Radoon is arguably the most talked about house in the popular Cornish seaside town of Rock, drawing the attention of every passer-by; but this was not always the case. The original property was an undistinguished six bedroom chalet bungalow, built on farmland in the 1920s and occupying a prominent position on a sloping site high above the Camel estuary. “My parents bought the bungalow back in 1968 when the area was still a sleepy village,” explains Claire Lloyd. “We used it for holidays, and my sister Tessa and I spent some wonderful summers there; but then a few years ago we uncovered a large crack in one of the outside walls and realised that there were some serious structural problems.”
The bungalow had been built from concrete blocks which were made using sand taken from the beach, and over the years this had weakened the structure, so – following an investigation by an engineer – the decision was taken to demolish the property and rebuild.
“It just wouldn’t have been economical to try to patch it up,” says Claire. “Not only were the walls in poor condition, but the internal partitions were made of asbestos cement sheets and there was no central heating. Worst of all, the building’s low, boxy shape meant that it had only limited views of the estuary to the south, despite standing on such a fantastic site.”
Claire and Tessa live in London and are both married, with five children between them – ranging in age from two to 14. Their parents had given them Radoon to continue using for family holidays, and the bungalow was rented out for the rest of the year. At first the sisters hoped to build two new houses on the one-acre site – selling one to pay for the other – but when their planning application was refused they decided to design a single, six bedroom property which could accommodate the entire family.
Claire’s husband, David Turrent, is the director of ECD (Energy Conscious Design) – a London-based architectural practice with 25 years of experience designing sustainable, energy-efficient buildings. He worked with Claire and Tessa to develop a design which would not only make the most of views of the estuary and the countryside beyond, but would have low running costs and minimal impact on the environment.
“We were granted planning permission for a single replacement house, which was designed with living accommodation at first floor level and six bedrooms below,” says David, whose four children from a previous marriage also use the Cornish house. “It needed to be robust and easy to clean, so that it could continue to generate income as a holiday let, and we also wanted to make it as green as possible within the constraints of our budget.”
The profile of the two storey contemporary house has been stretched to create a long rectangular footprint, measuring just 7.5 metres deep, which allows the southerly aspect to be enjoyed from virtually every room. On the first floor, the generously sized kitchen/dining and living areas are separated by an internal bridge and an external terrace, which acts like another room and may be used for outdoor eating.
This terrace opens out to a balcony running the full length of the south façade, with the main entrance reached via a staircase on the east gable wall. Downstairs, a second entrance has been designed so that, after a day spent crabbing, swimming and surfing, the family can hang up their wetsuits and gain easy access to bathrooms and showers.”
Claire and Tessa knew exactly what they wanted from the new house, right down to small details like linen storage,” says David. “It meant that, combined with the passive solar nature of the building – with its south-facing glass, shaded in summer by the overhanging roof and balcony – the place virtually designed itself. A shallow curved roof avoids blocking the neighbours’ views and creates high first floor ceilings, and the living spaces are large enough to accommodate the entire family at one sitting.”
A list of local building contractors was drawn up but, disappointingly, even the lowest tender blew the family’s budget out of the water. After unsuccessfully trying to haggle down the price, they decided to employ a project manager on a fixed weekly rate, who could live in a caravan on site and supervise the work of separately appointed subcontractors. Much of the labour was local to the area, and materials were also sourced locally wherever possible as part of the environmentally friendly ethos.
“It was a potentially risky route, but in the end it paid off and we probably saved around £100,000 by not using a single building contractor,” says David. “Living and working in London meant that we needed someone reliable on site. We would then travel down on alternate weekends – sometimes driving there and back in a single day, which was far from ideal – and we were also in constant telephone contact.”
Once the bungalow had been safely demolished the long rectangular new house was constructed from load-bearing masonry, with a beam and block first floor and steel beams forming the shape of the curved zinc-clad roof. The building’s heavy thermal mass helps to store heat and keeps the interiors at a comfortable year-round temperature. External walls are insulated with 90mm Celotex and rendered, whilst the high-performance windows are fitted with internal roller blinds for additional shading.
The choice of heating was limited by the unavailability of gas and the high price of oil, so instead the family chose a ground-source heat pump – with plastic heat exchangers buried 1.5 metres down in their garden – for which they received a partial grant. A solar panel on the roof helps to pre-heat hot water, and zoned underfloor heating is backed up by a woodburning stove in the main living room.
“One of the few disagreements during the build was over the inclusion of an oil-fired Aga in the kitchen,” says David. “I was adamant that it wasn’t the most environmentally friendly option, but Claire and Tessa were both determined to have one. They also felt that the all-white interiors which I favoured might prove too stark, so we compromised. We used environmentally friendly paints, and I have to say it’s actually worked out extremely well.”
Tessa and Claire worked together to choose everything from the sand-coloured ceramic floor tiles to the kitchen units – with their unusual worktops cut from a Brazilian riverbed to expose the natural pebbles. Tessa’s husband, Jonathan, was in charge of the figures and keeping tabs on the budget, and together they worked hard to ensure that the new Radoon would be finished in time for the 2006 summer holidays, when they planned to kick back in the sun and enjoy the fruits of their labour.
“Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way,” says Claire, “and we ended up working alongside the builders for three weeks to finish the decorating and sand down woodwork. Now that it’s finished we can appreciate what a warm, low-maintenance house it is. There’s nothing better than all gathering around the dining table and looking at the views, which previously we couldn’t see. And the great thing is that everyone from our parents to friends seem to love it here too.”