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PUBLISHED: 10:33 07 July 2015 | UPDATED: 10:33 07 July 2015

The Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James Soanes

The Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James Soanes


James Soane is an architect specialising in restoring old and interesting properties. He describes his own project, a traditional Thorpeness house

The Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James SoanesThe Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James Soanes

How did the project get started – and why Thorpeness?

We’d been away travelling over Christmas 2013 and when we came back we decided it would be good to have a new project. We have a house in mid Suffolk, but we’ve always been drawn to Thorpeness as it has a very particular flavour. I wouldn’t say it’s old fashioned per se – rather it has an integrity that connects it back to the past. Plus there’s very little retail, which makes it very different to nearby Aldeburgh.

What did you set out to achieve?

The Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James SoanesThe Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James Soanes

The house was exactly 100 years old, and although previously a holiday home, when it was built all of the houses that make up the Dunes were designed as a boarding house – hence the large number of bedrooms. The construction of the house, like many in Thorpeness, is fairly basic – with paper thin walls and originally clad in asbestos board. Luckily they had been changed to plywood in our property. But at some point the windows had been replaced with plastic so we knew these had to be changed to wood, and double glazed. Inside we installed a second bathroom, a new kitchen and boiler cupboard then decorated the whole place. We wanted to make it into a modern, robust but charming holiday house that we would let out and use.

What was the property like when you started, and what was the scope of the work involved?

Apart from the aforementioned issues, the main concern was that there was no central heating downstairs, and when we started to take the floorboards up we realised all the pipework had to change. So the house had to be taken apart! Luckily we found a local builder, Nick Staff, who had been involved in the property before and knew the ins and outs of how they were built – so we worked with him over five months to get it finished. The wood burning stove needed a new chimney liner, but when the chap came to lean the ladder against the chimney it fell down – lucky in a way because it could have been a disaster if we hadn’t realised it was loose.

The Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James SoanesThe Dunes, Thorpeness, restored to coastal glory by James Soanes

How important was it to retain the original character of the building?

As architects we care passionately about the character and specialness of Thorpeness. It’s a one-off, so care and attention needs to be paid. That said we’re all for innovation and new ideas. But with the house it was most important the outside was renovated to look as good as it would have done when it was built.

We’re delighted with the way it turned out. The only near miss was we were going to paint the main room orange, but when we saw the undercoat it looked like a teenager’s bedroom from the 1980s, so we reverted to a muted grey.


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