15 Jan 2024

Seahouses Sanctuary

When, in a major house renovation, should you bring in an interior designer? The owners of this calming coastal retreat in Seahouses, Northumberland, began consulting with Studio Dean before they’d even purchased the property, and continued collaborating with the firm throughout every stage of the project.


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Now that they’re settled in, they can fully appreciate how having a designer on board from start to finish was key to achieving their dream home.

The clients were a husband-and-wife pair of medical professionals coming towards the end of their working lives, looking for a peaceful, rural haven. They wanted somewhere mostly just for them but with room for their 20-something daughter to continue to live with them on and off and for their two grown-up sons to visit and stay over for extended periods of time and feel at home.

The property itself is an old traditional stone building in the most beautiful Northumberland seaside setting with uninterrupted views over the North East Coastline, Farne Island and Bamburgh Castle. This space is special to the clients, who have lived in the area for a few years.

Moving into their dream home was part of the client’s retirement plan. They wanted a place they could settle, call home and invite their whole family to share it with them. With grown-up children and grandchildren now becoming a part of their lives, they wanted a space their family would enjoy visiting, and this is such a joyful place to be.

Many years ago, the couple made a promise to each other that when they retired, they would get a snooker table, so a games room was also an exciting part of the plan.

How it started

The owners knew of Studio Dean’s work and had decided that it was the interior designer for them, long before they had found a property to move to. One of the owners asked at the beginning when the firm would get involved; whether it would be towards the latter stages, picking the curtains and soft furnishings and things. But the Studio Dean way of working is entirely the opposite. The team gets involved from the very beginning to look at the whole thing strategically. The client later said that they hadn’t appreciated how important that would be, but now realise it was absolutely essential.

Initially in search of a turn-key property, they viewed dozens of places without any joy. In early 2020, they discovered a rundown section of a former seaside hotel, which in the 1980s had been subdivided into several large terraced houses. It was in a dilapidated condition, but it lay immediately by a sandy beach, with unspoilt North Sea views towards the Farne Islands. It was an irresistible prospect. The couple asked Cathy Dean, Founder and CEO of Studio Dean, to scout out the house and see if something might be done with it.

Cathy’s vision

This project presented a golden opportunity for Cathy and her team; it was a rare chance to literally get in with the bricks on a job, fundamentally sculpting and shaping a home in a way that enhances its inhabitants’ day-to-day lives, not just aesthetically but practically, too.

Where they envisioned a mostly cosmetic upgrade, she saw something much more involved.

“Cathy’s main impact, really,” says the owner, “was to say: let’s open it right up. From the back garden, you can now see all the way through the property and get views of the sea to the front. That required taking down quite a few internal walls, and opening up smallish windows into big patio doors, and allowing a lot more natural light to flow through.”

The plan

With all of Studio Dean’s clients, before it even considers a paint chip or a colour, the team gets to know them. They speak to them. What do their lives look like? How many kids do they have? Do they have 14 dogs, a cat and a hamster? Are they entering retirement? Whatever it is, the interior specialist’s goal is to make the home work for them.

In the intensive process of getting to know clients and what they needed most out of their home, Studio Dean focused on two things in particular.

One was creating a deluxe master bedroom suite, formed by knocking together three pokey little rooms on the upper floor at the front of the house to create a luxurious self-contained suite with sea views. The same was done downstairs by creating a huge lounge and dining space on the ground floor, offering some of the best views in the county.

“I wanted to give them a bedroom, a dressing room, an en-suite and a living room,” says Cathy, “because I know one half of the couple loves to watch television at night – it’s one of her guilty pleasures. No judgement from us; if you want to watch game shows at night, I say watch game shows at night. That’s what our job is, to get that to be beautiful for you.”

The second focus was to fulfil a long-held ambition to have their own full-sized snooker table. Studio Dean used this as inspiration to create a games room for family days, teamed with a home bar, opening out to the garden to create a perfect space for all ages to meet and play together as a family. The games room is downstairs, painted in a speakeasy-moody shade of olive green.

“It’s got a snooker table,” says the client, “it’s got a big high-definition sports TV, Sonos surround sound and a bar full of beer and stuff for making cocktails. It’s phenomenal.”

For Studio Dean, the most important thing for this house and the interior architecture was to soak up the views. The team wanted to immerse anyone who stepped into the house into the views the moment they walked into the space. This involved moving the ground-floor loo and creating a new entrance directly into the large entry hall and the introduction of large glazed internal doors working as a room divider but not blocking the view the moment you entered the space.

The same was true on the first floor, the clients believed they’d have to use the bedroom to the rear as their room because it had the en-suite, but it was Studio Dean’s mission to have them wake up to that view every single day. So, with some interior architecture magic and a rerouted soil pipe, Cathy and her team were able to deliver both an en-suite and a view.

The process

With coronavirus already starting to cast its shadow, the clients were able to buy the place for below the asking price. The cost of the renovation was initially estimated at around half of that amount. But they ended up shelling out roughly as much as they’d paid for the house, as forces far beyond their control conspired to produce budget problems and delays galore – not only the myriad complications of working through the pandemic, but also the sudden, extreme hike in materials costs brought about by Brexit.

Even the Suez Canal being blocked for six days in March 2021 by a run-aground container ship had knock-on effects. A plasterer’s initial quotation of £10,000 quadrupled mid job. Half a dozen crucial pieces of furniture ended up stranded for over a month on the wrong side of the Gulf of Suez.

“At one point, we started to say it was like the baby that kept crying,” jokes Cathy. “No matter how much we shushed it and how much we rocked it, how much we gave it a lovely bottle, it was like ‘I’m crying about something else now’.”

But she credits her clients as being “the most resilient, positive people I think I’ve ever met”. By April 2022, they were finally able to move in, following a holiday in the Outer Hebrides that gave Cathy time to apply the finishing touches.

Style and function

The owners aren’t big on bright colours, so most of the palette throughout is earthy, natural and neutral. But Cathy has kept it interesting by layering subtle variations of tone and texture side by side. In the kitchen, for example, where a broad belt of wood panelling runs up the walls and across the dropped ceiling. This is not just functional (it conceals pipes and cables), but it gives the black sliding doors to the hall and the mottled brown kitchen cabinetry something to react against. “The impact of the darkness will be lost unless it’s got a happy partner,” Cathy points out.

The finest touch is two pairs of steel-framed, glass-panelled Crittall-style doors that divide the formal lounge, with wide-open north-easterly views from the hallway and the kitchen. They close off the space when desired, yet without ever preventing the light that pours in over the North Sea from flooding right through the interior.

A happy ending

It was so important that Studio Dean was involved all the way through the process. Without spatial planning, this home would be a more beautiful space than it was found, but it would never have achieved its full potential. Spatially planning the home before the team even considers style makes sure the space works beautifully every day. Cathy and the team maximise all the best elements of a property and make sure the day to day is taken care of before moving on to the more decoration-based elements.

“We just couldn’t believe it,” says the owner, remembering walking in and suddenly seeing the place anew. “It was beautiful, elegant and magnificent. Everywhere you looked, you’d find things that you’d not spotted before. It suddenly all made sense.

“We’ve had a year now of all the different seasons, watching the sun come up at different parts of the Farne Islands and watching it drop down different sides of Bamburgh Castle. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in a property like this. We’re very happy here.”

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