MAK­ING waves

Hol­i­day havens don’t get much more ex­hil­a­rat­ing than Alex Michaelis’ new build high on the Cor­nish coast

Living Etc - - CONTENTS -

ar­chi­tect alex Michaelis doesn’t mind a chal­lenge – and his Cor­nish coastal home is no ex­cep­tion. wel­come to the house that fo­cuses on what lies out­side…

Ar­chi­tect Alex Michaelis is known for dig­ging down – his sub­ter­ranean Not­ting Hill home was the de­sign that launched 1,000 base­ment ex­ca­va­tions be­neath Lon­don’s most de­sir­able streets and squares. But, 13 years on, the de­sign of his Cor­nish home in­no­vates by look­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion: up and out to­wards the end­less ex­panse of beach, sea and sky. ‘This house is al­most a re­verse im­age of that early project – it’s all about what’s above ground,’ says Alex. ‘But it comes from a sim­i­lar phi­los­o­phy.’

This time around, the in­no­va­tive ar­chi­tec­ture takes the sea’s hori­zon as its ref­er­ence point, with al­most ev­ery room – yes, in­clud­ing the bath­rooms – gaz­ing out on to it. ‘There’s some­thing quite rare about this stretch of coast­land,’ says Alex. ‘It’s both sooth­ing and re­viv­ing – an an­ti­dote to the way our senses are over­loaded in ev­ery­day life.’

What used to stand on this spot was an ut­terly un­re­mark­able house that nev­er­the­less had a very re­mark­able view. ‘Lots of older Cor­nish houses were orig­i­nally built quite closely crammed to­gether, up al­ley­ways and nar­row lanes that pro­tected them against the storms,’ says Alex. That’s all very quaint and charm­ing, but for him and his part­ner Su­sanna Bell, this dra­matic clifftop lo­ca­tion beat ‘quaint’ hands down.

How­ever, when they bought the orig­i­nal di­lap­i­dated house, lo­cals still thought the cou­ple were com­pletely mad. ‘It had been empty for years and the sur­veyor said the walls were ba­si­cally crum­bling slate, held to­gether with lay­ers of paint,’ ex­plains Alex. ‘If we’d started to ren­o­vate what was

‘This house is all about drink­ing in the un­in­ter­rupted views of na­ture at its most raw, most pure’

al­ready there, the house would prob­a­bly have col­lapsed any­way.’ Knock­ing it down and re­build­ing was the best op­tion – and it al­lowed Alex’s ar­chi­tec­tural imag­i­na­tion to run loose in a re­fresh­ingly wild set­ting.

As one half of Michaelis Boyd, his pre­vi­ous land­mark pro­jects have in­cluded Babing­ton House, Soho House (that’s LA and Ber­lin), The Wil­liams­burg Ho­tel in New York and, most re­cently, the re­mod­elling of Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion into luxe apart­ments. This al­to­gether more es­capist beach­side project draws on what have be­come Michaelis Boyd sig­na­ture touches in its em­phat­i­cally ur­ban pro­jects – pure white or­ganic curves, port­hole win­dows and cir­cu­lar light wells – and re­leases them back into their nat­u­ral habi­tat.

‘Yes, there’s a fair few port­hole shapes here,’ Alex says with a smile. An equally cre­ative take on ‘nau­ti­cal’ rises up from the house’s core. ‘The curved stair­case is in­spired by the spi­ral of a seashell, so it grad­u­ally ta­pers as you climb to the top,’ he says, ges­tur­ing to the awe­some de­sign.

The cen­tral, open-plan liv­ing, eat­ing, cook­ing plus ‘hang­ing out, what­ever’ space is fronted and backed by glass, with the slid­ing doors on the sea­ward side kept open as much as pos­si­ble dur­ing the sum­mer months. Set away slightly from this light-filled hub is the ground-floor kids’ bunk room. ‘We’ve been known to cram up to 12 in there – it’s like a big dorm-sized sleep­over party some­times,’ says Alex. ‘But be­cause the “grown-up” bed­rooms are up­stairs, you can’t hear a thing.’ The three dou­ble bed­rooms on the first floor are each quite dif­fer­ent, ‘but they all have one thing in com­mon: glass screens that open on to the sea.’

By main­tain­ing the ocean as the con­stant fo­cal point, the ar­chi­tec­ture is never too clever-clever or con­found­ing. Each room is set to lap up the view, with the ex­te­rior walls sim­ply work­ing as an outer skin to draw them to­gether. ‘It’s a very easy build­ing to read,’ says Alex.

This beach house is also cen­tred around sus­tain­abil­ity. Alex has long worked with new en­ergy and his fa­ther was the pi­o­neer­ing so­lar ar­chi­tect Do­minic Michaelis. ‘He was ahead of his time re­ally,’ says Alex, who be­lieves that en­ergy con­ser­va­tion and in­su­la­tion need to be set into a house’s blue­print from the start. ‘It’s no good just adding, say, so­lar pan­els as a kind of dec­o­ra­tive trim at the end of a project,’ he says.

This house bor­rows some of the prin­ci­ples of Scandi ar­chi­tec­ture, re­tain­ing and reusing the ex­ist­ing heat and light while al­low­ing for ven­ti­la­tion. ‘The lay­out means we get the ab­so­lute max­i­mum nat­u­ral light, so there’s no need for ar­ti­fi­cial light in day­light hours,’ Alex ex­plains. Mean­while the house’s struc­ture – ren­der wrapped around a pre­fab­ri­cated tim­ber frame – is ex­tremely well in­su­lated.

To­day, all that re­mains of the old house is the rick­ety wooden gate. ‘Peo­ple open it and ex­pect to come down the path and find a quaint lit­tle place,’ says Su­sanna. ‘And then this rather amaz­ing build­ing re­veals it­self.’

See more of Alex’s ar­chi­tec­tural port­fo­lio at michaelis­

‘Even the bath has a sea view, while the roof lights are de­signed for stargaz­ing on a clear night’

Pho­tog­ra­phy ⁄ Paul Massey Words ⁄ Jo Leev­ers

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