THE Big easy
gigi and Matt’s bolt hole on the east sussex coast boasts a beguiling mix of homespun charm and industrial grit
When a neighbour heard that Gigi Sutherland and her partner Matt Sellers were renovating this East Sussex beach house, she was delighted. ‘She said, “Ooh, you can do everything in blue and white stripes – very nautical!”,’ Gigi recalls. But the end result of this ripped-out and reinvented house on the coast couldn’t be further from that cliché.
Instead, this is a home seen through a strong black and white filter, but with textures turned up to the max. There’s the rawness of builder’s merchant materials, metal light cables straight out of your school gym and a worn carpentry bench reborn as a kitchen surface. Alongside jet-black and chalkygrey walls (with a colour-poppy toddler’s swing that really should come in bigger sizes), they add up to a refreshingly cool version of beachside living. Less stripes, but bags of substance.
‘It’s a look that chimes with us – we didn’t want it too overworked,’ says Gigi. However, plenty of the style solutions, from walls in OSB (that’s the bigged-up chipboard) to poured concrete flooring and industrial-vibe plumbing, were also all jobs that could be done and dusted over a long weekend.
For the rest of the week, Gigi, a fashion stylist, and Matt, who co-runs a creative digital agency and clothing brand APT Supply, live an hour’s drive away in Kent. So transforming this beachside bolt hole was squeezed in between their day jobs.
‘When it came to the finishes and fixtures, our primary question was, “Can we do this ourselves?” And, if the answer was no, the next question was, “Can we learn it on Youtube on a Friday night?”,’ says Matt. Electricians and builders did the bits beyond their scope. But the couple sourced, mixed, painted and poured this house into its new shape.
One of the main tasks was learning how to coat walls in Ardex: think a British builder’s version of tadelakt that gives a chalky feel. Gigi mastered it one-handed because the renovation coincided with the arrival of the pair’s first baby. ‘Yep, we started the messy stage of the build with a newborn – as you do,’ she says with a smile.
Before that, it was your typical seaside retirement home. ‘An elderly widower lived here,’ says Gigi. ‘The place was rammed. You couldn’t see to the other side of some rooms.’
But given what Gigi and Matt had in mind, that didn’t really matter. The house’s Fifties frame was a good starting point. ‘There were no period features, just a set of boxy rooms and two garages, which we wanted to join up,’ says Gigi.
Much of the ground floor is now open plan, while bedrooms upstairs radiate off a central chill-out TV room. ‘We designed the spaces with comfort and communality in mind,’ says Gigi. ‘I think if there’s a natural flow in a house, it makes you more communicative and open. Conversation flows, light flows.’
When it came to the details, the duo wanted impact, but without getting obsessive. ‘Agonising over the perfect paint shade or hunting down the exact door knob isn’t our style,’ Gigi adds. ‘We’re a bit more rough, ready and creative,’ says Matt.
Not that they stinted on eye-catching touches. A curated edit of artwork makes for striking displays and then there’s the shoal of golden fish, blazing a trail on the wall over the stairs…
As for real sea life, the garden door opens on to the dunes where Corinne Day did her iconic shoot of a fresh-faced Kate Moss for The Face magazine back in the early Nineties and where plenty of film stars – most recently George Clooney and Matt Damon – have waited for their call to ‘Action’.
The bedrooms have dune views, but on balance, Gigi prefers hanging out in the open-plan living space. ‘I think the mark of a good house is when you can stand at its centre, turn in any direction and see a view you love,’ she says.