Embarking on the journey of self-building their retirement home along the south-west’s Jurassic Coast turned into a decade-long adventure for two septuagenarians. The result surpassed everything they could have hoped for
TEXT EWEN MACDONALD IMAGES PHIL COFFEY
Former city dweller Alan Gore and his wife, Alison Taylor, embarked on a journey back to their coastal roots when they discovered an enchanting property during a stroll through a Saturday market in Bridport, Dorset. The home, displayed in an estate agent’s window, boasted an expansive plot of land adorned with some breathtaking views that immediately captured the couple’s hearts. “My wife said ‘we’ve got to have that,’” Alan exclaims.
‘That’ turned out to be home to a dilapidated three-bedroom house albeit sitting on an impressive plot of almost two acres looking across Charmouth Beach in West Dorset and Lyme Regis. The plot came with stunning views over the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a picturesque coast path only a few strides away.
The 96-mile-long Jurassic coast runs across Devon and Dorset and is named for the fossils found in the cliffs which date back to the Jurassic period (around 200 million years ago).
The spot of land they had chosen spans 185 million years of geological history. Coastal erosion – which has caused the moving of the coast path in from the sea front – has exposed rock formations as old as the dinosaurs. So it is no surprise that the geology of the plot was more than challenging. The cliff erosion is well-known to locals, with the coastal path having to be moved back.
Before they made the purchase, the couple’s first step was to order a ground survey which reassured them that the land wouldn’t be falling into the sea for another millennium. Alan explains: “It was a very long process that lasted about nine years.” Despite this lengthy process, Alan claims that it has been worth it!”
The home sits between two fields from the sea edge. The original design was for an ‘upside-down’ house where the open plan living space was on the top floor and the bedrooms below, but the siting of the land in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty created limitations on the height of the house. Instead, the house now has been built as a single storey.
The new home follows the contours of the hillside and houses three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study and a living/kitchen/dining area where the couple spend much of their time.
“We always liked the idea of building our own home because I think the homes you buy don’t ever tick all the boxes about what you want in your living space,” says Alan. “It’s always been
One prominent challenge of the local geology was that it made the land very unstable for traditional building methods. The solution was to design the house as a ‘floating house.’ There are around 30 six-metre piles sunk into the ground of green sand and clay, with a concrete slab laid on top.
Alan is a serious foodie, and has substituted the lack of restaurants in this very rural area with a stunning kitchen set around a restaurant-grade stove. “I love my food and I love cooking, and the kitchen will allow me to become a much better cook,” he explains. “I wanted a kitchen that enables me to do that but I didn’t want to be relegated to a room in the house away from where people were.”
He adds that many of the homes they have lived in were traditional terrace styles, with small kitchens tucked away and isolated. Their new home has a cooking eating and living space which is the hub of the home, happily sacrificing space in the bedrooms.
The couple, who are now in their seventies, also needed to think about their future needs. “We had to think about access and a lot of the house has been designed with that in mind.” However, the only brief they gave to the architects was to maximise the living area.
“The architects have been brilliant,” says Alan. “I can’t overstate how happy we are with what they came up with.” The “incredibly clever design” maximises all the spaces within the building, while carefully positioned skylights flood the interior with natural light. “It is just a very impressive layout.”
Set on a sloping plot, the project (which they have named Modern Barn) is a cluster of three pitched volumes on a foundation plinth made from local Blue Lias stone. It is wrapped in larch timber and arranged along the site to minimise its profile and maximise space.
The spaces are linked together in a linear formation, connected via a central, stepped north/south axial corridor, producing views outward to the landscape at key moments.
The naturally greying timber cladding wraps over the roof, concealing the gutters for a sharp outline, while the larch batons create a similarly crisp and linear facade. The marine-grade glass and metal railings protect it from the elements of living by the coast.
Architect Phil Coffey explains some of the detailed elements of the build. The final design sits within the landscape to not detract from the surroundings. “Excavation was minimal to not disrupt the earth below.” The house was also designed for minimum visual impact from the town and coast and to ensure the new home retained the scale and character of the existing building.
The clever arrangement of the louvres on both ends of the home creates a textured facade. Inside, the overlapping of the timber cladding with the primary glazed walls establishes a playful threshold that generates captivating shadows.
“The focus of the home is on sea, sunlight and warmth of materiality: this is a rich internal landscape in which to live,” explains Phil.
The interior of the house is linked to the exterior by the use of similar materials. The house’s oak panelling holds the warmth of the coastal light and provides a gallery wall space for the owners’ vibrant print collection.
The interior is also a work of art, says Alan. The high ceilings and walls combine light oak veneer, plaster and neutral paint colours.
The modern high-spec kitchen looks like a showpiece that has never been used – but this couldn’t be further from the truth, says Alan, who proudly explains that his latest kitchen acquisition is a water bath. The bath and all the clutter of Alan’s cooking gadgets and utensils are stored away in the nearby utility room. This helps solve one of the major issues of combining a kitchen with open-plan living.
He was very particular about the design of the kitchen, and admits he spent a lot of time searching for designs on the internet. In the end, the handles in the kitchen units were bought on Etsy and imported from Ukraine, just before the Russian invasion.
All the rooms are built up into the eaves leaving huge walls that allow Alan to show off his love of art with lots of colourful prints. Some of these modern contemporary British artworks include prints by Terry Frost and Victor Passmore. The couple also introduced colour through furniture and accessories – including scarlet sofas and teal dining chairs that match the colour of the units in the kitchen feature.
They also invested in a rug by Sonia Winner who makes brightly coloured, abstract textiles. More items include the unexpected addition of Allison’s collection of elephant sculptures.
The porcelain floor tiles that run throughout the house continue outside onto the terracing giving an indoor-outdoor living style, which is so much a part of living by the coast. Furthering the idea of indoor/outdoor living, large terraces line the east and south of the house.
Alan has also taken advantage of the possibilities of outdoor cooking. Outside the kitchen, a wide, walled-in area is dedicated to Alan’s passion – hosting a good barbecue. A window has been strategically placed to serve guests with ease. Facing the sea, a similar stone terrace spans the width of the house, perfect for watching the sunset after the feast.
These terraces sit within a curated garden, inspired by a masterplan created by Harris Bugg Studio. Alan is also particularly proud of his kitchen garden – when the rabbits haven’t emptied it of produces, it’s put to good use in his dishes.
To complete the look, the garden is home to a yurt where Alan and Allison, or their family guests, can sleep under the stars. The structure is made up of bamboo slats, mirroring the larch batons that make up the linear composition of the main house. Internally, upholstery in reds and yellows brings warmth to this great outbuilding. This is home glamping at its best.
But of all the possible favourite features, Alan’s is a surprising one, which was born from a contentious planning issue. A set of more than three stairs in a home requires a bannister.
The eventual feature chosen was a ‘pig’s ear’ handrail almost hidden into the wall and barely mars the clean lines. “Health and safety requires that any more than three stairs require a handrail,” says Alan. “But these are almost invisible.”
“We often just sit on the terrace looking out onto the view. You can see Lyme Regis on the next headland along, and see right the way round in the other direction. It’s also unbelievably green.
“On a sunny day, the colours are Mediterranean. The sea sparkles and there’s a little stream that runs beyond the terrace that the ducks come and take a bath in.”
Modern Barn was designed with passive design principles to embrace the sun where it is useful, and protect from it when not. It incorporates south-facing glazing for warmth with solar shading in the summer, with solar panels sited away from the house producing up to a third of their electricity. Alan sums up: “It’s exquisite. We made a few mistakes; most of which we have resolved. But overall, I feel like I have died and gone to heaven!”