Morris+Company design the Wildernesse Restaurant for a retirement community Kent

This centerpiece restaurant has been created as a wow factor for a retirement community in an historic estate

Words by: Sophie Tolhurst

The Wildernesse Restaurant is the new centrepiece for Morris+Company’s work for the Wildernesse Estate – a luxury retirement community near Sevenoaks, Kent. The larger masterplan for client PegasusLife also includes eight mews houses, already constructed, and five villas each of 53 apartments, expected to be completed in the next couple of years.

Within the overall scale of the estate the restaurant is a relatively small building, but situated next to the main house, and serving as a publicly accessible space for local visitors as well as residents, it is poised to embody the ethos of the project: beautiful and inclusive living spaces that cater for a community regardless of age – PegasusLife’s mission faced with the reality of the UK’s ageing population.

On the site of a former 19th-century tea room and orangery, the new light-filled restaurant with its arches and timber interior creates a centrepiece for the estate

Compared to the residential buildings of the estate, the restaurant’s brief was more open, allowing the architects’ vision to drive the design. What the brief did demand was straightforward, if not easy. It stipulated an easily constructed, lightweight structure to provide a ‘wow’ feature for the estate – to be delivered, of course, within a tight budget.

The site historically housed a 19th-century tea room and orangery, so the design references the glasshouse structure with arches, transparency, ventilation, and continuity between inside and outside. With respect to the Grade II listed status of the historic buildings and the untouched woodland of the conservation area, the building wanted to be noticeable, but not obtrusive. To this end, the main house’s motifs as well as the materials and tones of the surrounding natural environs were reinterpreted in a modern style.

On the site of a former 19th-century tea room and orangery, the new light-filled restaurant with its arches and timber interior creates a centrepiece for the estate

Modularity and repetition was a key part of Morris+Company’s proposal. This ensured an efficient build, as parts could be prefabricated off-site, and to its credit the main structure, made from CLT (cross-laminated-timber), was erected in just two weeks. Yet this repetition of motifs was also inspired by the arts & crafts style of Wildernesse House, where elements such as tiling and timber panelling feature repeating patterns. The form of the large vaulted arches was also taken from the mansion. The building envelope of a metal skin of powder-coated aluminium overlaying the machined timber mouldings references the ornate detailing of a 19th-century glasshouse.

The architects continued the same visual language inside, where two timber-clad ‘boxes’ that house toilets and storage repeat the main structure internally. In the centre of the space is an elevated lantern that contains an open kitchen. Its position here crucially allows natural light and ventilation; surrounding the kitchen, the majority of the layout is open, with a variety of spaces seating around 50 in total. These consist of bays of seating, a bar and a deli area.

On the site of a former 19th-century tea room and orangery, the new light-filled restaurant with its arches and timber interior creates a centrepiece for the estate

There is also a private dining area that can be separated from the space, flexibly enclosed by Kvadrat curtains which offer acoustic insulation while maintaining the lightweight feel of the space. They are also in keeping with the repetition of elements throughout the design, with their folds resembling the patterns of a softwood bead used elsewhere in the interior – a detail that the architects point out was not bespoke, but sourced from a wholesaler.

According to Joe Morris, project director and founder of the architecture practice, the use of such materials, including ‘common-orgarden floor tiles’, speak of the project’s ambition to prove what can be achieved with standard materials.

The modern design of the new restaurant complements the original house

The use of timber is important to the sensory quality of the space, and the choice of materials is otherwise representative of the architects’ values. They were keen to use a carbon-efficient hybrid of CLT and glulam for the main structure. Though a simple design, realising the large modular vaulted arcs in timber required the work of a number of specialists, and together they pushed the materials’ possibilities. Below this lightweight structure sits a contrasting strong base of locally sourced ragstone, with a rusticated stone finish, referencing the materiality of the neighbouring mansion. The slope of the site meant that this dramatic plinth was completely expressed on the north side, while it moved more fluidly into a copse of trees on the southern side. Though technically challenging, the architects were able to use this partially submerged plinth to house the mechanical plant for the entire estate.

The modern design of the new restaurant complements the original house

Having started the overall project in 2011, it has been a long time coming to fruition. Morris stresses that this is due to the unavoidable wider social issues, including the economic climate and Brexit. He points out the eternal triangulation of cost, time, and quality for any architectural project; and Morris and Harriet Saddington, project associate, express their belief that the fact that the finished design is ‘still very much what they were striving for’ illustrates the ‘durability and robustness of the vision’.

The modern design of the new restaurant complements the original house

Bolstered by the strong ambitions of the architecture practice, the restaurant certainly does a lot with its lightweight form. Working with specialist contractors, Morris+Company was able to push boundaries in the use of carbon-efficient materials – the 84 tonnes of timber consists of negative 48 tonnes of embodied carbon. While providing a human-centred design for an increasingly prevalent community – the UK’s elderly population – it uses discussion and design skill to counter high costs and environmental impact.

Project Info



Planning consultant

Shaylor Group

CLT subcontractor

Structural engineer
Peter Brett Associates

M&E consultant
Max Fordham

Cost consultant

CDM coordinator

Approved Inspector
Butler and Young

Project manager

Landscape consultant

Catering consultant

Start on site
September 2016

July 2018

Gross internal area
198 sq m

Gross external area
224 sq m

Construction cost



Timber vaults
Original Joinery / Carr Grange Joinery /


External timber


Internal stainless steel

Internal worktop
Bespoke Concrete

Kitchen joinery

Internal tiles

Timber floor


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