Buy Of The Week: Norfolk

It may be all glass and steel, but September House is a cosy retreat from the bleak, atmospheric north Norfolk coast. By Nick Lloyd Jones
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The Independent Online

This eclectic four-bedroom house on the north Norfolk coast, overlooking the hauntingly beautiful salt marshes at Brancaster Staithe, is called September House. Within easy walking distance of both Brancaster Harbour and fashionable Burnham Market, it is the work of Nigel Stonebridge - a designer who specialises in restoring traditional coastal homes in the area.

Nigel moved to North Norfolk about nine years ago. "I love this part of the world, especially the great wide skies and the bleakness of the marshes," he says. "There's a great buzz to the place and it still feels like an undiscovered secret."

September House is fairly typical of Nigel's style, combining as it does both traditional and modernist elements, and it took him about 18 months to complete. He retained the shell of the original 1950s house, but knocked down many of the internal walls and gutted it. He reduced the number of rooms to create a more open-plan feel, and used stainless steel extensively for the many floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors. He also built a stand-alone double garage to the side of the house with a studio space above it.

The house is wonderfully light and airy - once inside its oak front door, you can see right through its central L-shaped hallway and out towards the marshes beyond. Indeed, the distinction between inside and outside space has been deliberately erased by employing such devices as extending the Indian limestone flooring used in the hallway out on to the back patio. "I try to keep the design as open and as flexible as possible," says Nigel.

The four bedrooms are divided up between the ground and first floors. Both sets face northwards across the marshes, all have en-suite lavatories, and most have direct access to the two levels of African hardwood decking running along the back of the house - the upper one serving as a canopy for the lower one. A flight of steel-and-glass stairs connects the two decks, subtly echoing the house's internal design.

The large reception hall dominates the ground floor, from where two bedrooms, a utility room and TV room lead off. The main open-plan living area, comprising lounge, kitchen and dining space, is situated upstairs, along with a spare bedroom and a master bedroom with en-suite bathroom tucked away at the side. A balcony at the front looks out over open countryside.

Another striking feature of September House is its central staircase, whose vast sandblasted timber treads seem to float in the air thanks to its glass balustrades and side panels. There are two flights, the first between the atrium area and the first floor, the second linking this to a crow's-nest observation room entirely made of glass, which Nigel added to the top of the house.

In spite of all the glass and steel, the house still feels cosy. "It's more than just a modernist box," says Nigel. "It has a warmth to it because it also incorporates a lot of traditional local materials within the design." Principal among these is the long flint wall that bisects the house and juts out into the back garden.

Another signature of the house is the recurring maritime motif. This is discernible in a number of design details such as the fishing-boat shaped front porch as well as the rich hand-veneered maple-wood panelling in the kitchen, which has been given a rippled polished finish to simulate the sand-ribbon effect found on local beaches. The stainless-steel wood-burner in the first-floor living room area, meanwhile, is flanked by steel cages weighted with stones that are used locally as sea-defence bollards.

On a more practical level, a hot-water shower has been installed on the lower- level decking area so that sand and sea-water can be rinsed off after a swim before going indoors.

Every aspect of the house has been chosen and crafted with meticulous care. "Over the years, I have managed to put together a great team of specialists whose skills I know and trust," says Nigel. "Sometimes we will have as many as 20 contractors on site at one time."

Galvanised stainless-steel girders support the porch and decking areas; the original pantile roof has been restored; and the exterior has been clad with a combination of vertical larch boarding, horizontal weatherboard, and cement-based colour rendering.

Similar attention to detail is apparent inside the house, where recessed halogen and low-voltage ceiling and floor lighting has been installed throughout. The original soft-wood flooring in the first-floor living room has been sanded and restored, while the bedrooms have all been carpeted in neutral colours. Limestone flooring has been used in some of the bathrooms, while others have simply been tiled. All of the bathrooms, however, are fitted with top-of-the-range Italian sanitary ware and German Bette steel baths, while the kitchen is equipped with Miele appliances, and was handmade by the Norfolk-based Bill Cleyndert, whose clients include the Sultan of Brunei.

Considering all the effort and attention to detail that has gone into creating September House, who does Nigel imagine will be its new inhabitants? '"It's a well thought-out house that has a unique charm," he says. "I think it will appeal to someone looking for a characterful family home that has been designed with comfort in mind."

Get the spec

What's for sale: a four-bedroom, three-storey house incorporating an eclectic mix of traditional and modernist styles and materials, with two levels of decking at the back. Set in half an acre, with fine views over the salt marshes.

Serious kit: bespoke kitchen by Bill Cleyndert; Indian limestone flooring used in main reception area, some bathrooms and on back patio; traditional flint wall running through the house; central staircase incorporating chunky driftwood-style treads suspended within glass stairwell; crow's-nest observatory-cum-library area with great views; self-regulating wood-burner; stand-alone double garage with studio space above.

How big? Gross internal area of 2,290square feet.

Buy it: September House, £1.15m, Sowerbys (01328 730340)