Incredible cliff-side home inspired by a castle

white rendered self build on edge of cliff
(Image credit: Robby Whitfield)

One-off sites such as this deserve something equally breathtaking. Fortunately, this self build project, inspired by historic castles and its location on the White Cliffs of Dover, combines amazing views with contemporary exterior and interior. 

This modern self build, which replaced a cold, dated property, is nestled into its sloping site, with green roofs helping it to blend into the landscape on approach.

Mike Tonkin of Tonkin Liu Architects , who were approached by the self builder to design an individual home, explains the ethos behind the design...

A special site for a self build

The homeowner initially approached our practice as his parents owned the plot of land and the house that was on it. The existing house had always had problems and was very cold, and while we looked at trying to keep it it made no financial sense. 

The site was really extraordinary as it sits 60m on top of a cliff and is really exposed to the elements, so we wanted to make something that feels very ‘of the land’ but also feels quite protected and robust. 

The land at the front of the site is also Landmark Trust and a Site of Scientific Special Interest (SSSI) so it is really difficult to build anything on a site like this. Once we got the planners on side, they loved the design because we weren’t doing a pastiche of the Edwardian houses along the road.

Inspired by history and the surroundings

The homeowner is Scottish and wanted a bigger house for his family. He said he wanted the new house to feel like a Celtic castle so we found inspiration in ruins that had been buried into the land. We designed three options and one of the was a house which became a part of the landscape rather than sitting above it, which he really liked.

Houses on the seafront look like they’ve all got their eyes wide open — because you don’t get a sea view and not maximise on it, so we did the same for this house design. Every window you look out of you don’t see any neighbours, just the sea from different angles. 

The green roof is always changing. In a way I feel like the building is all about the changing nature of the site. When you're inside looking out you see beautiful sky and scenery and when you’re looking at it from the outside the shadows are much more pronounced with the curved façade and the combination of the green roof and window planters helps it bed down into nature. 

Creating a layout journey

When you journey through Dover, the landscape, the cliffs and even the road meanders all over the place, so we took inspiration from this. As you walk around the house you move up and down and around the edges in a similar way.

I don’t like doors or walls very much so the downstairs plan is all completely open plan living so the homeowner can flow through, but the doors are there if the want to close down areas into smaller spaces. 

The first floor bedrooms are all connected through sliding doors so you can walk up the stairs, along the gallery, through the bedrooms and back to the gallery again. Spatially the whole building is conceived as a journey. 

Amy Reeves

Assistant Editor Amy began working for Homebuilding & Renovating in 2018. She has an interest in sustainable building methods and always has her eye on the latest design ideas. Amy has interviewed countless self builders, renovators and extenders about their experiences for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine. She is currently renovating a mid-century home, together with her partner, on a DIY basis, and has recently fitted her own kitchen.