Knole House in Sevenoaks, Kent has been secured as part of a £20 million restoration by the National Trust. The building was taken over by the charity in 1946 and has now undergone extensive repairs in what has been described as the largest conservation project to date.
Speaking to Premier Construction magazine, Aoife Leonard from architects Rodney Melville & Partners said: “The Conservation Studio and Café project is part of the most significant transformation of the Knole Estate in its 500 year history. Focused on enabling the public to observe and engage with conservation in action, it embodies the core values of the client and involved both the conservation and re-use of an existing medieval barn, and the creation of a contemporary addition to the café with the former Brewhouse Yard.”
The Knole Conservation Studio is the first of its kind in the National Trust, allowing visitors the unique opportunity to watch conservators working on objects from the house’s magnificent collection. Housed in a beautiful medieval barn, this state-of-the art space is the only conservation studio at a National Trust property open to the public. It is a perfect mix of contemporary and historical: an airy, open plan studio with exposed Kentish ragstone walls punctuated by the barns original narrow windows.
The studio is accessed from the Brewhouse Café courtyard. A striking glass and metal staircase rises from the light-filled lobby to the floors above with the original pitched barn roof clearly visible.
The main conservation studio is on the second floor – a stunning 35-metre long open-plan room with a soaring pitched roof, rebuilt to match the 15th century original destroyed by fire in 1887.
Aoife added: “The original roof of the medieval barn was such a dominant and important element in the near and long views of the estate and the homogenous appearance of Knole on approach, it was decided that it should be reinstated to match the original form. Historic photographs and archaeological studies assisted in determining the roof pitch and the stone finial details at the gable ends and also the locations of the original lancet windows. Although matching the historic form and external appearance, the roof was detailed in a contemporary manner using glulam trusses with stainless steel ties to create a contemporary internal volume that enables the historic development of the barn to remain legible with the scars of the line of the later flat roof retained on the internal wall faces as part of the story of this building.”
The whole of the second floor is given over to the studio where the conservators work. Most of the items from Knole’s collection will be worked on in this studio – from furniture and frames to upholstery and ceramics. In keepings with Knole’s philosophy, objects are given minimalist intervention with the emphasis on stabilising and preserving them for the future.
The first floor is home to the conservation store, a 130 square metre humidity-controlled space containing historic items awaiting their turn on the conservator’s bench. Although the windows have been blacked out to prevent light contamination, visitors have the unique opportunity to see inside using a timed switch that illuminates the room for short periods of time.
Knole’s Brewhouse has been an important part of the estate since the 17th century. It originally only produced ale and beer but it is now home to the Brewhouse Café. Located within magnificent, historic surroundings, the Brewhouse offers visitors a very special setting to enjoy the seasonal menu, purchase a souvenir or pick a plant in the Brewhouse Courtyard.
With more than 1,000 acres of parkland and home to wild deer, Knole’s estate offers many beautiful views. One of the best views can be enjoyed from the Brewhouse Café rooftop terrace, where you can take in views while enjoying a leisurely lunch or simply sit and watch the deer go by with a glass of your favourite beverage in hand.
The project was recently shortlisted in the 2018 RIBA Awards and was shortlisted in the South East category.
Commenting on the shortlisting, Aoife said: “It’s very exciting and a fantastic honour for the whole project team.”