For more than two decades, architect Richard Parr has been sensitively but steadfastly reinventing the British rural design vernacular. ‘When I first bought somewhere in the countryside in the mid-1990s, I looked at all these houses the local architects were working on and it felt very Edwardian: Edwardian in its thinking; Edwardian in design,’ he recalls.

‘It was very retrospective, as if people went to the country to regress. That’s what I’ve been really involved in changing.’

Richard has long embraced the town-country balance. Along with his 20-strong team at Richard Parr Associates, which was founded in 2012, the architect divides his time between the Cotswolds and London. His studio is located in a reworked grain loft on Easter Park Farm (part of the 19th-century model farm that he has been slowly converting since moving there in 1995), while the practice’s new office in the capital is in The People’s Hall in Holland Park.

portrait of architect richard parr
Rachael Smith

With a love for both the bright lights of a big city and the English countryside’s wide-open spaces, Richard has established an esteemed reputation for ‘modern traditionalism’. He not only draws on a building’s historical and geographical typology, but also reinvents it into something innovative and contemporary. He is, he says, ‘always unafraid to add another layer’.

For a new family home built outside Cheltenham, this meant designing dramatic cantilevered wings to embrace the spectacular surrounding views, and using materials and a colour palette that complement its hilltop location. At his most recent project, The Farmyard, he transformed a historic farm hamlet into 17 rooms, a restaurant, spa and pool for The Newt hotel in Somerset. His aim was to ‘keep the spirit of the original Georgian buildings’, but drop in ‘pods’ designed with contemporary fittings that contrast with the old walls and structures ‘to create tension’.

richard parr associates project
Richard Parr Associates

Richard’s approach owes much to the time he spent working in Seville with the Spanish architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. It was a formative time for Richard, following a ‘rigorous degree in the history and theory of architecture’ at Newcastle University and more conceptual studies at London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture. ‘Guillermo was a ruthlessly contemporary architect, but deeply rooted in the Andalusian tradition, designing very modern houses that played with the light and worked with the environment,’ he says.

The experience taught him to be architecturally brave. ‘My progressive approach is to always question what we are doing. What is worth celebrating and saving? What can we take away? What is that extra thing we can add?’

richard parr associates project
Richard Parr Associates

This is good news for the hordes of city dwellers who have been considering a move to the countryside over the past pandemic years. In a fascinating Minotti-sponsored online conversation between Richard and Lindsay Cuthill, head of Country Department at Savills, held during the UK’s third lockdown, it was noted that it’s no longer just the conventional ‘2.4 children’ brigade upping sticks in search of more space and bucolic views.

Able to work anywhere thanks to superfast broadband and lured by the appeal of chi-chi farm shop cafés and members-only destinations such as Soho Farmhouse, a growing number of under 40s are also making the move to the countryside.

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Meanwhile, the over 50s aren’t quietly retiring to village life either. Instead, buoyed by Paragraph 79 (a clause in planning that green lights the building of exceptional one-off country properties), they are busy commissioning contemporary, eco-friendly homes.

Both trends prove the very real appetite for, what Richard calls, ‘a new countryside aesthetic’.

The look he describes can be seen in the 17th-century manor house he recently transformed in Gloucestershire. Another architect might ‘simply preserve the whole building and put some new bathrooms and kitchen in it’, suggests Richard, but ‘that’s not really what we do. We try to create opportunity out of these buildings’. Both he and his clients pride themselves in thinking long term. It isn’t about tarting up a property to flip it, he asserts, but to enhance it for another 100 years. ‘We try to make it timeless,’ he adds.

richard parr associates pool
Richard Parr Associates

Key to this approach is Richard’s use of materials, which are often locally sourced. ‘We don’t need to be importing stone from Italy or China,’ he says, pointing to the beautiful honey-hued Hadspen and Blue Lias stones from Somerset and Cornish slate, all used in the design of The Farmyard.

Nature, unsurprisingly, is a constant source of inspiration. The undulating roof on a new-build house in the West Midlands is his way of echoing the ebb and flow of the landscape, while in another recent project a nearby lake became a source of ‘free energy’, with ground source heat exchange loops inserted into the water and the surrounding fields to provide warmth for the house.

While there is always ‘a bit of the shock of the new’ in Richard’s buildings, he is, he assures, ‘not one of those architects producing work that is at total odds with where it is’. Respectful yet subtly revolutionary, his vision for the British countryside’s next architectural chapter is one that will appeal to everyone.