Keeping it in the Family

Sharon Chilcott discovers how a talented Herefordshire architect approached a very special project …

Sharon Chilcott

Sharon Chilcott

When Garry Thomas was a teenager, his parents bought a derelict Cider House in Fownhope and started its sympathetic transformation into a stunning family home.

Neglected for more than 20 years, the ancient Herefordshire longhouse needed a complete overhaul. “It’s probably what inspired me to become an architect,” says Garry, now an award-winning professional whose projects have included a top 25 Grand Design house filmed by Channel 4.

Whilst back in the 1980s he simply watched in fascination as the family home was restored and extended, three decades later he finally got the chance to make his own mark on it.

Garry Thomas

Garry Thomas

In 2010, Garry, who now runs his own practice, Thomas Studio, set about designing a contemporary pool house which makes a stunning addition to the historic property. But he insists working for his parents was a project like any other: “It was about doing away with clutter, making sure the detailing is superb and not being frivolous with the budget!”

Displaying the characteristic attention to detail that has won him industry accolades, he says: “I have tried to be very honest with the structure and materials, stripping away the clutter and unnecessary detail to make the materials and spaces stand out in their own right. I chose rustic slate tiles for the floor and deliberately warm, hot colours for the decorative tiles. I didn’t want cold materials, but colours that would create a feeling of warmth in winter.”

The pool house has simple, square lines, a close-boarded pine ceiling with a hidden nail “secret fix” and the walls are painted with breathable lime-based paint. There is no roof lighting, instead Garry chose wall-mounted uplighters, meaning it is easy to access to replace bulbs.

The choice of pool was also carefully considered. “I always advise a deck level pool and my clients are always very glad of that. It is easy to keep clean – insects and surface material just come to the edge and drain away. With a liner and coping you need skimmers and it is harder to keep the pool hygienic. The lower maintenance option I recommend is slightly more expensive but it also has the advantage of being level with the surfaces at the side of the pool, which makes it seem more spacious. The look is better. It is also easier to get in – you can just sit on the edge.”

With an eye on the budget, Garry chose to spend money on the structure of the pool house and not on extras. He makes a virtue of the fact that the galvanised steel is still visible, that the walls are cement render and that there is no skirting. The slate flooring is arranged in a linear pattern so it is easy to put down and reduces cutting.

Bespoke metal framed glass doors, made by a blacksmith, open straight to a summer terrace which runs alongside the house. “I tried to relate the space to the garden – which, itself, is a lifetime project!”

Garry’s attention to detail also extended to the way the pool room is furnished. He chose classic Philippe Starck stackable plastic chairs and S-shaped Panton chairs, selecting them in red to match the wall tiles. “They are easy to clean, you can sit on them in a wet swimsuit, you can stack them and they are not expensive,” he says, explaining his style choice. The pool room is completed by a shower room, with a screened changing area alongside the pool.


Possibly the pièce de résistance in this stylish building is the floating, welded steel staircase, a project which Garry completed with his father, George, who owns Thomas’ Forge, a family business established by his great-great-grandfather.

“My father is a blacksmith so it was about using materials he could work with. The stairway is in the walk-through lobby between the pool room and the main house so I thought rather than a simple staircase to access the snooker room on the first floor it would be a nice idea to show off his skills. It has a sculptural element. It is designed so that it appears as if it is tumbling out of the door above. It appears to float and not touch the ground. It was inspired by an exhibit I saw by Zaha Hadid in the Mind Zone at the Millennium Dome. It gave me the idea for something welded in steel at a weird angle.”

Garry designed the metal stairway in 3D and his father cut it to a template and welded it on site. Whilst it appears to be suspended in the air, it is in fact supported on a single pin joint – a ball which rests on the ground.

This wonderful construction leads up to a snooker room, which Garry designed as a simple, social space. The full size snooker table was craned into position through the window.

Back downstairs, the lobby is attached to the main house by a glazed link walk through, which looks straight into the garden and which Garry designed to create a seamless link from the old to the new.

Get the Look

Garry specified riven black slate tiles for the floor, chosen for their rustic feel.
He sourced them from Mandarin Stone, Unit 1, Wonastow Industrial Estate East, Monmouth,
01600 715444,

Garry’s father, George Thomas, who made the spectacular suspended metal staircase, owns bespoke architectural metalwork and agricultural engineering business Thomas’s Forge,
Fownhope, Hereford,
01432 860262,

Although not installed by them, the swimming pool is maintained by Oyster Pools and Leisure Ltd,
Raglan Garden Centre, Old Abergavenny Rd, Raglan,
01291 690614,

Get the Lifestyle

Contact Garry Thomas to discuss your own lifestyle project.
Thomas Studio Ltd, Ring House, Fownhope, Hereford.
0774 747 8079 / 01432 860338

Credits: Photographs by Chris Preece of Infinity Unlimited except for the photo of Garry, taken by Sharon Chilcott.