For Colin and Anneka Cowan, less is most definitely more. The couple dislike clutter and prefer pared-down, minimalist interiors that are easy to maintain — which is why their white sugar-cube of a self build is their ultimate fantasy.

Perched high above the beach in Exmouth, on the east coast of Devon, their newly built four bedroom house replaces a rather clunky dormer bungalow which had been tweaked, extended and remodelled to within an inch of its life.

When Colin and Anneka first viewed the bungalow it was the location and sea views which thrilled them, however, and not the existing property. A side gate leads directly onto the coastal path, and as avid walkers who own three large dogs, the couple knew they would make good use of this access.

The Project

  • Name: Colin and Anneka Cowan
  • Build cost: £394,000 (£1,335/m²)
  • Build time: 11 months
  • Location: Devon

“We wanted to build just one more house – a home beside the sea for our retirement – and when we discovered Exmouth we selected an area of just six houses which we liked,” recalls Anneka. “The home search company we were using sent out letters to the owners and discovered that the one house we preferred was coming onto the market. We literally picked the location rather than waiting for something to come to us — and it worked.”

Finding the right architect for the project proved straightforward, thanks to an article the couple had read some years before about a house designed by award-winning architect Stan Bolt, whose practice has developed a reputation for imaginative, site-specific work, generally within the south west but occasionally further afield and abroad. Bolt appreciates 1930s modernism, and his designs reflect this fact.

“We love ultra-modern architecture, and there was never any question that this was going to be a highly contemporary house,” states Anneka. “We’d kept the article on one of Stan’s houses in Salcombe, which was when we first saw his work, and as soon as we’d bought the bungalow in Exmouth we contacted Stan to design a replacement.”

“We left the external look entirely up to Stan,” says Colin, “but internally we knew the exact measurements of every room and the open plan layout we wanted, based on previous homes we’ve lived in. We have three children who visit, so three guest rooms were essential, and the utility/boot room was something we had in the States and it’s now the perfect place for our dogs to clean off after we’ve been walking on the beach.”

“Most people try to build something larger when they replace an old house, but there are only two of us here and we wanted a more modest home,” explains Anneka. “We made a few tweaks to the design, such as moving the position of the kitchen so that it creates an L-shape, but overall we loved Stan’s ideas and the planning process was pretty straightforward.”

Anneka and Colin sold their home in Bath and went to live in their Cornish holiday home during the build, which began in September 2009.

Extensive structural steelwork supports large areas of glazing, inset into rendered blockwork walls, and the materials were carefully selected to withstand the vagaries of a marine setting. The result is unadorned and makes a strong statement, whilst engaging sympathetically with its environment. “We don’t feel as though we’ve downsized because the house is so light and open,” says Colin. “And we know we’ll never tire of the view.”

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