THE Big easy

gigi and Matt’s bolt hole on the east sus­sex coast boasts a be­guil­ing mix of home­spun charm and in­dus­trial grit

Living Etc - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy ⁄ Penny Win­cer Words and styling ⁄Jo Leev­ers

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.

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