The modern smaller country house: Home Farm, Yorkshire

Home Farm, Yorkshire (Image: Francis Johnson & Partners)
Home Farm, Yorkshire (Image: Francis Johnson & Partners)

Despite the rather understated name, Home Farm in Hartforth, Yorkshire is a classic example of the long tradition of grand downsizing which has been a hallmark of UK country house owners, particularly since 1900.  The pressures on the large country house in the 1930s and then again from the late 1940s until 1960s sparked a surge in the construction of new, smaller country houses which reflected the financial reality of the times.  Yet today smaller country homes are a deliberate choice for the discerning owner reflecting their own wishes and desires which has led to some very successful designs.

In previous eras (and particularly before the restrictions of the 1970s heritage legislation), a country house owner faced with a house which was too big could simply remove wings (as the 12th Duke of Bedford did at Woburn Abbey in the late 1940s) or floors of the house to make them more manageable (as happened at Hodnet Hall in Shropshire). Unfortunately for many owners it was simply easier to demolish the house entirely giving them the option to convert the stables into a home (the choice of the Earls of Lansdowne at Bowood in 1955) or rebuild either on the site of the old house or in a new location on the estate.  It was this latter course of action which offered the best opportunities for an owner to preserve their estate but dramatically reduce their expenses by building a new house.  John Martin Robinson in his 1983 book ‘The Latest Country Houses’ estimated that over 200 new country houses were built between 1950s-1980s.

The new country houses today are largely either grand statements but there are also examples of smaller houses which quietly succeed in delivering an important contribution to the traditions of the UK country house.  Winner of the 2009 award for ‘New building in a Georgian context‘, Home Farm was a carefully considered response to a particular location and circumstances.

The client behind the commission was Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth Bt. who had inherited the Hartforth estate but unfortunately not the main house, the early Georgian classical Hartforth Hall, which had been divorced from the estate and become a hotel.   The Gore-Booth’s family seat had traditionally been Lissadell in County Sligo, Ireland, built for the 4th Baronet in the 1830s.  In 2003, Sir Josslyn put the house on the market for €3m and was determined that the new house would be very different from the sombre and severe Neo-Classical house he had just left.

Home Farm, Yorkshire (Image: Francis Johnson & Partners)
Home Farm, Yorkshire (Image: Francis Johnson & Partners)

Home Farm is a clever response to a number of challenges.  Firstly, both the new house and Hartforth Hall would be visible simultaneously due to their proximity and so had to make their own architectural statements without competing, ruling out a classical design.  Secondly, the new house was to replace an old estate farmhouse and would join the group of existing Georgian farm buildings.  The architect, Digby Harris, came up with a novel solution – a two-faced house which projected an elegant classical facade to complement the farm buildings but a Gothick facade contrasting to the classical Hartforth Hall.  Usually a client seeks a unified design so these type of buildings are rare in the UK and feel somewhat disconcerting; two examples are Castle Ward in Northern Ireland (Classical front / Gothick front) and Castle Goring in Sussex (Classical front / Gothick front).

The ‘classical’ front draws on a draft design by the late Francis Johnson but also historically the compact Georgian villas of Sir Robert Taylor (1714–1788), James Paine (1717-1789) and John Carr (1723-1807).   The Gothick facade mirrors the style applied to some estate buildings in the 19th-century and features an elegant ogee window on one side looking out on a small canal-type pond with the main front boasting a full height bow bringing to mind other older houses such as Corngreaves Hall with other elements taken from Batty Langley (1696-1751), specifically his ‘Gothic Architecture, improved by Rules and Proportions‘ (pub. 1747)

Home Farm proves that a modern classical country house can be both practical and architecturally interesting without needing to be physically large.  The long tradition of country house building in the UK seems to be alive and pushing forward the architectural boundaries which should prove inspiring to anyone contemplating the building of a new home of any size as the centrepiece of an estate.

More details and photos: ‘Home Farm, Yorkshire‘ [Francis Johnson & Partners]

Credits: thanks to Austen Redman of Francis Johnson & Partners for the photo and information on the house.

6 thoughts on “The modern smaller country house: Home Farm, Yorkshire

  1. Marcus Crofton May 26, 2010 / 19:39

    Fantastic post, thanks for the links – brill

  2. Andrew May 27, 2010 / 15:29

    Please note that the Bowood example is not a case where the owners ‘convert the stables into a home’; only the ‘Big House’ was demolished, with the family moving back into the ‘Little House’, which comprised the old Orangery and E-shaped Service Wing, with the Stables being a separate building to the west of these two quadrangles:,-2.037588&spn=0.001507,0.004117&t=k&z=19

  3. Andrew May 27, 2010 / 15:43

    Good quality materials and finish, but I don’t like the architectural style of the raised central attic roof line (on either front); it’s anything but classical. And the castellation doesn’t do anything for me either; it reminds me of a section of the Great Wall of China.

    Satellite view of the Home Farm house under construction, south of the Hall –,-1.737221&spn=0.001405,0.004117&t=k&z=19

    Hartforth Hall Hotel website –

    • countryhouses May 27, 2010 / 17:20

      Thanks Andrew. I agree that Bowood is perhaps not a perfect example but it does show a family retreating from the major and most architecturally significant portion of the house into the service sections of the house. Perhaps calling it the ‘stables’ is doing a disservice to Adam’s rather fine buildings.

      As to the design; it is controversial and the Janus character of it can be quite challenging – but it an interesting response to the situation. As with all new buildings I suspect that natural weathering will help soften it. I think we may be too used to historic buildings looking ‘old’ – if we imagine how the buildings of today looked when new a couple of hundred years ago I think they would possibly lose some part of the romantic appeal. The wider point is that there is a place for considering unusual designs as they may be the ones to move architecture in interesting directions.

  4. Oliver Chettle July 5, 2010 / 23:11

    Bowood is a much misunderstood case. It is not really a stables conversion. The part that the family lives in now was always the family’s private residential wing, though it is part of the block that also includes the chapel, orangery, gallery and stables.

  5. Andrew September 25, 2010 / 10:51

    Speaking of Corngreaves Hall, the derelict Grade II* listed West Midlands house, further damaged by fire in February 2010, has now been sold by Sandwell Council to developer GR8 Space Ltd, to be converted into homes, instead of to the West Midlands Historic Building Trust as originally planned.

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