The Vawdrey House

Beach House Mersea Island, Colchester

This 1950s property, located on Mersea Island's beachfront, had beautiful sub-tropical gardens and an idyllic, secluded location. However, the house was dated and compromised – with low ceiling heights, an awkward layout and small, compartmented rooms. 

Our clients had a clear brief: they wanted a New England style beach house, but were keen to retain the bones of the original house, while adding several two-storey extensions and converting the loft to enlarge the footprint considerably.  We then needed to refurbish the house to suit modern life.

  

Throughout the house, we used finishes such as reclaimed weathered oak flooring to provide a relaxed beach feel, and a palette of blue-greys and off-whites to reflect the sea and sky beyond. 

Texture is built up through the use of panelling, tongue-and-groove cladding, relaxed linens and hessians, and classic louvre doors and shutters. 

The previously dark and cramped central sitting room has been opened up to the hall to become the centre of the house, with a log burning stove and three pairs of French doors flowing out onto the terrace. 

Painted panelling has been designed to enhance the proportions and trick the eye. This combines with clever lighting and masses of daylight to give the room the classic elegance the owners craved, but had thought impossible to achieve in the older parts of the house, which had very low ceilings. 

One key change we made was to dig down to create the large beach-side extension, thereby solving the height issues in the new space. This also gently divides the large open-plan space to provide separate zones for the new kitchen and living areas. 

The owners can now sit at the bar and have unobstructed views over the tops of people or furniture, out to sea. 

The lower living area now benefits from floor-to-ceiling glazing and 2.7m high ceilings – previously the highest head height in the house was 2.2m.

This contemporary space is now the centre of family life, with a large kitchen featuring an Aga, an island and a bar. The elegant, but relaxed, dining and living space is focused around a second log burner, and of course the all-important views. 

Access to the garden on all three sides makes this perfect for summer entertaining, while the ultra efficient triple-glazed windows and doors mean it is cosy throughout the winter months too. 


Feature ceilings in both areas enhance the New England feel, while further defining the spaces, adding character and ensuring the house does not feel like a 'new build'.

The house flows effortlessly despite its large footprint, and offers the perfect mix of summer and winter spaces.

The second key change we made was to remove the awkward boxed in 1950s staircase and add an open stair. This reaches up into the new loft conversion, bringing daylight down through the centre of the house, via a glazed cupola above. 

By opening up the layout on the first floor, we created a feature landing which links all four first-floor bedrooms and allows you to walk right round the new central staircase.

On the top floor, the existing ridge line was a restriction to the space available, but a great child’s bedroom now nestles in the eaves. Through a dormer window and the cupola, this room has stunning views out across the sea. 

The spacious first-floor landing provides a grand entrance to the new master suite, which incorporates his and hers dressing rooms and soaring ceilings up into the new pitched roof of the extension. 

A raised floor level in the bedroom and bathroom ensures an elevated view of the sea. Both rooms open out onto a decked balcony. 

The new side extension, which replaced a previous single-storey addition, takes the form of a hexagonal bay. This adds a family room downstairs, with a new bedroom suite above offering 180 degree sea-views. 

Externally, the entire building has been insulated and overclad with maintenance-free weatherboarding, contrasted against areas of render. This combines with triple-glazed composite windows and reclaimed bricks and roof tiles to strike a balance between aesthetics and low-maintenance practicality, which was essential in this exposed coastal location.

There are a total of five bedrooms and bathrooms. Four of the bedrooms have direct sea views, and even the bedroom to the inland side of the house has views out over the estuary.

The use of tongue-and-groove planks to clad the sloping eaves enhances the lofty feel.

The calming palette of neutrals and off-whites continues upstairs, ensuring the emphasis is on the views.

On the inland side of the house, the former kitchen is now a utility room. A refurbished secondary staircase links up to the fourth bedroom above – allowing for future conversion into a self-contained annex with its own entrance. 

Further extensions accommodate a gym, a garage and a car port with a home office above. 

The pool house is tucked below the sight lines of the main house. 

Internally, this features a calm palette of whites and greys, again reminiscent of the sea beyond. Scandi-chic painted-timber tiles adorn the walls, and a large 'ship-yard' sliding door sections off the changing area. 

The landscaped gardens tumble down the slope over five or six terraced levels to the sea, with some terraces retained by striking granite gabions hung with wisteria and creepers. 

Sleeper paths meander through the sub-tropical sunken garden at the beachside of the site (now drained to withstand the regular flooding to which it is subjected). Timber bridges cross the trickling stream which is fed by a series of natural springs within the grounds. These springs are guided through the gabions to cascade over a slate waterfall. 

A beachside deck with sleeper benches offers the perfect sundowners spot, complete with a rope ladder to drop down to the beach when the mood takes you. 

"When we took the house on, we had a clear idea of the style we wanted, but were faced with some huge challenges before we could achieve this. The Vawdrey House were with us right from the start, and helped us to pull the whole concept together, resulting in our stunning, forever family home."

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How it looked before

The house had not been updated for a long time, and felt dark inside, despite the fabulous location and some large windows. 

The kitchen was at the back overlooking the driveway.

Upstairs there were three small bedrooms. The larger fourth bedroom had an 'ensuite' in a cupboard, and overlooked the driveway.

This was the previous pool building - a dilapidated shed.

This was definitely our favourite 'site with a view'!

More about us

Established by Jennifer Hamilton in 2012, The Vawdrey House offers a unique combination of bespoke design, strategic thinking and creative flair.

Now a RIBA Chartered Practice, we bring architecture and interior design together to create spaces which work for you from the inside out.

Jennifer Hamilton and Graeme Montague, two thirds of The Vawdrey House trio, have a shared history as Directors of award winning design consultancy MoreySmith, working with clients such as Sony Music, EMI Music, Cadbury and Channel 4 as well as on high end residential refurbishments.

Third partner Ian Chapman, a RIBA Chartered Architect, adds his expertise in contemporary architecture for exciting educational and public spaces.

Their combined experience of 55 years in the industry brings a level of professionalism and creativity to the design and management of your project which is invaluable.

Working across London and the South of England we have a growing portfolio of happy clients and inspiring spaces.

With a small, select team of designers and architects, The Vawdrey House is passionate about what we do and most of all, want you to love it too.

Whether for your home, or a public space, we take the time to get to know you, understand your requirements and find exciting design solutions for your project. Our 'top to toe' design approach involves bringing the client into the process, designing a space for you, with you.

Close affiliations with brand consultants plus graphic and web design teams mean we can also provide a fully coordinated scheme for your retail or business space, down to website, menus or signage, whatever is required.

We work closely with you throughout, following everything through to the smallest detail, and helping you through the process.
That is what we believe makes a great design, even better.

We are design-led, and like to review the way the whole building works, understanding how you use the spaces and suggesting functional and layout changes to improve the way the spaces work together. We design the exterior architecture, the internal layouts and all the interior design and fittings, right down to furniture and accessories. 

We progress the design in stages, working up the outline usually with a multitude of options in the first instance, then gradually firm up the scheme as you clarify which direction you want to go in. Once we have the overall scheme in place we work into the detail and start to specify every element, ending in a production package incorporating everything you need to tender and construct the project.

We can also manage the entire process for you, putting together the project team, gaining planning consent and party wall awards, finding contractors, tendering the works, managing the building contract and monitoring the works on site.

We stick with you to the end, ensuring all snagging is resolved, and produce a completion pack with all necessary certificates, guarantees, maintenance and supplier contact info so you have everything in one place.

Have a browse through our latest projects and see the end results!