent reduction in the carbon made by the supplier who has bought the green energy.
So I think the combination of the two actually means that this house in energy terms is performing better than a passivhaus, but it's actually is performing with natural ventilation and actually in a much more comfortable way to my mind than a passive home.

The Sea

Gus: We should probably talk a bit about the shape here because it's called the Houseboat for a reason. And you'll probably also see why there's a relationship to a boat, because we're not that far from the sea here.

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Roger: The idea behind the house, the concept really is like two upturned boats sitting on a pier wall, hence the reason for the rough cast concrete is to kind of represent a wall that has actually been beaten by the sea. And the blackened hulls are what you would expect to see as a boat that actually is sitting on those two walls.
When boats are pulled up in the winter they're often just up ended. If you're trying to get in, when it's not sitting on the water, and therefore not on the hull, it's sitting on its beam end, That's why it's that shape, as if that's the hull.

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Gus: This is an interesting door. This doesn't look like the kind of door you find in B&Q.
Roger: The door was made up by the shop fitters who did the fitout, that's a very nice Douglas Fir door. The metal bits are made by a local metal worker here who also made the side bits. And then they also put in these copper pieces.
So they're kind of in a way a sort of seaside folly, really, showing something of the waves, a slightly abstractive pattern that I kind of dreamt up, and then did the sketch, and they made it. And then the knocker is a vintage knocker which is made in bronze and that comes from a French flea market at huge expense.
And what's interesting about the inside of that door you can see it's got a kind of pebbly quality and that's a sort of seaside look.

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Roger: As we go into the house, we don't know what the context is. So to set the context, as part of the notion that the hallway is an overture, this is a context of the sea. This was a commissioned mosaic done with all the seafood that is around in Poole harbour. So you have here the squid, you have the lobsters, you have John Dory, the crabs, the mussels.

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Gus: These have got a story, haven't they? These lovely pieces of glass.
Roger: Yeah we've got a beautiful southwest orientation which we'll get up to, which brings the sunlight into the building, and what these do is they act as a reflector to that sunlight. And this is another piece of vintage material that were bought again in a French market and they're original glass from Italy, from the 60's, so they're a cast glass which are kind of patterned.
And so we pick out the colours that we think actually represent, so we've got the blues and the greens. And they then sit on the inside of this custom designed balustrade system. It has the vertical allowance for safety and the glass then allows a bit of decoration. And because they are on the outside then the building inspector is happy with it.

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Gus: And these come from I think my grandparents, was that right?
Roger: Yes that's right, adorned our family house.
Gus: So we've got some vintage and we've got some family heirlooms knocking around.
Roger: And it's important that this colour, which you'll see througout the house, is used because this is a kind of shorthand for the representation of the sea, so that we have this kind of nice kind of blue.

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Over here we have we have a utility room, and because you're at the seaside you can come back out through this back garden, and you can hang your washing up through that very nice whirly gig over there. It's part of the experience of being by the seaside: your clothes smells beautifully of the fresh air. The whole house is about fresh air.

Solidspace Design: Live, Work, Eat

Gus: So we should probably talk a little bit about Solidspace. You may have seen a video that I did of Weston Street, and this is another Solidspace house, this is Solidspace on the sea. I think it's the biggest Solidspace house in existence.
And I think it really shows off the split level and the sort of benefits of the split level and the open plan and the feeling.

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Roger: Coming from the hall, the lower hall is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 steps below. And this is the part of the kind of setup of the split level which we'll see more of. And at this level we go into the utility room, we have now our bedroom at the end here, in fact we have along this strip 3 bedrooms, so the house is a kind of upside down house with the bedrooms being at the lower level.

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Coming up into the space, seeing the kind of different arrangements of the stairs from the entry level. You can see that it goes up another 7 or 8 stairs, then you can see there's this bridge coming along which joins those two which is another 5 stairs.

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And then looking up again, you're looking at the underside of the steel staircase which takes you up to the final level. So actually what you're seeing is 5 levels within what is really quite a modest house.

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As we're coming up the stone stair, we're entering into all of the upper part of the building, it's all a single space, as you can see. And you actually can stand here when you're looking out to sea and then you're actually having the 3 spaces up here exposed.

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In Solidspace terms you're at the Eat level, then there's your Live level, and your Work level. But in this case when we go up to the Work level you'll see it's in fact a lot of sofas and a big telly.

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Gus: Well you wouldn't really want to do much work on holiday, right?
Roger: Well that's your version of work on holiday.

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Gus: And you can see out there the sea, slightly blowing a bit hard today, but beautiful because all of that that way is an SSSI.
Roger: Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Gus: And that means that that's always going to be an amazing view. But I suppose here it's about the connection, isn't it? It's about making sure that you feel connected to every other part of the house.
Roger: When you're behind the kitchen, you're working and preparing everything, but you still feel you're engaged and connected with everything that is going on. When you're sat at the table you get a very lovely sense of the sky, it opens up into a kind of cathedral like window with this very high space.

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As you go across the bridge that we saw from the bottom you're into the sitting room, and you're again having a very nice view across the water. The water expands actually from what you just saw down there, it's more open. And if you open the door you feel the wind of the sea right on your nose.
Gus: This is amazing, the view up here. You could stand looking at that view for hours, I imagine.

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Roger: And then coming up here we change materials, so we have a concrete bridge with the metal work going around it, and then suddenly we change to the metal work becomes the stairs, so this is a stair which is made of metal which is made locally. And the outside is just polished metal whereas the inside has got a lovely leathery feel.

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All the of the metalwork is all kind of in this jade oil, to give it a kind of lovely much more comfortable feel than any kind of paint or the brittleness of powder coating. It even smells like metal.
Gus: Yeah, I've got powder coating on some panels at my house and it's starting to kind of fade but actually this gives it a beautiful patina. And that's the interesting thing about this house, isn't it? There's a lot about patina and texture and space, the sort of things that you want in an interesting architectural house that's actually livable in.
Roger: You want something here that can work as a holiday home, that's its function, you know. In your own home, you're living here for a long time. In a holiday home you're inhabiting it just for a week, or a few days, but you need it to feel comfortable as soon as you come in, so it needs to have a clarity of explanation.

Acoustics

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Gus: So these were quite a task. And behind there something kind of interesting.
Roger: Yeah this upper part is a timber frame, and it's filled with insulation. These are Douglas Fir beams, and they are acting as two portals, so they go down and they connect and are supported by the concrete and the concrete below.
Inside each of these is something called a metal flitch beam, these are called pigs, they're stainless steel bolts and they're called pigs because they're like a pig's nose.

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Gus: Not a pig to get in.
Roger: Not a pig to get in, they're very nice, they went up very beautifully. Beautifully made by a local firm, and they went up very quickly.
And then on the face of this there was a vapour barrier and in front of the vapour barrier is a layer of neoprene which makes the acoustics very soft. And facing the neoprene are these slats of timber. So it looks in fact as if this is part of the deck or the inside you'd find of a boat. So again we're in the kind of illusion of the boat.
Gus: Yeah I think the acoustic thing is interesting because in my house which is also a Solidspace open plan split level house, sometimes the acoustics are a bit louder than we want it to be, but that might just be because I've got 4 annoyingly loud children.
So down here it kind of works very well because actually when people are sort of shouting over there you're not hearing them quite as loudly as you do here.
Roger: In fact actually we had some acoustic testing done by a mutual friend and he's reinforced the fact that this is very helpful. So the real answer here is that when you're dealing with open plan space, and you change its level which is what we've done here with the section, it makes it more available, it makes it better.
People then feel that although they're related to everybody else in the space they actually are separated by that dimension, so that gives them a kind of sense of ownership of it but then they're still part of it.
And then the advantage of making that very soft acoustics is that actually it makes it a kind of very comfortable environment to inhabit, it's not too loud and scratchy.

The Details

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Roger: As you enter the house, you find that you're actually in a hallway and I think the thing about a hallway is that it's the introduction to the house. So what you'll see is that I've covered the hallway wall in a panelling, and that panelling is reeded so it's a bit like Linenfold panelling, which is what you have in historic houses. But in this case this panelling which has got a lovely feel to it.
What's interesting is the way they made it, it follows the curvature so you can see the curve up against the ceiling.
Gus: that is very tough to do, isn't it?

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Roger: Yes. And also you've got this very nice treatment of the way in which every switch plate, is where the router stopped. This is a kind of modern technology, doing what craft used to do. It's on an MDF board, CNC cut with a specially made router, so the router you can see makes the kind of sense and feel of the reeds, but actually because you can come up with the cad system you can stop and start it, and it makes it a very beautifully finished object.
Gus: It's a very textural house isn't it because you've got the smoothness of the reeds, you can kind of run your fingers up and down it, and then you've got the roughness of the concrete walls.

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Roger: This is a family bathroom. Quite often people forget the fact if you have children with you, you've got young ones to get in the bath, they all have to get in together, it's necessary not always for you to have en-suite bathrooms.

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Gus: These mosaics, I think these have been in a couple of other Solidspace properties. Centaur Street maybe and I think Stapleton Hall Road, is that right? This is a recurring theme in Solidspace.
Roger: Yeah they're the pennies. Penny rounds. I quite like these. And all the wall tiles are supplied by a local tile company. The lights are IKEA, I always try to make my lights economic. Keep them simple, Duravit.
Gus: And some nice sort of tongue groove to kind of keep with the seasidey feel.

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Roger: Yeah all of the whole of the ground floor, inside all of the bedrooms, is got the same off white coloured tongue groove. This is actually an MDF board, which is just grouted. But it's a super groove, it's very nice, gives a nice look.

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Gus: So all that's left is for me to say thank you to my father Roger Zogolovitch for showing us around this amazing house. Hopefully you can agree it's really a fab place to be and it's available to rent, so get in touch if you want to find out more and we'll put you in touch with the agents.
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To see more of the Houseboat, watch our video series here.
Thanks for reading, see you later.

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