Bathing at John Pawson’s Life House.

    John Pawson’s Life House.

    A post about a magnificent house in the Brecon Beacons may not have an obvious connection to van life, and yet this most special place is ultimately linked to ArchieVan.

    The van is a thing of joy, taking us back to basics, travelling with minimal possessions. Everything we own is within a few metres of us. In the van we only have the stuff we need (so why on earth did we own so much more?).

    The Life House, designed by John Pawson Architects for Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture project takes that concept in a different direction.

    Many will know of John Pawson, the darling of British minimalist architecture.

    I’ve loved his work since I first I saw pictures of his Notting Hill home.

    His Boheminan monastery has such depth, simplicity and beauty it had me considering taking the cloth (OK, I exaggerate, but take a look and you might understand what I mean).

    And his domestic houses have the power to calm you as you admire their beauty from a book.

    Life House – a simple palate.

    Life House too is minimal – pared back to a palate of four key materials, dark brick, light brick, terrazzo and wide plank Denesen boards.

    Brick, terrazzo, board.

    There is little on display, even less that’s superfluous, and we were excited to experience living in such an environment. Would our default tidiness be enough, or would we leave the pepper mill in the wrong place and spoil the aesthetic? Just as important – would we feel confined by the desire to keep it tidy?

    That briefcase is a bit messy!

    From the outside all is brick and glass, dark hand made bricks and very large expanses of glass. Despite the glass the house blends with its environment so well. At a distance it looks like so many farm buildings, in particular because it is created from several interlinked volumes rather than a single mass.

    Inside simple terrazzo flooring runs the full length of the building. It’s underfloor heated, but pleasingly to different temperatures so that your feet have their own little adventure as you wander the corridors.

    The walls of every room are light brick, although one corridor is dark, the other light.

    Lighting makes a home.

    So few otherwise wonderful houses get the lighting right – it is extremely difficult.

    Even here it is not perfect, but it is very good indeed. Almost all the Life House’s lighting is recessed. Behind the headboard casting a warm pleasing glow up the wall. Embedded in the shelving (reading room). Behind the bath (bathing room). Behind the beautiful wide boards that make the ceiling.

    Then music makes that home better.

    The bedroom we chose to sleep in has the hi-fi, the listening room.

    It’s a curious location for the highest end audio equipment most of us will ever come across. The sweet spot for listening is on the bed. But few couples I know are likely to enjoy the same piece of music, particularly not at ideal volume (loud), from bed. However with musical reproduction of this quality even when you’re listening form a couple of rooms away the sound is still extremely good.

    The amplifier, cd player and speakers are all from the craftsmen at Icon Audio. Very solid. As manual as you can imagine. And an utter joy to look at, even before the music starts.

    The small collection of perhaps 40 CDs has been curated by Caius Pawson, JP’s son. For a young lad I was surprised that he chose so many albums that I own too, I’ve also enjoyed the discovery of new music from his selection.


    I love a bath. I like to luxuriate in the bath with a book as I gently wrinkle to resemble a prune. I like to lie back and dream, occasionally drifting off to sleep, ideally with minimal light from a candle. And of course it’s a joy to be joined by your partner too.

    At the Life House bathing is taken to a new level by the view from the tub. It’s little about getting clean – shower first if you can, but all about contemplation. To that end I’ve enjoyed bathing at both the best times in the day – as it gradually gets light, and as dusk falls. Even the water temperature is controlled so you’re unlikely to overheat.

    The surrounding countryside.

    From where I sit I overlook gentle countryside, predominantly fields over gently rolling hills. From the bath the view is moorland, scrub and tree topped hills. Walk to the top of one of those hills and the view extends for 20 miles or more across the Brecon Beacons. This land is sparsely populated, generally wet, certainly not an easy place to live in a traditional Welsh cottage. Cuckooned in the Life House you can watch the weather happen – and it changes fast. Better still, get out into it knowing that the house will envelop with its warm embrace you when you return.

    No road studs – thousands of signs. What’s a road stud anyone?

    Don’t expect the pretty towns and villages of Herefordshire and Shropshire, there’s a different beauty here and it’s not soft.

    Do expect lots of odd roadsigns. It’s drowning in flood warnings that prepare you for nothing. And the strange statements above – every couple of miles you’re alerted to the lack of road studs. What’s a road stud please? It can’t be a cat’s eye as there’s the requisite number of those in place.

    A considered life.

    The Life House is so very different to any home I’ve lived in and yet this has so much in common with van life.

    Removed from all you don’t need, surrounded by the elements, yet safe and warm.

    This is an incredibly contemplative space.

    Much of my thinking has been about need – that theme again of what do we need (and therefore why do we have so much more?).

    Can our spirits truly be lifted by lightening the load that we carry around with us? I believe they can. Giving away all your stuff will not make you taller, better looking or more intelligent, but it might just make you more generous. And that has to be a good start.

    Wood burner by Dick van Hoff
    Only the corridor windows face north.

    3 Replies to “Bathing at John Pawson’s Life House.”

    1. Just read this to B and showed her the pictures too.
      I agree about having too much clutter and am intending to be very generous in the next weeks.
      B differs and said we should keep everything just in case!!!
      Loved the blog enjoy yourselves

    2. (Fernweh)Margret says: Reply

      Underpinned my love of corner windows! We’ve got one too, but sadly enough we lack such a wonderful view.
      Did I get that right – you sold Myn Tea (and more than that)? That’s heartbreaking!
      Even after only one week at Myn Tea I sometimes picture it’s window sills with varying (minimalistic) decorations. Lately White Fröbel-stars for christmas…..
      Have you ever been to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge?

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Hi Margaret
        It’s so lovely to receive your comments!
        Yes, we have sold Myn Tea, but it is still available for rent through The Cornish Way, the new owners love it and will probably make it even better.
        The John Pawson house was much more similar to a modern Dutch or German house than anything we see in England.
        Kettle’s Yard is a great place – also look for Hauser and Wirth in Somerset, my sister lives near there and I feel inspired every time I visit the gallery/kitchen.
        Best wishes form the far west of Cornwall.

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