"Beach House is Penn’s most Californian-inspired building and his masterpiece (Wallpaper, 2005)"
Discreetly located beside the beach at Shingle Street is a rare house designed and built by architect John Penn in 1970 for his own use. The plan was to have as little impact on the landscape as possible.
The single-storey structure is one of 24 houses strung out over a quarter of a mile, along a solid ridge, with wonderful views of the vast shingle beach and the North Sea. The sun rises from the horizon and sets over the fields behind. Penn designed nine similar private houses in Suffolk, between 1962 – 1971, after his return from study and work in the US.
The house is mid-way along the quiet cul-de-sac that runs parallel to the sea. A driveway leads through a long stretch of lawn and Tamarisk trees, delineated from the neighbouring gardens by simple wooden fencing. Close to the house is a timber structure comprising a garden room / bedroom with en-suite bathroom and a carport.
The main house is L-shaped, cleverly and sympathetically uniting two previously separate brick and glass boxes. It encloses a sunny and secluded courtyard garden. Three bedrooms, two shower rooms and a laundry comprise the landward wing, while the seaward wing provides beautiful and spacious living, dining, library and work areas. These surround a fully modernised kitchen with stunning sea views. Long runs of steel-framed, ground-to-ceiling glazing form the walls. Underfloor heating ensures that the house never gets cold.
A series of doors open to a raised deck, beyond which is a small step down to the beach itself. The view across the shingle to the sea is uninterrupted and wild.
Some ten miles inland is historic Woodbridge, a picturesque and thriving market town. It hosts an excellent supermarket, many independent shops and useful services, and a variety of restaurants, pubs and cafes. Nearby Snape Maltings is a world-renowned centre of music and a visitor destination of great beauty, also popular with local residents. Some twenty minutes drive away is Orford, a pretty medieval village on the River Alde, home to the famous Pump Street Bakery. Further afield is Aldeburgh, another popular seaside town famed for ice cream, fish and chips, and as the home of Benjamin Britten.
Shingle Street’s nearest railway station is at Melton, a ten-minute drive away, with hourly trains north to Lowestoft and south to Ipswich (23 minutes). Direct connections there go to London (a total journey time of one hour and 50 minutes), Stansted, Cambridge, and Norwich.
Please note that all areas, measurements and distances given in these particulars are approximate and rounded. The text, photographs and floor plans are for general guidance only. The Modern House has not tested any services, appliances or specific fittings — prospective purchasers are advised to inspect the property themselves. All fixtures, fittings and furniture not specifically itemised within these particulars are deemed removable by the vendor.
The group of nine single-storey houses for which the British architect John Penn is best known is a unique phenomenon in British architectural history. Alongside his architectural practice, Penn was also a soldier, painter, furniture designer, poet and clarinet player. In later years he concentrated on painting, leaving the series of Suffolk houses as perhaps his greatest legacy.
John Penn was born in Northamptonshire in 1921 but his family had deep connections to Suffolk; his mother painted its countryside repeatedly throughout her lifetime. After a childhood upbringing at Bawdsey Hall he began studying history at Trinity College, Cambridge before wartime service interrupted his studies.
Penn was fascinated by classical temples and the Italian Renaissance architect Palladio, and this is clear in the firmness of plan and symmetry in his designs. The influence of Penn’s time working for Richard Neutra is apparent in the Beach House living space, where full-width windows flood the space with natural light and frame the view of the sea.
The designer Margaret Howell first saw Beach House while walking on the Suffolk coastline near her own home, and found the others later. She describes her response: “These houses, I felt, were right; harmonious in themselves and their setting. They warmly invited you in to share their space, light and joy in their location…
“Later I came to appreciate the technical skill and vision that produced them. But primarily my response was emotional and I was not surprised later to hear current owners say how living in a Penn house changed the way they felt about their daily lives, powerfully affected by the ever-changing views through those liberating windows.”
Howell opened an exhibition dedicated to Penn’s work at her Wigmore Street space in 2007, just after the architect had died.