For years now we’ve all been familiar with the property-buying mantra of ‘location, location, location’. However, when it comes to tackling a major refurbishment project, the maxim of the shrewd and diligent renovator must surely be ‘research, research, research’.
Few could stand as greater testament to this particular approach than Caroline Bond, whose newly completed property, situated a scant hundred yards from the sea on the West Sussex coast, is a shining example of the wisdom behind this philosophy.
With its pristine white, freshly clapper-boarded exterior gleaming in the morning sunshine, this is by any standard a spectacular transformation — the unaltered central roof line the only recognisable trace of the brick-faced 1960s chalet-style building that Caroline purchased in the spring of 2008.
“It was in a great position, on a road just set back from the seafront,” she enthusiastically recalls. “It had been lived in by an elderly lady, but over the years the fixtures, fittings, plumbing and wiring had become increasingly dated, almost to the point where they posed a safety risk. So when I arrived here, I was well aware that the project would begin by stripping the place right back to the shell. Even so, I knew that the potential to create something lovely was huge.”
However, first Caroline faced her biggest challenge — gaining planning permission to proceed. “Considering the house was completed 12 months after I purchased it, seven of those were spent finalising planning consent,” she recalls with a tired smile. “The irony was that the local authority appreciated my plans. I was going up into the large area of unused loft space to gain a big portion of my extra internal area, so the footprint was only being extended slightly at the front with some widening at the sides — an unobtrusive method of extension. “The problem lay with the other residents of the road, who felt that the proposed alterations would look too radical and different from the neighbours. I had over 20 objections to my first submission!”
Fortunately, after several meetings – attended and deftly argued by her faithful architect, Michael Bains – the local authority finally approved Caroline’s plans with only a minor alteration to the limit of the side extension in order to keep it well within the required distance from the neighbouring property. “For the internal layout of the house, I wanted plenty of extra guest rooms upstairs and some great entertaining and social spaces downstairs,” explains Caroline. “On the ground floor the idea was always to create a flowing area that would be as open plan as possible, with plenty of light flooding through. “I was also adding two further bedrooms to a three bedroom house, and so, due to my location, I had to demonstrate there is enough off-road parking here proportional to the increased size of the property. As a solution, the patio approaching the house was hardlandscaped with quarry slabs — remove the furniture and it doubles as hardstanding for several cars.”
With all this to contend with it’s no surprise that it was November 2008 before the actual work on the house could finally get underway. But as her building firm stepped in and the groundwork and preparation began, Caroline found life getting a little easier. “I’d chosen builders who had experience of completing similar projects in this area,” she explains. “Because I trusted them and felt completely confident, I never had to open the phone book and take a gamble on a trade. I knew that if anyone from a fitter to an electrician came recommended by my contractors, they’d be capable and professional.
“The first thing they actually told me,” she recalls, “was to pretty much leave the site for the first two months. There wasn’t really any input I could make during what they referred to as ‘the demolition phase’, when they removed internal and external walls, gutted the interior, and laid footings for the extended areas. That was great because it gave me the opportunity to spend my time properly sourcing the products for the final finish — everything from the bathrooms and kitchens right down to the choice of door handles.” Downstairs, Caroline gained most of her extra floor space from two flat-roofed single storey extensions either side of the property, increasing the breadth of the interior, while extending at the front just enough to create a proper facade with glazed double doors and a new area of pitched roof, which creates a dramatic double-height reception space. Meanwhile, upstairs extra space was gained by extending room boundaries further into the eaves and regaining internal height through the clever use of large dormer windows.
By early 2009, when the property was again weathertight, and fresh plastering, first fix electrics and plumbing (including installing a new boiler system) had been completed, the most spectacular part of the property’s transformation got underway outside as wooden batons were fixed over the brick and fresh blockwork for the addition of the exterior cladding. This was the vital element to provide the property with the classic ‘New England beach house’ look, which Caroline had envisaged from the start. “For me, it’s what defines the place in terms of style,” she says, “and it’s all thanks to the fact that I found such a great product — Marley Eternit’s Cedral Weatherboard.
It’s a fibre-cement compound extruded in planks to look like timber, but it’s rotproof and weather-resistant. Real wooden weatherboarding would have been a nightmare this close to the sea and require more regular maintenance than is practical. This stuff you don’t even need to paint because you choose the colour it’s produced in!”
With a great turnaround from the building team, the property was completed in April 2009 — exactly one year after purchase. However, what Caroline now embarked on decorating and furnishing was a building rendered virtually unrecognisable from what had stood here only 12 months earlier.
“I’d never taken on a project of this scale before,” she admits, relaxing on a sunny afternoon in her newly decked garden, “but since its completion, I’ve been told by several people that I’ve managed to turn the ugliest house in the road into the most beautiful. So I guess that’s not such a bad endorsement!”