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Hunsett Mill by Acme, Norfolk UK

Emerging architectural practice Acme design a daring extension to a 19th century cottage in Norfolk. Photography by Rachel Smith

On the Norfolk Broads’ River Ant, the Grade II-listed Hunsett Mill is a local landmark. Until recently, though, the 19th-century cottage to its side, once the mill operator’s home, has literally been in its shadow. However, a daring extension by emerging architectural practice Acme has changed all that.

The holiday home is co-owned by Jon Emery, former UK head of development at property firm Hammerson. Before the cottage was renovated, says Emery, ‘the rooms were completely isolated, there was no communication between them.’ It also had little connection to its incredible setting, with no views of the mill, and few of the river.

At the time, Emery was working with Acme founder Friedrich Ludewig, who was at Foreign Office Architects. In a chance discussion, Ludewig suggested a radical approach to reworking the house. To counter the effect of piecemeal extensions, Acme chose to strip the cottage back to its historic tiny form and start again. ‘We wanted to return the original view as you approach from the river,’ says Ludewig. The extension is cleverly conceived as a ‘shadow’ of the original cottage, replicating its volume in three pitched pavilions behind, folded like origami to create a sharp, abstract outline.

The startling black, charred cedar exterior was chosen to distinguish it from the brick cottage. Traditionally wood was used locally for humbler, agricultural buildings. In Norfolk charring was once a method (now lost) of preserving the wood by removing its oils. Acme, however, had to turn to Japan, where a similar tradition of yakisugi is still vibrant.

The external vernacular expression belies its sophisticated construction technology. Cross-laminated timber panels were CNC-milled off-site, pre-fitted with services, and finally slotted together in just two weeks. Planning restrictions limited the height to match the existing cottage so this light and slim self-supporting envelope was specified in order to maximise internal living space.
Inside, the first floor is hung from the structure, allowing Acme to cleverly use the vaulted roof space to create bedrooms. Three double-height voids with vast windows pierce the first-floor slab and help create a feeling of space in what is a surprisingly modest-sized house.

Architect Acme, London, UK
Project team Friedrich Ludewig, Stefano Dal Piva, Karoline Markus, Nerea Calvillo, Chris Yoo
Structural engineer Adams Kara Taylor
Services engineer Hoare Lea
Landscape Acme

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