“Wow. What a house,” says Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud as he approaches the zigzag-shaped, Sedum-roofed Abbey Orchard House in a 2017 episode, complete after 10 painstaking years.
Accessed by crossing a moat-like water feature, the single-storey house is built on the grounds of the Abbey of St Albans and is, as McCloud put it, “part Japanese, part medieval cloister, part Roman villa in influence”.
Now, after six years as a family home, Abbey Orchard House is for sale — for £5.95 million.
Just half a mile from St Albans city centre, the house was designed by its owners, Chris and Kayo, and their architect, Rogan Gale-Brown.
The couple and their three children originally lived in the neighbouring house, which, by their own admission, “there was nothing wrong with”.
That said, the unoccupied plot next door attracted anti-social behaviour. They decided to buy it and build an ambitious new house in its place – but, being on a scheduled ancient monument site, it was subject to strict planning permissions.
It needed to follow the lines of previous archaeology trenches to respect the medieval and Roman remains buried below.
To avoid obscuring the Abbey, planners wanted the building to be single storey. And, to reduce the weight of the building on the archaeology below, the property must be constructed from timber.
In the end, it took six years to settle on a design that met the necessary requirements, and a further four to build the house.
Today, the house covers an enormous 5,175 square feet, with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and four reception rooms.
Backing down to the River Ver, it is surrounded by two acres of grounds, almost blending in with the surrounding greenery.
“It’s just a lovely spot,” says agent Nick Ingle, who argues that the property’s location —well-connected to London, with good schools— is one of its greatest selling points. “It’s a very tranquil, peaceful house, which you really wouldn’t imagine seeing in the heart of St Albans.”
He adds: “The workmanship —and it’s very clear— is rather special as well. It took them a long time to come up with the finished product. It’s a genuine masterpiece.”
Passing through the tall double entrance doors, the house opens on to a 30-metre glazed atrium that connects its two wings.
Since the property is designed not to have corridors, it is a wide space, with light coming in from its floor to ceiling windows on either side, and from above.
“Inside, it’s breathtaking,” said McCloud when the house featured on Grand Designs in 2017. “The light is so soft that you can almost touch it; taste it.”
The “main event” is the living room, with an enormous, double-sided geometric wood burner at its centre. Framed by the house’s gardens, the room leads on to the dining room —which shares the other side of the wood burner— and kitchen, aimed to blend seamlessly together.
The five bedrooms, meanwhile, are all located on the opposite wing of the house, each with a private terrace angled to catch the sun. Both principal bedrooms —named the Abbey and River Suites— have walk-in wardrobes and ensuites.
In total, more than 300 drawings were produced for the design of Abbey Orchard House, with over 100 for the interiors. The house is lined throughout with maple, intended to create a cosy feel and to create a single, ordered aesthetic.
Despite all that glass, the property was built to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, thanks to its triple glazing and 300mm of insulation.
There are luxuries too: a cinema room with an integrated 120-inch screen and electronic blackout blinds. A snug, seating 10, which enjoys the morning light. Parking for 20 cars. Automated heating, blinds, lights and electrical appliances, all controllable by phone. A 100-metre riverside walk, designed for “quiet contemplation”. A miniature golf course (Chris played professionally, before running and owning golf centres).
For the family, the single-storey layout made them feel more connected, rather than having the children upstairs and the parents down, said Kayo in the Grand Designs episode.
“As a house to live in, it’s all that we could ever hope for – maybe much more so,” added Chris. “The Romans were here 2000 years ago; the monastery 500 years ago; here we are today. It’s just our little statement on the planet at this time.”
Now, however, the family are moving on – and the house is looking for its next owner.
“[It would suit] someone who genuinely wants something different,” says Ingle. “A property like this comes up very, very rarely. People often refer to properties as being ‘unique’ - most of them aren’t. But you’re not going to find another one of these.”
Abbey Orchard House is listed with Savills for £5.95 million.