Guy Greenfield’s house on the north Devon coast, visible only from the sea, embraces its dramatic location with enormous views
Might the answer to building on a cliff be to build another cliff? Along the jagged edges of north Devon, a few miles from the beaches and surf of Woolacombe and Croyde, stands a house with a vertiginous white wall. It draws on the styles of Mediterranean modernism and the case study houses of America’s west coast.
Its architect, Guy Greenfield, has been building in the affluent tourist honeypots of Devon and Cornwall for several years, designing, and often developing, luxurious coastal apartments. His best known project was in quite a different environment alongside the gritty Hammersmith flyover in west London. That doctor’s surgery, with its white carapace of protective shells, was Stirling shortlisted in 2001.
It is the same act of protection that drives the design on this sloping, north facing site. A 10m wall faces the sea, its render slightly roughened in acknowledgement of its marine environment and with a barely discernible touch of silver. To the south, facing into the wooded hillside, the house exposes itself; fully glazed living space and bedrooms open up the section like a dolls house onto a sheltered pool.
The plan puts all the smaller and service spaces at the entrance to the site, garage and extra prep kitchen dug into slope. Once they are dealt with the building extends its narrowing tip of living space towards the next bay along the coast. This living space has views out on both sides, over the pool in one direction and on the other through its protective wall onto a generous balcony from where you can see the Great Hangman cliff rising from the sea, as well as hearing the waves crashing below.
Three partners, including Greenfield, came together to buy the bungalow that previously sat on the site. Its replacement is on the market for £2.5million. It has the pool, a high spec kitchen, electric gates, garage and film room. But it lacks the warmth of inhabitation. And it is also missing the estimated £10,000 blind system and wardrobes, though all is ready for these to be installed to the new owner’s taste. So the white walls can seem rather stark and the feature stairs – one with curving glass balustrade, one an exercise in structural reductiveness with added bracing – feel uncomfortably like set pieces, extravagant furniture in an unfurnished house.
The entrance feels like the biggest compromise. On paper the steps facing you alongside the protective wall, rising into the glazed slot between it and the main volume, promise to be full of drama. And they are. But there is something about the 15 relatively steep, partially enclosed, grey steps that makes them daunting and rather dreary. From the entrance and parking space, confronted with the blank storeys of the garage end wall and above, you are offered no clues, nothing to suggest the climb will be worth it.
The house’s two ‘cliff’ walls and its position hidden from the road have led Greenfield to call this Stealth House. Of course from the sea shore it is very visible; stealth only in the sense a Bond baddie’s house is stealth. It is only when you breach the fortress walls that you see a different side to coastal living.
£1.12m total contract cost
£2,655/m2 gifa cost
422m2 gifa area
Architect Guy Greenfield Architects
Contractor Digby And Roe
Structural engineer Cooper Associates
M & E consultant Kut Partnership