My Modern House: Chris Sanderson and Martin Raymond’s seaside retreat in Suffolk
Chris: “We never thought we’d end up with a seaside retreat in Suffolk. We were looking for a second home outside London and we love Cornwall, but thought it was too far to go for a weekend.
“We were first brought here by the next-door neighbour, who we were introduced to at a dinner party in London. They said, ‘There’s a house for rent next door to us in Shingle Street, you should come and have a look.’
“We came and saw it on a sunny day in September. It was beautiful and clear, and there wasn’t a soul around. We walked in and thought ‘yeah, we could do something with this.’”
Martin: “This stretch of the Suffolk coast was requisitioned by the army during World War II. After the war ended the residents petitioned to be allowed to move back, so the Ministry of Defence had to rebuild the housing stock.
“The original structure is a bog standard 1950s house. Door in the middle, four windows and stairs straight up the centre was how it was originally designed.”
Chris: “The absolute archetypal kids’ drawing of a house.”
Martin: “And it was painted this really ghastly old ladies’ bandage colour. Not quite pink and not quite beige. Somewhere in between… sort of flesh.”
Chris: “Millennial pink?”
Chris: “We ended up renting it for three years before buying it. It was pretty stark at first but I was endeared to the house because I love the 1950s.
“We have quite a lot of furniture from that decade, including a lot of Ernest Race pieces, such as the aluminium dining chairs. It all just worked.”
Martin: “But it was when we bought it that we were able to really start thinking about how we wanted the space to work.
“We were introduced to Alex and Sam of Casswell Bank by Kevin at Carmody Groarke, who once lived in our basement.”
Chris: “It was a really great, collaborative project. We started by discussing architects and houses that we liked. We all latched onto a photo of a Gio Ponti apartment in Milan that has this light, open feel.
“We also showed them pictures of houses by an American Modernist architect named Horace Gifford, who primarily designed beach houses on Fire Island. The aesthetic really worked at the level of simple, wooden houses, but also because of that classic Modern style.”
Martin: “It really benefited us to have lived here before we went at it. We knew the dynamics and we knew what we wanted: a living room upstairs, three double bedrooms, to retain the original core and for it to be simple, unfussy and not expensive.
“Originally, the plan for the extension was to do what everyone does when they build an extension: a big kitchen/living area. Then, one of our neighbours said, ‘You really need to be able to see the sea when you’re cooking.’
“That was one of the best pieces of advice we got from anyone because it made us rethink the orientation of the entire house.”
Chris: “Having the living room upstairs is great. I spend hours on the seat by the window just staring out, enjoying the view.
“Yesterday was amazing — it was quite misty, and you couldn’t see the nearby Martello Tower. It was just white; you couldn’t distinguish between the sea and sky. You just had the brown of the shingle, and this clear, silvery light. It was just fabulous.
“It’s one of those houses where you have to try and work out what you’ve done all day. Yet somehow you’ve managed to fill the time in between walking the dog, making a bit of lunch, and having a snooze. It’s a good pottering house.”
Martin: “Having a dog means we get out to explore the local area. But Shingle Street’s residents are so unique that you spend as much time chatting and drinking tea, as you do walking and exploring.”
“Where else do you find award-winning writers, editors, artists, poets, economists, Hollywood actresses, architects, Bafta winners, sculptors, a celebrated ornithologist and an equally celebrated 1980s Neo-Romantic musician in a single, staggered line of houses facing out to the North Sea?! You couldn’t make it up.”
“At the same time, there are three families with young children and over half the houses are lived in permanently. It’s not somewhere that exists only at the weekend.”
Chris: “The intention was always to spend more time up here. It’s hard going back to London these days.
“It often seems that we have to leave on a sunny day; it’s a bit of a wrench. No matter how long we have spent here, we always want to spend another day or two.
“I’m not sure we’d want to retire here though. I mean, it’s great to come and get away from things but I think it works now because we have that contrast.
“Through our business, The Future Laboratory, we have to travel quite a bit. It means that the time we get to spend here is really appreciated.
“We’d retire in London, to be honest. There’s a bunch of us who have an idea of building a retirement home together. It will be a cross between a series of apartments and a hotel. We can live there irresponsibly, behaving badly until our last breath.”
Chris and Martin, how do you define modern living?
“Simplicity, a re-appraisal of space and, as a result, an egalitarian approach to the functional combined with the experiential.
“In essence, Modern houses broke down the real and imagined barriers and hierarchies that had previously existed – the function of cooking moved centre stage, bathing became spiritual, not just practical, and even clothing storage was elevated to an art form.”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you’d take with you?
“Books. As many as we could carry. The problem would be which ones. We’d have to leave an arm free each for a couple of pictures too – a house becomes a home when your pictures adorn its walls.”
Is there a property on The Modern House website that has caught your eye?
“The Brinkworth house in Harrietsham, Kent, developed for Dinos Chapman and his partner from a 1930s industrial building. We kept returning to that property again and again (even after it was sold), asking ourselves ‘how would we shuffle everything in order to buy it?’
“As east enders, we’re constantly checking to see what’s coming up in the ‘hood. We like the look of the Seifert property in Spitalfields. Siefert is such an underrated British architect of the Modernist and Brutalist eras and this property has always seemed very at home nestled between its Georgian neighbours.”