Coastal Living

Filled with natural materials and nautical touches, Max and Kate Lyons' wooden beach-house retreat has brought a breath of fresh air to a UK seafront


This stunning beach house is as close as you can get to living on water while keeping your feet dry. It belongs to Max and Kate Lyons. The sun deck fronts directly on to the pebbly south shore of Hayling Island, a small scoop of land in between the Hampshire coast and the Isle of Wight. A huge open-plan living area 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 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 – but with a job as a director of a large architectural firm tying him inland, it had to be a holiday home. Max found a plot with a derelict bungalow and a boarded-up fish and chip shop. 'A developer had been trying to get permission to build a block of flats on it for years, but was always refused,' he explains.

Planning permission for their beach house took nine months to achieve as Max had to make sure that his neighbours were happy with the designs, and also to 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 beach,' he says.

The house resembles three large beach huts stuck together, and this was exactly the look Max wanted. It is quintessential English seaside distilled, with its nautical colours, pale wood and simple shape. But the clapboard and white fencing also give it an upmarket, Hamptons air.

On the inside, softwood floorboards cover everything, including the walls and ceiling, which is stained with a translucent white wash. Cocooned in wood, the rooms are reminiscent of a ship's cabin.


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 see the sea. They're simply decorated, with pastel rugs and mismatched chairs – old wooden hymn-book chairs, brightly coloured ones with raffia seats, and candystriped deckchairs. Most of the furnishings came from Max and Kate's previous Devon home, so it represents years of accumulated finds – wooden stools, tea chests, coloured glass and even a small rowing boat, which their now grown-up children once 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 to it 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 feel really happy.'

Architect Lyons+Sleeman+Hoare (01252 844 144;
Shutters Shutter Frontier (01580 879 761;

Alan, who’s a tutor at Queen’s University in Belfast, has been studding the local landscape with modern buildings since returning to Ireland from London with his family in the late Nineties. He bought this plot for £55,000 and spent the next two years, and £250,000, creating what can only be described as an architectural anomaly. As fellow architect and friend Patrick Lynch says, ‘It’s completely bonkers.’ The house hovers, dark and menacing, over the landscape. Its arrow-slit windows and jagged profile conjure up thoughts of armour, battles and even Darth Vader. Despite this apparent nonconformity, it also sits comfortably within its landscape; at night, it almost disappears. ‘In scale it matches the front elevation of the neighbouring Masonic hall,’ says Alan, ‘while the form, with its pitched roof and gable presented to the road, follows local traditions.’

The graphite-blue fibre-cement tiles that clad the exterior are indigenous to the area, appearing on a number of pub extensions and a police station in Belfast. ‘I was impressed with the way the material dappled with age,’ says Alan. ‘Our tiles have only a 10-year guarantee. We could repaint, but I like the idea of them fading, as if the building will shed its darkness as it becomes more accepted within the community.’ The house has the air of an impenetrable fortress yet, in common with many of Alan’s projects, there is a complete contrast between the exterior and interior. Stepping from the porch through the large glass front door, you are struck by the light, airy and playful interior. The ground floor consists of a large open space, roughly dissected into a formal living room, dining room, kitchen and TV area. The room partitions vary in height and angle, allowing views through the entire length of the interior and also providing blind spots for privacy. If the communal aspect gets too much, the TV area can be completely shut off from the kitchen, thanks to discreet built-in doors. ‘Spatially, my work has become a lot less formal since my days in London,’ says Alan. ‘The spaces were very precise, whereas here it’s as if you’ve taken the architectural tray and given it a good shake.’

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