This stylish wooden beach house has brought a breath of fresh air to a tired seafront
Max and Kate Lyons’ beach house is as close as you can get to living on water while keeping your feet dry. The sun deck fronts directly onto the pebbly south shore of Hayling Island, a small scoop of land in between the Hampshire coast and the Isle of Wight. It’s so close to the sea that visitors are perturbed. ‘One day the waves were roaring up the beach and breaking right by our fence,’ explains Kate. ‘As our friends walked through the front door a huge wave smashed across the beach towards us. “Is it safe?” they cried.’
The impact of the sea is immediate when you enter the house. The front door reveals a huge open-plan living area, which takes up almost the entire footprint of the house. The kitchen is at one side, a solid reclaimed wood dining table in the centre and armchairs round the wood-burning stove at the other. Three sets of massive patio doors flanked by large windows mean that the ‘I find that good architecture can make you happy’ majority of the long front wall is glazed.
It’s easy to see why keen sailor Max has always wanted to live on the beach. ‘When I married Kate 25 years ago I told her I wanted to live by the sea,’ he says. The couple’s first coastal holiday home was a converted barn in Devon. When their three children were small it was perfect, as the entire family would pack up and spend holidays by the beach. But as the kids reached adulthood Max realised they were using the house less and less. ‘The four-hour drive meant you couldn’t just nip down there.’ They decided to sell up and look for something closer to their home in Farnham.
Max had spent family holidays on Hayling Island as a child, staying in a converted railway carriage with his six siblings. Only 40 minutes from their current home, the location was perfect. He found a plot with a derelict bungalow and a boarded up fish and chip shop. ‘Developers had been trying to get permission to build a block of flats on it for years, but were always refused.’
Planning permission for their beach house took nine months to achieve, as the sea isn’t their only direct neighbour. With four homes surrounding the plot, Max had to make sure his neighbours were happy with the designs, and balance the requests of the planners with those of the Environment Agency. ‘The planners wanted to make the house lower and softer-looking, but the Environment Agency wanted to build it higher to raise it above the waves and the beach,’ says Max.
Huge concrete pad foundations stop the structure from sinking into the soft ground. The house is raised on a block-work plinth, because those waves that rush up the beach to scare visitors sometimes crash and surge all the way round the house. The main structure is all about wood – a material that survives well in the salty marine air. A sturdy timber frame is highly insulated and clad on the outside with blue stained clapboard, each piece of which is three times the thickness usually used for cladding. On the inside, softwood floorboards cover everything, walls and ceiling included, stained with a translucent white wash.
Above the large downstairs space, the three high roof pitches form slant-roofed, triangular bedrooms. The ends are completely glazed, so you can lie in bed and hear and see the sea. Most of the furnishings came from their previous Devon home, so it represents years of accumulated finds – wooden stools, tea chests, coloured glass and even a small rowing boat which the children used as a toy box. The fence around the front decking is festooned with strings of buoys tied together with rope, and the wide window curtains are made from sails.
The house is now very much a family retreat. Max and Kate will pop down for a weekend, or one of the kids will bring a group of friends and take it over. ‘I wanted to create a place that felt relaxing,’ says Max. ‘Good architecture can make you happy.’ Anyone who has visited this seaside getaway won’t dispute the truth of that.
Architect: Lyons+Sleeman+Hoare www.lsharch.co.uk
House construction: Bespoke Timber Homes www.bespoketimberhomes.com
Bathroom: Farnham Bathroom Company www.farnhambathroom.co.uk
Wooden shutters: Shutter Frontier www.shutterfrontier.co.uk
Words: Joanna Booth Photography: Emma Lee