Stealth House opens up behind its protective wall

Words:
Eleanor Young

Guy Greenfield’s house on the north Devon coast, visible only from the sea, embraces its dramatic location with enormous views

Modernist clarity on the south side of the house where windows and living space open up to the swimming pool. Behind is the Hangman. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
Modernist clarity on the south side of the house where windows and living space open up to the swimming pool. Behind is the Hangman. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi

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.

  • Bedroom windows are angled to look out over the sea. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    Bedroom windows are angled to look out over the sea. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi
  • A large landing at first floor provides a different living space at a more intimate scale. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    A large landing at first floor provides a different living space at a more intimate scale. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi
  • Aiming towards the sunset. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    Aiming towards the sunset. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi
  • Glass banisters on the staircase to the bedroom. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    Glass banisters on the staircase to the bedroom. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyag
  • The drama of the entrance and main living space. A hidden door to the left means that those with dirty shoes can be diverted to a boot room. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    The drama of the entrance and main living space. A hidden door to the left means that those with dirty shoes can be diverted to a boot room. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi
  • High spec kitchen. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    High spec kitchen. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi
  • The bathrooms are quite nice too. Also with views onto the pool. If you want that. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    The bathrooms are quite nice too. Also with views onto the pool. If you want that. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi
  • Timber frames around doors and opening windows helps define them in within the glazing. Here in the master bedroom.  Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects.
    Timber frames around doors and opening windows helps define them in within the glazing. Here in the master bedroom. Stealth House, Devon by Guy Greenfield Architects. Credit: Paul Tyagi
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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.  


IN NUMBERS

£1.12m total contract cost

£2,655/m2 gifa cost

422m2 gifa area

Credits

Architect Guy Greenfield Architects

Contractor Digby And Roe

Structural engineer Cooper Associates

M & E consultant Kut Partnership

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