Welcome to the ‘beach house’ - a home from home in Southwold
PUBLISHED: 11:40 23 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:41 23 August 2016
Karen and Kevin Keable swapped life as an ex-pat family to come home to Suffolk, and now run a holiday home in Southwold
After 15 years of living abroad Karen and Kevin Keable decided to come ‘home’ to Southwold at the end of the 1990s. Kevin’s career in the oil industry had taken them around the world to Norway, Singapore, Thailand and Australia, but the pull of their home county was strong.
They both have connections to the area – Karen was born in Gt Yarmouth and Kevin in Aldeby – so when, one day, they discovered Dunburgh, a guest house, on the sea front in Southwold, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
They settled there with their two-year-old son, Charlie, to take care of, and Karen took on the running of the guest house from 1999 to 2007.
“It was an amazing place to bring up two young children,” she says. “In fact Olivia, our daughter, was born, just before breakfast, in the house on August 10, 2000 – with a house full of guests.” Karen, also an artist, exhibited in the Garden Gallery on the High Street . Success came quickly with solo exhibitions, two paintings hung in the House of Lords and a commission from Dorling Kindersly to write a book on acrylic art, which was published in 14 languages. After a few years the couple bought the gallery and renamed it Southwold Gallery. Karen still exhibits there along with 40 other local artists.
“We’ve now owned the gallery for 11 years and run it as a family business,” she says. When they bought South Green House in 2015 it was already familiar to them.
“Our friends rented it back in early 2000s. We used to go to parties there and fell in love with it then. Unusually for Southwold it has a large walled back garden with a great entertaining area, a summerhouse/games room and a triple garage. It had been in the same family for nearly 50 years but we always said that if it ever came on the market we’d love to buy it.
“We have an amazing house near Norwich, which the children love, but this house in Southwold is somewhere we can be quite sure that, if we’re lucky enough to have grandchildren, they’ll want to come and visit. We can envisage large family gatherings there.”
The house is early 19th century, and the belvedere – a structure designed to take advantage of the views – was added in the 20th century.
“When we bought it, structurally it was sound, but needed an update,” says Kevin. “The décor was quite tired and plain. The kitchen was maybe early 1970s and the garden needed a lot of TLC. The summer house, had been turned into a junk room. The only part of the house we didn’t work on was the triple garage.”
In Karen’s and Kevin’s hands the house has had new bathrooms, new radiators, a new kitchen and new decoration everywhere.
“The kitchen was the biggest project,” says Kevin. “We stripped it bare and sanded down the solid oak floor which had been colour-stained to within an inch of its life. Although it was all white, it felt quite dark and oppressive. We removed the overhead cupboards that split the large room in two, letting light flow around and giving a much more airy feel. We added a large cooking range and American fridge-freezer and a 32-bottle wine chiller. The ‘Beach House’ sign was Karen’s idea, to add a feature, something she’d done in our current house in the pool room. The house decoration had to be modern for us. We wanted to give the house an element of seaside fun, with designer luxury.”
The dining room is full of colour, with various coloured metal dining chairs, red leather tub chairs, wood and aged steel. Deck chair striped curtains line the French doors, which open out onto the teak decking. The main lounge has turquoise and copper highlights, an open fireplace, dark wooden floors and a bright green comfy chair.
The snug was designed mainly for children, but as it links with the lounge, Kevin and Karen kept a contemporary, comfortable feel. The downstairs bedroom is handy for extra guests and people who struggle with stairs.
“One of the upstairs rooms was just a dressing room,” says Karen, “with cupboards fitted either side and taking up most of the space. We cut them right back and fitted a pair of adult or child-friendly bunk beds. This means that there is now a versatile suite of rooms that can accommodate one very large family or two smaller ones.” All the bedrooms are now large and airy and each has a distinct coastal character.
“The faux wood panel wallpaper is so realistic that most people think it’s actual wood until we tell them otherwise.” Karen’s original artworks adorn the walls throughout the house. She has a flair for interior design, and hand made all the headboards and lined curtains in the entire house, ensuring they co-ordinated with the Farrow and Ball colour schemes, furnishings, and quirky finishing touches.
The once overgrown gardens have now been landscaped, and decking added around the ornamental pond. Some very old children’s play equipment has been removed and replaced with an outdoor dining table and a huge gas barbecue.
“We have had large families staying here, some bring a whole household of nannies, cooks and housekeepers with them,” says Karen. “But smaller families, and groups of friends and families also come to stay. They come from all over the country and abroad. We have excellent reviews and many re-book straight away for next year.”
South Green House is available through Suffolk Secrets www.suffolk-secrets.co.uk 01502 722717