Suffolk's prettiest homes: A riverside eco-house in Aldeburgh
PUBLISHED: 14:52 14 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:05 14 November 2018
Creative couple David and Henrietta Villiers have designed a stunning new home at Aldeburgh | Words & Photos: Tony Hall
I am standing in the entrance hall of a stunning eco-house, overlooking the river and marshes of Aldeburgh, with owner David Villiers. With his wife, Henrietta (known as Henri), David designed and built this extraordinary home.
I comment on the unusual detailing to the walls, which are grooved, with occasional LED lights in some of the recesses.
“If you look up,” says David, “you will see that the thinness of the banister rails upstairs follows through to these raised and lowered spaces down here in the hall.” As a visual person, I am most impressed. It clearly illustrates the couple’s great attention to detail and design. This new build is something special and reflects the couple’s creative roots.
Brought up in Cardiff, David went to art college there, before going to Nottingham University for four years. “I was always interested in furniture design,” he says. “I like 3D sculpture and furniture allows a mixture of creativity, engineering and the need to be useful.” While still at college, he entered and won a competition which secured him his first job at leading brand and retail consultancy Fitch Design group, before he graduated.
David worked in the furniture and product design department for 16 years and met Henri when she also joined Fitch. She grew up in Wimbledon, where she says the school she attended tried to push her into academia. She went to college to study maths, but found it extremely hard and switched to the history of art.
“Odd jobs followed in London studios, doing fashion graphics, before ending up at Fitch as a trainee graphic designer, where I was in the communications department, working on corporate identity, branding and packaging. David and I got together 25 years ago and nowadays I am a freelance graphic designer, influenced by this wonderful coastal location.”
Originally, David and Henri lived in a Regency town house in Stoke Newington, London. They bought their weekend bolthole in Aldeburgh in 2004. They considered Cornwall and Whitstable, but loved Suffolk.
Their first purchase was a two-up, two-down fisherman’s cottage. “My mum knew Aldeburgh,” says Henri, “as my grandmother had a friend living here and they would visit on holiday during the Second World War. She remembers finding amber on the beach.”
“Down the road,” says David, “was a small 1930s bungalow, which appeared never used, except for a couple of weeks in the summer. Eventually, by chance, it came up for sale and we bought it.
“I have always wanted to design and build our own place and this gave us a golden opportunity, on a perfect site overlooking the river, countryside and sea.”
David has been inspired by the local landscape, texture and materials. The concept is a modern interpretation of the area’s iconic black fishermen’s huts, boats and the gentle curves of the river – a fusing both inside and out. It also follows the medieval concept of elevated volumes.
The first floor is bigger to gain maximum space and provide great views. Outside, the corrugated aluminium follows the industrial design of boat yards and the material stays shiny, echoing the sea.
“I have kept it vertical to reflect the reeds. I also created three sail awnings over the top terrace. Everything is simple shapes and design, a purity, but with great attention to detail, such as hidden guttering to create clean edges.”
The couple bought the site in 2009 after selling their Stoke Newington house. The design and build took two years and they moved in in 2013.
“As keen cooks, we love the first floor,” says David, “a wonderful open space, where we can be together with friends. We like to buy fish freshly caught on the beach, and we enjoy entertaining.
“This unique, uninterrupted view, lack of light pollution and the contemporary, comfortable feel, are all big plus points for us. Looking out you really do feel king and queen of your own castle. “Watching the weather coming in, coupled with the openness and privacy makes it very special. Seagulls in flight at eye level, at home with the elements – it’s everything we could ask for. We have so many magical moments.”
Henri likes being able to step outside and down to the high street to a good selection of quality shops, an excellent butcher, a deli, in a town with vibrancy.
“There’s a good traditional pub, The White Hart, with good beer. There’s a fantastic artistic community, many part of Suffolk Open Studios.” Having worked for more than 30 years in London consultancies, the couple have moved to Suffolk permanently to set up their own design business, Studiopond, offering branding, packaging and environmental design services.
“It also allows us time to pursue more hands-on creative projects,” says Henri. “David is now designing our own studio in the garden, both for work and to exhibit, which we hope to have finished towards the end of 2018.
“We have also designed a seating area and a sculpture installation in the sensory garden of the local hospital. Meanwhile I am continuing my print making and colographs.”
One of the attractions of Aldeburgh for David and Henri is that although it’s increasingly popular, it remains a traditional seaside town for families, with seaside activities, like Punch and Judy, wonderful sailing and coastal walks.
“Creating our new life in this corner of Suffolk, is the best thing we ever did,” says Henri.
For news of the gallery and to find out more about Studiopond’s design services studiopond.com
Our favourite things
Room: The first floor for its open space and connection with the landscape
Item: Henri: the ‘S’ on the living room wall (she loves typography). David: the shelves, metal boxes and black reed boarding in the living room.
Interiors shop: Vanil, Woodbridge, Burnett & Co, Aldeburgh
Local shop: Salter & King, butchers
Day out: Canoeing the River Stour on the Suffolk/Essex border.
Pub: White Hart, Aldeburgh.
Cafe: Pump Street Cafe, Orford.
Restaurant: Greyhound, Pettistree.
Hobbies: Walking and canoeing.
Most magical moment in the county: Watching the weather rolling in, the sea mist and the fog horn. Aldeburgh Carnival and fireworks on the beach.