Cat Knightley and Mav Gibbins worked hard to lovingly convert a sixties bungalow in Poole into a stylish, modern home for their family
Set on the brow of a hill, among the avenues of red-brick suburbia that surround Poole Harbour, Quarry House is hard to miss. A series of glassy white cubes clad in western red cedar and Purbeck stone, it looks every inch the modernist new-build. But looks can be deceptive.
The home of Mav Gibbins and Cat Knightley and their daughter, Ava, Quarry House is actually a radical remodelling of a much older home. Beneath its stylish new clothes lies a cottage-style dormer bungalow built in 1967. Its twenty-first-century reincarnation began when the couple moved from London to East Dorset for Mav to begin a new job in Poole.
Having given up their Victorian house in the city, they struggled to find a home they liked. ‘So we thought “let’s build something”,’ says Cat. ‘My brother, Peter, is an architect; Mav’s father is a joiner; we all watch Grand Designs – we felt we had it in us.’ But when a plot proved difficult to find, they decided to buy something they could transform instead. ‘When we found this place, we instantly fell in love with it,’ says Cat. 'The layout was great and it was full of light.’
Built by the previous owners on the site of a former quarry, it was a large family home with a wooded garden, a semi-open-plan living space on the ground floor, a basement below and, above, bedrooms peeping out from within a steep pitched roof. However, the decor was dated, there was no proper heating and the immersion water heater wasn’t big enough to fill the bath. Undaunted, Mav and Cat survived a year of late-Sixties plumbing, while carefully planning their conversion.
Their brief was for a modernist-style house with four double bedrooms; they liked the original layout, but they wanted to make better use of the space; and they wanted a sea view. The solution, according to their architect, Peter Knightley, was to take off the roof and replace it with a new, linear upper floor – thereby ridding them of the awkward sloping ceilings in the under-the-eaves bedrooms. On top, he suggested a new floor, taking the height of the house up to the original roof-line, and a lofty balcony with harbour views.
‘I think good architects understand that it’s not all about aesthetics, it’s about living in the space,’ says Cat. Peter worked closely with Mav’s father, Roger, to integrate bespoke joinery throughout the build. The planning application sailed through without a hitch. The family moved into a rented flat while work took place and Cat took on the role of project manager.
Eight months later and their house was transformed. Walking around the clean, white rooms in the new, improved Quarry House, Cat makes rather affectionate references to the older version, pointing out its surviving elements. The kitchen occupies exactly the same floor space.
Ditto the dining room and the living room – except that here they took out the ceiling to create a double-height space. ‘The original teak flooring looks awesome,’ she says, adding that the builders did well to keep it intact during the build. In contrast, the built-in audio-visual systems, the wood burner and the underfloor heating are state-of-the art, twenty-first century. A new staircase leads down to a cellar (part gym, part storeroom); and an original, open tread, teak staircase takes you up to bedroom level, where there are two functional guest rooms alongside Ava’s little nursery and guest bathrooms.
One final staircase (designed by Peter and built by Roger) leads up to the master bedroom; a lovely light space with a floor-to-ceiling window that opens on to a decked balcony and that all-important view: Overall, it was a remarkably smooth build, but would it not have been cheaper, and perhaps easier, to demolish the old house and start again? ‘Homes aren’t just about investments, they’re about lives and stories. We both felt strongly that it wouldn’t have been right to knock it down,’ says Cat. And now, with the benefit of hindsight, that decision seems utterly in tune with their feelings about their own self-built house.
‘Everything you see here is a personal choice,’ says Cat. ‘Because my brother and Mav’s father were involved in the decisions, this really is a family home in every sense. For us, that makes it a very special house indeed.’
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