High-Design Homes and Medieval Ruins for Rent in the British Countryside


A pair of architecturally minded enterprises offer intriguing yet wildly divergent holiday rentals. Choose your fantasy.

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Bath Tower, Caernarfon, Gwynedd

Credit
Jill Tate

According to the author and pop philosopher Alain de Botton, “The U.K. has some of the poorest-quality contemporary houses of any developed nation.” In an attempt to shake the country out of its obsession with vernacular architecture and introduce avant-garde buildings to rural areas, he founded the nonprofit Living Architecture in 2006. “I hope we’ll be seen as part of Britain’s transition to a new kind of domestic aesthetic,” he says. The group, which commissions well-known architects such as John Pawson and Peter Zumthor and artists like Grayson Perry, currently has seven properties, ranging from austere to exuberant, in Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, plus a houseboat anchored on the roof of Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s South Bank.

The Landmark Trust, on the other hand, a charity founded in 1965, rescues and restores important historical buildings. Its nearly 200 properties include castles, follies, cottages and prisons. And while the facilities at Landmark Trust rentals may not quite match Living Architecture’s state-of-the-art amenities, all homes have modern bathrooms and kitchens, and most have working fireplaces. Indeed, the trust’s best historical offerings are just as unexpected, and as gleefully off-kilter, as anything in Living Architecture’s portfolio.

Landmark Trust

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Upstairs at the Bath Tower, in Caernarfon, Gwynedd.

Credit
Jill Tate

Bath Tower, Caernarfon, Gwynedd

This extraordinary three-story sandstone tower was one of eight built by King Edward I in the 13th century to protect the town from invasion. In the 18th century it had a brief life as a public bathhouse (hence its name). Upstairs, the top-floor double bedroom offers unimpeded views of the strait.

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Banqueting House in Gibside

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Tom Jackson/The Landmark Trust

The Banqueting House, Gibside, near Newcastle upon Tyne

A roofless shell when the Landmark Trust acquired it in 1981, this three-room crenelated 18th-century Gothic folly is a short drive from both the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and Antony Gormley’s massive Angel of the North sculpture, with its 54-meter wingspan.

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The Ruin, Hackfall, Grewelthorpe

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Jill Tate

The Ruin, Hackfall, Grewelthorpe

This Janus-faced folly sits on a precipice overlooking Hackfall, an 18th-century woodland garden near the rugged Yorkshire Dales (beloved of hikers and bicyclists). Its two facades are dramatically different: Gothic regularity on one side, Piranesi-does-Roman-ruin on the other. Inside, however, the interiors have a muted, Georgian-inspired aesthetic.

Living Architecture

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A House for Essex, Essex, by Grayson Perry

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Jack Hobhouse

A House for Essex, Essex, by Grayson Perry

Dedicated to a fictitious Essex everywoman, whose invented biography — including death by curry-delivery moped — provides inspiration for the kooky tapestries covering the walls of its chapel-like interiors, this is the most extraordinary rental home in England: a fairy-tale house and a work of art. “None of our references were modern,” says Perry, who created the house alongside Charles Holland of London-based FAT Architecture.

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Balancing Barn in Suffolk

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Chris Wright/Courtesy of MVRDV and Living Architecture

Balancing Barn, Suffolk, by MVRDV

A few miles from the idyllic Suffolk seaside, this 98-foot A-frame structure is clad in reflective silver steel tiles, half of which cantilever over a grassy slope.

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Life House, Llanbister, Wales, by John Pawson

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Gilbert McCarragher

Life House, Llanbister, Wales, by John Pawson

This just-opened property is described by de Botton as “a contemporary monastery with a sense of luxurious austerity.” Located on the nether slopes of an empty valley, the Life House takes its cues from Japanese aesthetics. (Pawson spent several years teaching at a university in Japan.)

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