03 Nov 2015

Coastal dream home


A near-death experience was the catalyst for Bram and Lisa Vis’s ambitious and luxury home-building adventure on the Isle of Wight.


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Iin 2010 Bram and Lisa Vis, along with their children Henry and Eleanor, decided to move from their Surrey home to the Isle of Wight, where Lisa grew up. Although they put an offer in on a house, everything came to a dramatic halt when a brain hemorrhage left Bram in a coma for 10 days. After months of recovery in hospital, the life-changing event made the family re-think where they wanted to live.

Life felt differentfor the Vis family after Bram's near-death experience. This new outlook led them to build a unique family home where they could live life to the full. They bought a 3.5-acre woodland plot with its own beach for £935k and aimed to build an outstanding home that is hidden amidst the trees at the same time as making the most of the surrounding sea views.

Over time the plans for the home grew, resulting in a large space where the family could all exist happily together in shared spaces, independent spaces, plus even more room to cater for friends and family – something that the family felt was especially important.

Although the plot was idyllic, it came with some restrictions. These consisted of a highly constrained piece of ancient woodland, blanket Tree Preservation Orders, a Site of Specific Interest (SSSi) status shoreline and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) parameters. Determined to overcome restrictions just as they had overcome the hemorrhage, the family hired architect Lincoln Miles to transform their ambitious dream into reality.

The complicated brief resulted in a v-shaped building that articulates the volumes connected to the topography threading its mass and silhouette within the tree canopy. With floor to ceiling windows looking out to sea and features including a snug, games room and roof terrace with swimming pool, the family home is the epitome of luxury family living.

Architectural masterpiece

Project architect Lincoln Miles describes the property’s design: “The home predominately consists of a single story volume designed to frame the views through the trees to the Solent, whist hovering with dramatic cantilevers over a plinth of encrusted large beach pebbles. This plinth is enacting the visual reference of a structure emerging out of the sloping landscape to the foreshore or the notion of a bank of pebbles created by the conscious rhythm of the tide.”

The property takes inspiration from nature, international modernism and the open plan simplicity of the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe.

A 300ft² hole was dug into the sloping site and 157 concrete piles were inserted to support the concrete are decorated with an intricate pebble dashing cladding. Each pebble was picked from a local beach and applied to the wall by hand. The basement includes three bedrooms, gym, games room, lift, dressing room, utility room and plant room.

The ground floor is formed from a steel frame that cantilevers over the basement structure with vast glazing to make the most of the surrounding views. This floor caters for a large open plan dining/kitchen space, another small kitchen, three bedrooms, two studies, another small kitchen and a television snug. A smaller top floor hosts the master suite with its own balcony and en suite.

On entering the property, a double height hall allows you to enter any part of the house. The house is filled with a sense of volume and generous amounts of natural light. The open plan kitchen/dining and lounge space is the perfect place to entertain, as it looks out onto the deck space – which includes sunken swimming pool and floating spa – and onto the sea beyond it. Full height glass sliding doors create a seamless transition between outside and indoors.

Unique camouflage

The finished home sits so well within the woodland that it is only truly visible close up, where the use of different facades brings diversity and interest to the property’s exterior at the same time as acting as a camouflage. To reflect the natural surroundings of the trees and skyline, large panes of glass have been used. The pebble dashing of the basement level is complemented by black stacked-paper cladding, which has been used to create a shadow-effect around the build. Kebony wood cladding has also been applied to further emphasise the natural and organic aspects of the design.

Commenting on the property’s unique exterior, the architect explains: “The contextual skin of the raised podium is clad in a unique black paper on edge called Richlite and dark oiled Kebony timber articulated in both a horizontal and vertical matrix, defining the volume and moderating its scale from the vantage point of the shoreline to make it almost invisible.”

Financial complications

This breathtaking project recently featured on Channel 4’s popular programme ‘Grand Designs’, where Bram and Lisa’s financial struggles to afford their dream home became apparent. Although working to an original budget of £800k, the project turned out to be significantly more expensive than originally anticipated. After remortgaging their Surrey home twice, creating hefty credit card debts, taking numerous loans and even borrowing from friends and family, accountant Bram did everything he could think of to get extra cash where needed.

The project certainly sailed a little close to the wind on several occasions. The Channel 4 camera crew were on site to witness one such ‘close shave’ as they filmed the large glass panels arriving on site, where the workmen then stood waiting – ready to install the luxury glazing – as Bram frantically tried to finalise a loan to be paid into his account to pay for the glass. Luckily, the payment went through before the workmen decided to leave, but this hair-raising moment displayed the struggles that this ambitious project presented.

The project cost the family £2.3 m, which with the cost of land, came to a total spend of £3.1 m. The result is a magnificent home, but also a huge amount of debt.

Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud comments: “Bram has built to carve something magnificent out of the ground. It’s so well disguised that you can hardly make it out, but when you get closer – my God it’s good. The success of this project is down to Bram’s invincible determination, but it’s cost more than they ever could have imagined. This is possibly the most expensive project I’ve followed. If this project were a film it would be called ‘Carry On Regardless’.”

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