02 May 2017

Self-builder achieves lifelong dream of building his own home in north Cornwall

Marzouk Al-Bader has always been passionate about architecture and design and it has been his lifelong dream to design and build his own home. Inspired by the landscape of his surroundings, Marzouk has created his very own coastal holiday home in north Cornwall.


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Marzouk’s overall vision for the aesthetics of the house, both on the outside and inside, was very clear and his ideas had already been finalised in his mind from the start. “The challenge was always to be able to stick to the design and brief without compromise,” comments Marzouk. “The discipline was to stick to the simple idea of creating a modern but comfortable space both inside and outside and with a design that embraces and complements, rather than competes with the traditional material and most of the landscape surrounding it.”

Stunning scenery

Apart from understanding the environment it is in – being on a sand dune by the Atlantic coast with wild winter weather and its proximity to the sea – surprisingly, Marzouk’s self-build didn’t require any special requirements. “All of it was taken into account in the build,” he explains. “We tilted the house enough to face the sea and it’s framed by two amazingly big cliffs.”

Marzouk has been going on holiday in Mawgan Porth, north Cornwall, for a few years which inspired his plot location. “The small community, village feel and beautiful bay surrounded by breathtaking views of the sea and cliffs was enough to narrow down my search for the ideal location. But also, the fact that Mawgan is probably the only place left in Cornwall that is under-built – or not overbuilt – was the strongest attraction, as opposed to going to other places in Cornwall like Rock and Polzeath – amazing in many ways, but overdeveloped.

“It was really to make a difference to Mawgan and the community that is deserving of development that respects its beautiful landscape first and foremost.”

It took Marzouk three to four months to gain planning permission for his build, which is now named Sand Dunes. He comments: “From the very beginning, this project was going to be locally built and sourced; the architecture and design demands of an ambitious project like this meant that some aspects of it was going to be challenging.

“We waited longer than we planned to produce drawings that were able to apply some of the more difficult concepts I had. However, the idea was always to stick with Cornish talent and I was very fortunate to have good builders and a fantastic foreman – who project managed the build with me to make my life a bit easier; he made a real difference.”

Keeping it local

Adhering to his wish to work with local suppliers, Marzouk appointed a small local architect and a couple of graduate architects from London – where he is based – to work on the Sand Dunes project.

The material specification was easy for Marzouk, as long as he stuck to his original plan. “The plan was always to use Cornish materials, like stone and slate, from local quarries as well as locally-sourced timber – in my case, Douglas fir; one of my favourite woods in terms of look and durability. All of these materials are very earthy or ‘organic’ as I call them, they complement each other perfectly. They all have the organic look and feel I was after which was to ultimately blend as much as possible with the surrounding landscape.”

The time frame took two and a half years longer than it was supposed to partly due to the architectural challenges Marzouk and the team faced. “It is safe to say that on my next project, I can do this in a lot less time but also cheaper! I learnt a lot,” humours Marzouk.

“We also didn’t remain in our original budget. Time is money; the longer it took, the more money I spent.”

Modern living

Sand Dune’s interior design is focused on good modern space with warm and cosy soft furnishings and fittings. “Again, it is a blend of modern living with some open-plan spaces and traditional living; a mix of private and open-plan rooms emphasising a family holiday home from home,” comments Marzouk. “It represents and caters for every single member of the family, from the 10 year olds to the parents!”

IQ’s slim framed glass sliding doors are the key design feature of Marzouk’s self-build coastal home. These large glass elevations enhance the indoor-outdoor living experience providing large light-filled, open-plan living areas. Glass sliding doors and structural glass walls provide incredible panoramic coastal views which all primary living spaces face.

These slim framed sliding glass doors are bi-parting, helping to create an open space between the indoors and outdoors. These doors have a flush floor finish, providing easy access to the outdoor living spaces, especially for the children of the family.

By having a fully glazed home, the interior is flooded with light from the west where sunsets become the perfect view. Structural glass walls were integrated and engineered with no frame, reducing any obstruction to views. The glass stepped-over roof structure creates a sleek all-glass finish.

Aluminium bi-folding doors were installed onto the pool annexe next to the Main House. These doors were installed with an open corner to maximise the views of the beach from the indoor pool. Installing these doors instead of sliding glass doors maximises the space between the inside and out. These doors were powder-coated a dark grey to match the exterior of the building.

Glass balustrades were installed onto the balcony areas on the top floor of the home to help maintain clear views of the surroundings as well as providing safety to the family. Handrails and framing were also installed to provide extra safety with a coloured powder coating to help the glass balustrades blend in with the home with regards to the colour match.

Three’s company

“I built Sand Dunes in three buildings, mainly to reduce the size of building one big building,” comments Marzouk. “The Main House is the family house – built with stone and slate – the Pool House – black-painted timber– is basically a luxury surf and spa hut/shack on the ground with a guest bedroom on the first floor, and the annex is a small two-bedroom guest house.

“My favourite place is the family’s favourite place; in the hot jacuzzi in the Pool House – especially after a cold surf in the morning. Another favourite place of mine is in the main living and kitchen area, mostly around the dining table and especially when we are making pizzas in the wood oven, and of course in the small cinema room watching a late-night movie in the kid’s wing!

“We also all love the outside; the decking is deliberately big and the grass lawn provides enough space for us all to enjoy sitting outside and playing in front of the most beautiful beach and sunsets I have ever seen.”

Deciding which plants to use and how to place them was an easy decision for Marzouk. “For me it was not to outsmart what is, and was, there for decades; not to recreate when it comes to landscaping but to give life to the existing plants and plant more of the same. Again, sticking to more dune grass, more of the same tamarix trees that grow naturally in the Cornish coast and adding some lawn grass as in those fields on the surrounding hills.

“For a project this size we needed to work with a landscape professional, but again the brief was simple so it was easier to manage. We basically planted more of what was already there.”

The result

When asked what the local community think of his property, Marzouk explains: “The neighbours hated the process of building, as most of us would, but now they love the finished product! This is a great compliment, but again, my focus was always to blend it with its beautiful landscape and to me this is why Sand Dunes is special and this is probably why everyone loves it. Good architecture is to stay true to your surroundings and that is even more relevant when your landscape is as beautiful as Mawgan Porth’s sea, hills and cliffs.”

The finished property is everything Marzouk hoped it would be. It blends into its surrounding landscape seamlessly with its colours and material use. And, the green roof complements the surrounding scenery flawlessly.

When asked if he would do it all again, Marzouk replied: “Yes, but I would complete it on a cheaper budget and in less time!” His advice for other self-builders is to “stick to the brief”.

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