With stunning views over the Exe Estuary and a contemporary home conceived by probably the UK’s leading house designer — who wouldn’t feel just a little bit jealous of Peter and Sue Salter?

Perched high on a cliff, standing on the threshold of the Exe Estuary in Devon, the glamorous, newly built home of Peter and Sue might look as though it belongs on a filmset, but with a large family to accommodate it’s also been designed for fun and rigorous living.

“Over time we’ve gravitated further towards the coast,” explains Peter, a property developer, of the family’s migration, which saw them leaving their listed Queen Anne home in Exeter and moving to the pretty village of Lympstone, situated on the edge of the seaside resort of Exmouth.

The couple and their four children – Karley (22), Gary (21), Sarah (19) and 17-year-old Luke – swapped period features for a brand new house on a small development and, despite only planning to stay for six months, they immediately fell in love with the village.

“We felt instantly at home – everyone was so friendly and welcoming – and we decided that we wanted to find a permanent house here, ideally right beside the river,” Sue, a property manager, continues.

Waterside homes were, unsurprisingly, in rather short supply, with only four or five suitable houses in existence, but the Salters eventually struck lucky when one of these – a somewhat dark and cellular 1930s bungalow – came onto the market in 2003. They worked fast to secure the property, gambling on the fact that they would later be granted planning permission to replace it with something altogether more contemporary and alluring.

Initial design proposals explored the alteration and extension of the existing bungalow, providing additional accommodation by removing the pitched roof and building a lightweight timber framed and clad first floor structure supported off the original masonry ground floor. This approach was ultimately deemed to be both impractical and financially prohibitive, and the decision was taken to demolish the bungalow and start from scratch.

“Although I’m a property developer by profession, this was the first time we’d had the opportunity to design and build our own home,” Peter explains. “The plan was to create a relaxed house where all the children would want to return and spend time.”

After approaching numerous architectural practices, the couple chose to work with local architect Stan Bolt, who is rapidly carving out a nationally recognised reputation for designing creative, contemporary waterfront homes. Stan’s elegant, yet strikingly masculine style of building was precisely what Sue and Peter had in mind for their own precipitous site. “It was all about making the most of the views, and Stan came up with a really jawdropping design which offered even more than we could have hoped for,” Sue remarks.

If the view from the edge of the cliff doesn’t induce vertigo then some of the features inside ‘Salter House’ itself can leave visitors feeling a little unsteady on their feet. Stan has incorporated a glass ‘bridge’ landing at first floor level, with glazing – both clear and obscure – playing a major role in the overall design and used in numerous locations, from rooflights to balustrades. These glazed elements flood the house with light and frame estuary views. Walking on the first floor glass landing for the first time takes nerve, and there’s even a second small glass bridge leading to the entrance door.

Towering panels of curved glass form a doubleheight atrium overlooking the garden, the estuary and the rolling hills beyond. This drum-like space acts as a family sitting room, and is unquestionably the heart of the house — opening directly into the sleek, allwhite kitchen/dining room beyond.

“The glass doors in the kitchen can be folded right back and stacked outside the building, so that they’re totally invisible from inside the room,” says Peter. “It’s almost as though the wall has completely disappeared.”

Building such a large, complex structure on an elevated and exposed coastal site did not present any significant problems, and the whole process was completed relatively smoothly. Even the huge panels of five-metre-high glazing for the atrium sitting room were imported from Norway and successfully craned into position without a hitch.

The lightweight, timber framed first floor of the house is supported by the masonry ground floor and clad in cedar. Oak stairs and flooring add warmth to the white interiors. Cavity blockwork was used to construct the tower and ground floor external walls, creating a solid and secure core which serves as a heat sink — retaining warmth which is slowly released back into the building.

Western redcedar clads the first floor, left untreated to weather to a pale, silvery grey. The rich grain and texture of the boarding softens the house and is evocative of traditional clapboard seaside buildings.

Used both inside and out, K-Rend render forms a pre-coloured, textured finish on the masonry. White-rendered walls reflect the light and highlight the clean lines of the new building, as well as echoing older white-rendered cottages in Lympstone village itself.

Peter organised a team of subcontractors and oversaw the all-consuming project, working on site each day. “It took two-and-a-half years to complete, which was longer than we’d first anticipated, but I’m a perfectionist so certain things were redone,” he says.

With their new four bedroom home completed in December 2007, the family immediately began enjoying life beside the water.

The basement contains a swimming pool, sauna and home cinema, and a first floor ‘winter’ sitting room provides a cosy retreat, with a woodburning fire and dramatic slot window — the perfect spot to watch the ever-changing vista of the river below. There are also a number of sheltered outdoor spaces, with walls that form windbreaks on the exposed site.

With so much glazing in the house, a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery system from Villavent keeps the building comfortable all year round, and Sue and Peter are delighted with its performance.

One of the couple’s favourite places to relax and take in the view is from the double-ended bath in their first floor dressing area, which has been positioned directly beside an elongated picture window.

“We’ve never lived so close to the water before, and every part of the house has been designed to offer a different outlook of the estuary,” comments Peter. “We hope to stay here forever — it’s a real party house and most definitely our home for life.”

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