Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Toast to the Oast – The first in a series on Vernacular Architecture

This will be the first installment of a series on “Vernacular Architecture”.

Oast houses in Kent, England.
I’ve always been fascinated by how people live; what they live in and how they live in it. Since seeing my first windmill in Holland at the tender age of 5 (not to mention learning that people actually lived in them) my curiosity has had the best of me. Certainly many of us can relate to past issues of National Geographic, whose photographs have given us a pictorial essay of life and lifestyles far different than our own.

All roads lead to home. Approaching Wendy and Andy's Oast house in Kent, England.

Wikipidia defines vernacular architecture as follows…“methods of construction which use locally available resources and traditions to address local needs, fitting the needs of an industry or locale. Some styles which I hope to feature in future pieces are the pyramids of Egypt, the Trulli houses of Apulia, Italy, and the cliff dwellings in Turkey, among others.

Roofs of Oast houses in Sissinghurst, England.

This first selection on Oast Houses is fitting as I actually have a family member who resides in one with her husband in a village in Kent, SE England. An Oast House you say? That’s exactly the question I posed when the news broke that they were considering the purchase of one of the same. Believing always that this terribly chic couple would only select something unique and wonderful, I was anxious to learn all about the history of this seemingly magical example of historic English architecture.

The home of my cousin Wendy and her husband in Kent, England.

An Oast is an oven, or kiln, that is used to dry hops which is used in brewing beer. The first structure appeared around the 1750s in Kent near Cranbrook and Tunbridge Wells, SE England and was constructed for the sole purpose of drying hops. Following the harvest, the hops were taken to the Oasts, raked flat and left to dry by means of hot air from a wood or charcoal fired kiln at the bottom of the dwelling. When the drying process was complete, the hops were raked out to cool before being bagged up and sent to the brewery. The conical roofs that you see in these photos made way for the cowls, which allowed the hot air to escape. These cowls turned with the wind, bringing the cool air in, turning with the wind.

A diagram showing how Oast houses were originally used.

As I did have the opportunity to stay with family, I made myself at home in this very spacious abode. With some parts of the house historically intact and in good condition, other rooms such as the kitchen and bathrooms were state of the art, no doubt the work of my cousin, a designer herself.

Another view of Wendy & Andy's Oast house.

The land surrounding the property is extensive, and although the hops industry in this area has now ceased, the once productive fields are now resting. The open space is unbelievably open and gorgeous in its raw beauty.

A look through the proverbial looking glass to Wendy & Andy's Oast house.

That’s it for this piece. Serendipitously, with the proverbial pen to paper, an email popped up with an invitation to travel and the question was posed…“Where would you like to go?” – Maybe those plans should include something in the ‘vernacular’.

Barbara Ashfield


DennyHollandStudio said...

Very interesting architecture...sure beats the ubiquitous cookie-cutter McMansions we see here in CA. I always wanted to live in a windmill- go figure!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

This is great...have seen these from the train window on my way through Kent!

thanks for jolly post,

Ashfield Hansen Design Inc. said...

Diane - Thank you for your enthusiasm on the Oasts - I love them too as you can see.
Denny - now that you and April are honeymooners again - why not try the windmill! -there's a great one in Golden Gate Park!