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Designer home in Orford has a touch of coastal chic

PUBLISHED: 17:29 28 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:38 20 February 2013

“I like having a separate laundry room,” Pat says. “But the utility room also has lots of cupboards where I can store my jams and chutneys for the weekend market.”

“I like having a separate laundry room,” Pat says. “But the utility room also has lots of cupboards where I can store my jams and chutneys for the weekend market.” Photo: POLLY ELTES

When Pat Walker and Roger Hipwell outgrew their Suffolk coastal cottage, they built themselves a new home with a glass wall and a view to die for – at the bottom of their garden! Jane Graining reports

When Pat Walker and Roger Hipwell outgrew their Suffolk coastal cottage, they built themselves a new home with a glass wall and a view to die for at the bottom of their garden! Jane Graining reports

In 1993, Pat Walker and partner Roger Hipwell bought themselves a holiday cottage in an historic village on the East Anglian coast. It was very dilapidated but in a wonderful location, in the centre of Orford, with good shops, pubs and restaurants all within walking distance. The other major plus was a large plot of land also for sale behind the cottage, sloping gently down towards the estuary with the North Sea beyond: they bought both.
Their original plan was to renovate the cottage and then sell it and build a house on the plot of land, but once their main house was sold and they lived in Orford full time, they changed their minds. We had extended and built a separate guest apartment in the newly landscaped garden, so the little cottage stretched to accommodate family and friends. After 10 years though, we decided we needed more flexible space.
Worried about the likelihood of getting planning permission for a new house in this conservation area, they searched for a bigger place, without success. Then one day, as she was driving along, Pat had what she describes as a lightbulb moment. I thought why dont we just go for it and when I came home, Roger said an enthusiastic yes!
Plans for a structure which incorporated the original guest apartment, fitted in with existing landscaping and would be a house we can live in and enjoy was the brief. The design was inspirational, with a complete wall of glass on the south side giving the living area and bedrooms fabulous views towards the estuary and the North Sea. Theres a nautical slant too; the wooden beams and balcony are reminiscent of the masts and deck of a ship.
A planning consultant said chances of getting permission were about 50/50, reasonable odds we thought, Roger says. We went ahead and got consent in 2004.
Before building could begin, the slope had to be dug out, effectively siting the house partially below ground level. Huge quantities of earth had to be carried up a small lane in constant convoys. The builders were terrific, Pat says. They notified neighbours about plans and progress and even swept the lane at the end of each day. Their only proviso was that we didnt go down to the site while they were working!
The wooden cladding is larch, all the other wood is Douglas pine and after five years its all beginning to age and turn a mellow grey colour. We love that look. Its very seasidey without being twee. Inside there are three levels with a large kitchen and dining space and a sitting room divided by a central chimney column on the lowest level. Hall, utility room and original guest apartment are on the ground level and on the top, the bedrooms. People suggested we put the living space at the top as the views are more spectacular, but we couldnt live like that, we entertain a lot and love to walk out into the garden, Roger explains.
Continuity helps enhance the feeling of space so all walls are painted porcelain white, floors on the lower levels are limestone, upstairs they are oak and there is underfloor heating throughout. Windows upstairs have Roman blinds. Pat and Roger wanted to create a contemporary clean style and were inspired to buy accessories and new pieces of furniture, to compliment existing pieces like their Arts and Crafts chairs and Liberty dresser, in strong bold shades of red lacquer and black.
They designed the kitchen themselves. They are great cooks and knew exactly what they needed: two full ovens and a high level fridge it makes life so easy. Open plan kitchens call for discipline though. People come and talk to you while you cook so you have to make sure the dishwasher is empty before the dinner party.
Roger and Pat are blissfully happy with the house they have created. Tucked down this little lane, nobody knows we are here and because it looks like a single storey bungalow from the front we have the wow factor when people come in and discover we have three storeys. Considering we built a house at the bottom of the garden we still have a great garden and a great house with wonderful views.


Lessons learned: Always seek expert advice. We found it really pays to use a professional in areas where you have no expertise yourself be it a planning consultant, architect, project manager or landscape gardener.
Favourite room: We love the cellar - its like having a loft but you don't have to climb a rickety ladder!
Future plans: We will probably downsize eventually. Its lovely having a big garden but its a lot of work and these days we prefer to spend the time with the grandchildren.
Design/maintenance advice: We have used wooden cladding on the outside of the house and the balcony and supports are also wood. We talked to our local wood expert who advised us not to treat it once it was installed once you start youll have to do it every year, best let it age naturally.


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