Towering achievement . . . inside the coastal home of Duncan, Kristin and Lily Jackson

PUBLISHED: 12:49 15 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:49 15 July 2014




Duncan Jackson’s discovery of Suffolk’s heritage coast came about from a holiday in years gone by when the friends rented a beach house at Thorpeness for a summer break.


Back in 2000, whilst staying with his brother, who also likes the area and lives locally, they were out for a walk on the peninsula, the coast from Bawdsey to Shingle Street, when Duncan’s imagination was fired up by the sight of a derelict Martello Tower.

“I made several enquiries,” recalls Duncan, “and located the owner, a farmer who told me regrettably it was not for sale, however, believe it or not, he said ‘but I do have another which is!’ I decided to pursue the project and it took over two years to get planning permission. Being a protected, listed National Monument, I had to deal with all the agencies involved. Everyone was most helpful. English Heritage were very supportive as were the local authority and The Environment Agency. So began my project with 750,000 bricks.”

Martello Towers were all built, at great cost, around the coasts of Sussex, Kent, Essex and Suffolk from 1804 to 1812, to protect from a Napoleonic invasion. Thirty feet high with 13 feet thick walls and a cannon on the battlements capable of firing shots one mile out to sea, these fortresses were formidable. Originally there were 103 such towers, but now just 17. Several are museums, but a few have been converted for residential use.

Duncan is well qualified to tackle such a project. He is an industrial designer who, with partner Eoin Billings, started Billings Jackson Design in 1992. Before setting up that company he had worked with Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, well known for the Eden Project. With his background, he was well used to daunting tasks. Whilst at Grimshaws he met good friend Stuart Piercy an architect there and it was to him he turned for the tower’s conversion.


“I wanted to breath new life into a structure at risk,” explains Duncan. “To clearly differentiate between the old and new, with contemporary parts such as the sweeping curved roof extension just touching the original battlements as lightly as possible, allowing the original building to be the star. Sensitivity was the key word throughout. I had to realise that for such an important scheduled building, in this area of outstanding natural beauty that integrity was vitally important. For future generations, should they wish to remove the extension, they could without destroying the original tower in any way.”

When, Billings Jackson Design, opened its New York offices, Duncan went to head it up, in 2000, hence as he says the Tower has taken twelve years to come totally to fruition, due to time restraints. Duncan met his wife Kristin through friends. “I was from a small town in Michigan State, and was working in West Michigan at an art gallery,” explains Kristin. “We got married in 2007 and we came across the following winter, which was so cold. This was before the major work had started and there was only a small bath and little heating. What an introduction, but I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the building and countryside.”

“Being the general contractor,” explains Duncan, “although we came across two to three times a year, progress was obviously slow. In 2010 we decided to live here and in London, so that’s when things really started moving.”

“When complete in 2012, we came to live here, nearly full time” says Kristin, “with our daughter Lily, now four, and just loved the whole experience. The locals were very helpful and supportive and I settled in well. I love the main roof living area in summer, fantastic views and in winter the first floor living area with the wood burner roaring away. Obviously the walks along the coast are just wonderful.”


The transformation is fantastic. The tower viewed from the approach, stands out with what looks like a flying saucer on the roof. In fact this ingenious extension has added a complete new space to the battlements, providing the modern living/dining/kitchen areas. On the middle floor there is another living area with study and on the ground floor three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

“Soon after completion,” says Duncan, “the company opened a second office in America, in Chicago, where we’re now based. In total contrast we live on the 20th floor of a skyscraper with commanding views over Lake Michigan.”

In between visits, the Jackson Family rent their unique property out through Suffolk Cottage Holidays. What a unique and fantastic place to have a holiday in.


Sincere thanks to Jo Charles, for a fantastic job in additional styling & to Burnett & Co Aldeburgh & Tinkers Walberswick for their co-operation in additional prop styling also Karen Lear (flowers) at Leiston for the Flowers ( T.H.)

Text and photography Tony Hall 2014

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