Andrew and Ria Kerin, the retired owners of the old Merchant Chandler shop in Orange Street, have just won a prize for the new house they have constructed.
Only people who were used to overcoming obstacles could have created Holland House in St Peter’s Lane.
It is built on a narrow wedge of land which used to be a footpath to the Marlowe Theatre and under which ran a sewer.
Any architect will tell you that constructing on a sewer is not going to work.
But Andrew arranged to have the sewer diverted whilst an adjacent building was also being developed.
Other challenges awaited the couple — particularly the issue of natural light. Squeezing the two-storey property into the wedge, they knew that they could not have side windows.
Fortunately, the couple did not want a traditional approach.
“We wanted a contemporary modern building,” says Andrew. “We used to live in Bruges, a medieval city with many compact spaces.”
Ria is from Rotterdam which is known for its modern architecture.
And so, with CDP Architecture, based not far away in North Lane, the Kerins came up with a modern design, with windows running along the top of building and its high-peaking roof.
The steep design of Holland House – named after Ria’s home country – echoes the tower on the neighbouring Marlowe Theatre.
Andrew and Ria are still considering where they will put up the plaque they won from the Canterbury Society as the winners in the new housing category for the awards given out in January.
The judges praised Holland House as “a brave new intervention, unashamedly of the 21st century” but giving a nod through the roof “to the traditional roofscape of the historic city”.
The judges continue by saying that the house is “at home in its location”, “unassertive in the street scene” and “carefully detailed and built to a very high standard”.
So unassertive is it that most people would walk by it without noticing that unusual structure behind the wooden gates.
The couple moved into the two-bedroom 1,100 sq ft property from a four-bedroom house that was more than twice the size.
“You realise when you move how little you really need,” says Andrew.
The house is also very green.
The large amount of natural light reduces the need for artificial light. Thick insulation on walls, ceilings and floors reduces the call for heating.
Their builders told them jokingly that: “You won’t need any heating; all you need is a candle in the kitchen.”
As the owners of shops which sold furniture and other beautiful objects, the Kerins have been focused on aesthetics all their lives.
They seem a little bit surprised to have a plaque to hang on the wall but they are clear that their home sets a template for the years to come.
Andrew says: “Canterbury needs more contemporary buildings so that it can project into the future.”