The traditional Kentish oast house as a modern family home

Designer ACME
Project Bumpers Oast
Year 2019
Location Kent, United Kingdom
Typology Residential space
Materials Ceramic, timber, concrete
Photo Jim Stephenson

Five tile-clad towers make up this house in southeast England, designed by ACME as a modern interpretation of a hop-drying kiln. Oast houses can be found all over the Kent countryside and today many of them are converted into homes. They would be built with pointed towers, so that hops harvested from the surrounding fields could be hung up to dry before being sent off to a brewery. With Bumpers Oast, ACME uses the same form to create a contemporary family home featuring round rooms and high ceilings.

The budget was limited from the start of the project, with a focus on employing the local skills and trades of traditional oast-house buildings in Kent. Although the house is highly bespoke, we developed simple and clean details, which worked with the nature of the geometry. Kent-style tiles in eight shades were used to create the exterior skin, slowly fading from dark red at the base to orange in the centre and blue towards the sky.

Instead of using a glazed finish, we used a mix of tiles that are treated with an engobe finish- a type of clay slip. The blue-grey tiles at the peak of the cone are the only ones with a semi-gloss effect. This gives a slight sheen, which absorbs and reflects the light differently between the variations in colours.

Kent is known for its peg-tile, a plain type with a third central peg, which allows the cladding of the otherwise complex geometry of the cone shape. Laying the tiles relied heavily on traditional local craft skills to create smooth transitions from rectangular tiles for the cylinders, to increasingly tapering shapes for the cones and to work with a flat tile rather than the more traditional slightly curved kent tile.

"The curvatures of each room meant that we needed to use finishes and fittings able to deal with the geometry. We wanted to maintain a neutral range of finishes including birch ply, polished concrete and warm oak. Initially, we were worried that we wouldn't be able to build a curved kitchen within budget, but the client found a local joiner who built the kitchen units with a birch ply carcass and recycled oak sleepers. Microcement was used on some walls and bathroom floors to mirror the quality of the polished concrete floor and because it could easily be applied to the fluid geometry of the interiors. Small circular mosaic tiles were selected for the walls of the downstairs bathroom in the same grey tones of the concrete floor".