Beach-Inspired Somerset Home Makeover
PUBLISHED: 09:48 26 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:44 20 February 2013
An uninviting home has been transformed into a beach-inspired retreat with local craftsmanship at its heart. Photos by Nicholas Yarsley
For 90 years a house "which resembled a Nissen hut" stood on an amazing site overlooking the sea on the North Somerset coastline. It had been in Ben White's family for three generations and when he and his brother Joss sold their business they decided to use some of the money to demolish it and build another, more attractive, house.
"We spoke to three different architects, all of whom had experience with beach-style properties in places like South Africa and California, and gave them a free hand," says Fiona, Ben's wife and mother of Oliver (3) and baby Monty. "We picked the one who came up with a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design using a lot of slate, glass and timber. This was Philip Domville-Musters who best understood our lifestyle and he did an amazing job, beyond our expectations."
The new house, finished in 2003, is T-shaped and is some eight feet longer than the original, giving it a 30% larger footprint. With a slate-tiled roof, it is brick-built with timber cladding, and stands in four acres of land. Because the family could not expand further horizontally, they dug down to create an open-plan basement with a games room, bar area and Ben's grandfather's piano. "There's also a laundry room, sports storage area and cinema, all floored in pine to cope with muddy feet and muddy paws from the family dogs when they come in from the beach!" said Fiona.
The ground floor comprises the entrance hall, kitchen-diner and five bedrooms which all lead out onto the front terrace with its spectacular views towards the dunes and the sea. The first floor is given over to a study-cum-library and huge sitting room which, says Fiona, with its open hearth for log fires, really comes into its own in winter. "We can sit up here feeling warm and cosy while looking out to windswept views of the seven-mile-long beach." There is also a double garage with another bedroom, playroom and bathroom above.
For the exterior the couple chose Rupert Golby, who designed and planted the garden, and Jim Lawrie of Timber Landscapes, who built new decking, fencing and garden furniture. The decking is flush with the new patio of reconstituted stone slabs, but best of all, says Fiona, is the newly built retaining wall which is entirely dry-stone, built by a local craftsman. "It's curved, about 15ft high at one end and is just a work of art," she says.
The couple were very keen to use local craftsmen and local materials which were eco-friendly wherever possible and this extended to their land, where they had all non-native trees and plants removed and replaced them with local species such as fuschias, cotoneasters, lavenders, euphorbias, grasses, pines, firs and holmoak. "As it's such sandy soil in such a windy, wet and salty spot, Rupert has done a wonderful job keeping the garden looking good all year round, with little maintenance," says Fiona.
Inside, the local theme continues with the couple having used oak from Exmoor for the flooring on the ground and first floors, and slate from Delabole in Cornwall for the kitchen worktops. "Diane Gramlick of Gramlick Designs in Shipston-on-Stour helped us with the kitchen design," says Fiona. "It stemmed from the first appliance - a big fridge-freezer which Joss, Ben's brother, bestowed upon us after he found he could not get it into the front door of his flat. The handmade units are painted MDF and the appliances are a mixture including a Smeg cooker, although we also have a four-door Aga."
The bathrooms are fitted with local limestone used as backsplashes or basin surrounds. The suites themselves, including huge enamel baths, were supplied and fitted by the builder and the cabinetry was by local craftsman Dave Copp, who also went on to make bedside tables, cupboards and even a new top for 'Granny's table', an 18th-century heirloom. "The original top was too big for the sitting room but Dave wouldn't let us cut it down to size. Instead he made a smaller one from mahogany inlaid with ashwood," says Fiona.
The family were able to start afresh with the furniture, and all the linen, towels, crockery, saucepans and beds came from John Lewis, the cutlery from Robert Welsh of Chipping Campden, while the sofas came from Gramlick Designs.
"Living here makes us feel as if we're on holiday all the time," says Ben. "When you look out at the view all your problems seem to sink into insignificance."