All photographs courtesy of Tino Tedaldi
Coastal Modernism: California architecture in Norfolk
Tucked away down a private lane in the Norfolk seaside village of Old Hunstanton lies an architectural gem of a bungalow designed by Robin Spence in 1971 as a tribute to Californian Modernism. Bought and renovated by Tim and Hannah Bent, ‘Bramley’ is available to rent for holidays and short breaks and sleeps up to six people – a treat for any fan of Modernism, as well as for those who simply appreciate an abundance of light and space. Forget any preconceptions you may have about seaside bungalows – this single-storey space challenges the traditional notions of how a coastal retreat should look.
The bungalow was Architect Robin Spence’s second UK commission and he took his inspiration from the steel and glass framed homes that had sprung up across California in the 1950s, having returned in 1969 from a period working with Myron Goldsmith in Chicago. The building has a simple structure. Hung from three steel 32ft I-beams that run along its length, the external aesthetic is provided by the floor-to-ceiling sliding windows set in bronze anodised aluminium. The strength of the beams renders internal supports unnecessary, instead the robust white wooden panels that clad the walls are used to separate the bedrooms and bathrooms from the living space. Sourced by Robin Spence from Scandinavia, these give the interior its own distinct character. The flat roof is constructed from one piece of fibreglass, with several well-positioned skylights that flood the kitchen and bathroom with yet more natural light.
Coastal Modernism: all mod cons inside
The generous living space consists of an open-plan kitchen, a dining and sitting area with a snug, which can be separated by a sliding door to create another bedroom. There are two well-proportioned double bedrooms, a bathroom and second toilet, plus a games room in the garage complete with table tennis and pool table, and the all-important place to dry your wetsuits. A warm-air heating system installed at floor level keeps the place feeling snug and the natural cork tiles throughout the living area are a homely touch.
The couple created the generous communal space with views to both front and back by removing the original galley kitchen wall to unite it with the living space. Hannah explains, “We tend to congregate with friends and extended family when we come here and the open-plan design really works, the external sliding doors remain open most of the time.”
Tim reveals, “Everything in the place was 40 years old when we bought it. We started out thinking that all it needed was a lick of paint but once we’d opened up the kitchen, it was difficult to stop!”. And there are indeed plenty of concessions to contemporary living, with a state-of the-art power shower, Bosch utilities, sizeable flat screen TVs in every room, and of course wifi.
Coastal Modernism: Mid Century furniture brings nostalgia
The place has been beautifully furnished with a successful mix of mid-century pieces and crisp contemporary design. It is clear that the nostalgia Tim and Hannah feel for the area has played its part. “It’s the memories that these objects evoke, the way they take you back to your childhood and it’s an opportunity to introduce the kids to some of the simple pleasures that we enjoyed growing up in the 1970s and ’80s. We try to provide our guests with the ingredients for a good old-fashioned hands-on holiday.”
The Newton’s Cradle and Snoopy memorabilia certainly proved to be a talking point for us! It is perhaps this sense of nostalgia that explains the predominance of British furniture. Ercol, G-Plan, Conran and Anglepoise, it’s all here. Hannah admits that the refurbishment has allowed her to indulge her passion for swivel chairs and textiles. There is plenty of evidence of this, with cushions by Elsie Dodds, a sumptuous selection of Welsh blankets, and a vivid turquoise Ercol sofa that has been recently reupholstered in Bute fabric. She says, “It’s very calming living with white walls – the light makes the space feel quite serene”. And she’s right. This certainly feels like a retreat – I took the opportunity to do some writing at the 1970s Marc Berthier desk in the peace and quiet of the bedroom; looking out beyond the garden, I could even catch a glimpse of the sea.
In ‘Bramley’ Tim and Hannah have created a real home from home, largely because it is just that. They have designed the space with the needs of their own family in mind and as such it works very successfully. And I can’t help feeling that it’s generous of them to share it with us!
Old Hunstanton: beyond Modernism
With William and Kate rumoured to have spent their wedding night down the road, this area certainly ticks the boxes in terms of romance. You can sit beneath the big Norfolk skies or take a stroll along the dunes, in fact it’s the only beach on the North Norfolk coast where you can watch the sun set. You could visit nearby Holkham or see the seals at Blakeney Point, but chances are, once you arrive you won’t want to wander far. With the beach a mere five-minute stroll away, you can take the kids crabbing in the rock pools, try your hand at kite-surfing or land-surfing, or simply hunker down with a book from Tim and Hannah’s well-stocked design library. There are a multitude of excellent pubs in the locality and Hunstanton’s very own Michelin starred restaurant, The Neptune, is just down the road. Or you can do what we did and head to the excellent beach café for a cheeky fry up.
For details about renting the property, go to bramleynorfolk.co.uk
For more on Bramley, see the article in MidCentury 03 Hunstanton hideaway: a seaside steel house in Norfolk
For interior inspiration, check out:
And for a bit more about the area: