Seven in One
PUBLISHED: 15:36 31 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013
One garden is enough for most houses. This issue's 'Through the Keyhole' has seven - one for each room of the house.
Peter Booton finds an amazing contemporary glass and steel home on the banks of the River Wylye, with seven gardens filled with modern sculpture which is open to the public until September each year.
When architect Michael Newberry came in search of a home in the West Country in 2001, he found just what he had been looking for in the delightful village of Bishopstrow, near Warminster. As an eminent architect, renowned for building the first glass and steel house some 50 years ago at the age of 27, Michael wanted a site in the right setting where he could build a single-storey, glass and steel house of his own design. The site he found at Bishopstrow suited his purpose but, equally important, for a lover of sculpture, it had a garden of sufficient size, which could be transformed to display outdoor works of art. Michael explains: "From the outset I wanted to create an open, eco-friendly house that would blend seamlessly into the garden and provide a perfect backdrop for displaying contemporary sculpture."
Michael entrusted the design for the garden to a long-standing colleague and renowned garden designer, John Brookes, who had previously designed six other gardens for him. "The garden was designed simultaneously with the house and planning application," Michael points out, "which allowed us to get a head start on the garden while the building was going up. The genesis of the house was crystallising in broad terms and the essence of this is that for every space there is a garden relating to that space. Every room you go into has its own garden. There are seven in all. It's not like looking out of a house and seeing the garden as you would normally. This house has 360 degrees of garden. If you stand in the hub of the house and rotate full circle, you can see seven gardens, which is unusual," he adds, smiling.
During his long and distinguished career, Michael has designed all manner of structures ranging from hotels, churches and factories to offices, football stadia and even petrol filling stations! Millstream is the sixth home he has designed for himself. The first, Panshanger, in the Surrey village of Capel, where he lived with his first wife, was revolutionary in concept and construction. In effect, Panshanger was a single-storey, flat-roofed house with a steel framework and walls of glass. Millstream follows the same ethos and, very much to Michael's credit, won an award from West Wiltshire District Council for 'sensitive effort in a Conservation Area'.
But why steel and glass? Michael explained: "Well, I suppose it's the way I think," he ventured. "It's an elegant way of building and allows you to express a space very freely. You've got complete freedom with the interior. The steel frame is zinc sprayed and the windows are stainless steel, so it's a very low maintenance house. It'll last a thousand years!" he adds, with a chuckle. "The self-colour rendered walls are incredibly old-fashioned: timber frames and studding, it's a standard technique."
Apart from the eight curvaceous Arne Jacobsen chairs in the combined kitchen and dining area, Michael has designed all the furniture at Millstream himself, including the dining table, kitchen units and bookshelf/room divider, which are constructed from birch plywood, another of his favourite materials. The whole house, which has underfloor heating, is floored with travertine tiles. These are a perfect foil for the various items of sculpture displayed in the purpose-built gallery, which visitors see on entering the house.
A further 28 sculptures are presently displayed in the seven gardens which make up the whole. Each garden has its own individual character thanks to the carefully considered design, planting and positioning of the sculptures on show. Light and shade plays an important part too, and certain items take on a whole new appearance at different times of the day. For example, 'Colonnade' by Carole Waller from Bath, is a standing group of viscose-laminated, toughened glass panels, sandwiching dye on silk, which look best when the sun shines across them. Alongside flows a millstream of the River Wylye. It would be hard to find a more idyllic setting for outdoor works of art.
Millstream Sculpture Garden is the collaborative effort of Michael Newberry, its curator, and Geoffrey Bertram, a friend of Michael's with 30 years' experience of running galleries in London, Edinburgh and Toronto. Geoffrey explains: "Millstream's aim is to showcase the best of today's British sculptors in a real garden, so visitors can picture how the pieces might look in their own grounds."
This year there are 39 works of art from 15 exhibitors on display, ranging from figurative to abstract, and in various materials, and all the sculptures are for sale. There is an important educational aspect, too, and schools are actively encouraged to get involved. As 2008 is only the second year the Sculpture Garden has been open to the public, visitor numbers are highly encouraging. Michael says, "The level of appreciation from the public has been fantastic. People are knocked out by the fusion of contemporary architecture and the sculptures in the garden."
Appreciative comments in the Visitors' Book certainly confirm this. One well-known local admirer of Millstream Sculpture Garden is none other than the Marquess of Bath, from Longleat, who has visited three times! What better recommendation could you wish for?
The exhibition is on display until 28 September and is open from 12 noon-5pm at weekends and Bank Holidays, or at other times by appointment. 01985 213360 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org