Peeling back the sentimental layers of this under-loved family holiday home and bringing it into the modern day was always going to be a challenge. And for architect and designer Amelia Hunter, it was personal. Rosalind Sack discovers a triumph of playful design and pure escapism
THE SAND DUNES AND IRISH SEA IS FRAMED BY FLOOR TO CEILING WINDOWS IN THE OPEN PLAN LIVING SPACE. IMAGE: VENETIA VAN HOORN ALKEMA
There is something wonderfully liberating about a family holiday home. Whether owned or rented, at home or abroad, holiday homes are where the pace of life is easy, fun is prioritised and memories are made. For architect and designer Amelia Hunter, her family’s beach house in Anglesey epitomises this sense of freedom.
Rich in nostalgia, the area has been a holiday destination for her family for decades. In 1960 her grandparents bought Greystones; this seafront house which was formally a wartime boarding house for the RAF. And it has subsequently been passed on to Amelia’s father and his three siblings.
Amelia’s memories of holidaying here filter through her childhood. “When you arrived at the house, all the worries of normal life drifted away. Here there was a ‘ just don’t worry about it’ attitude; wear what you want, walk around in your swimming costume, spill sand everywhere. There was always that freedom in the house,” recalls Amelia.
“Then it almost got too far; the bathroom got so mouldy the ceiling was black and there was no heating. There were just two dormer windows which were leaking and had windowsills covered in flies that you had to climb up to to look at the sea. There would be grey Welsh days when the wind and rain would come in and we’d all be sat in the damp living room playing Scrabble and it was miserable! The house became gloriously under loved.”
Eventually, the decision was made to breathe new life into the place and Amelia and her business partner Anna Drakes, who jointly run Space A design consultancy, were drafted in. But it wasn’t straightforward; they had only just broken ground in 2020 when the pandemic struck causing unavoidable delays, and Amelia had the added pressure of having her first baby mid-project. Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, was balancing the personalities of their four clients, each of whom had their own unique connection with the place.
“When we talk about home a lot of our clients talk about the connection with their childhood, because that is what is manifesting in their subconscious. Whether that’s trying to create something that is the exact opposite or work in aspects of it – and that’s across all the senses. In a holiday home, where your memories are probably the most intense and free, those emotions really come to the fore – especially when you have multiple people reflecting,” says Amelia. “There was definitely a pressure to do the family proud with this project.”
ANNA (LEFT) AND AMELIA (RIGHT) OF SPACE A DESIGN CONSULTANCY AT THE DINING TABLE. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
Major structural changes were needed to maximise the position and potential of the building. The living and sleeping spaces were flipped to create an upside-down living arrangement, the house was also extended to accommodate more bedrooms, and internal walls were removed to create a generous and flexible living space.
Two statement floor to ceiling windows in the communal living area capture the grassy dunes, Irish sea and endless sky beyond. “It’s a brilliant frame for a beautiful landscape that is constantly changing; from bright blue skies and bright green grasses, to the miserable days where everything is shrouded in grey and there’s a misty murkiness.”
The living space and kitchen is drenched in light with punches of colour and graphic accents set against a neutral backdrop. A host of sphere-shaped pendant lights are suspended from bright red flexes, while a generous, cushion-filled sofa is the perfect family hangout. Elsewhere in the house the palette is bright and bold with clever layers of colour. “Anna and I wanted to go bolder!” laughs Amelia, but they settled on a compromise.
Downstairs the spaces were reformulated to create new openings that aligned and framed existing ones. “Here, we were celebrating the old vibe which before was chequered yellow, orange and white vinyl tiles, flowered ’60s wallpaper and a yellow kitchen. We wanted to create a fantastical array of colourful apertures to explore. We experimented by overlaying pattern, colour and texture to represent a rainbow of landscapes, seascapes and personalities,” says Amelia.
THE ‘FRANK HARPER SUITE’, NAMED AFTER AMELIA’S ANCESTOR, CLAD IN WILLIAM MORRIS WALLPAPER WTH DARK VELVETS AND RICH COLOURS. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
As a way of expressing different personalities of the people staying here, Amelia and Anna created themes for each bedroom. The dark, William Morris papered ‘Frank Harper suite’ with its carved antique beds is named after Amelia’s ancestor who died in the Battle of the Somme. He was an only child, so when his parents died they left their estate to Amelia’s grandfather, with which he was able to buy Greystones. “My Dad likes to say that Frank Harper is the reason my family have the house,” she says.
The vivid blue ‘70s room with its layered palette of rich colour, print and texture was inspired by the many faded, sepia-toned pictures of Amelia’s parents on sun loungers on the beach here during that time. While the sunny Flag room is all about primary colours found on maritime signal flags, referencing the family’s connection to sailing.
While the structural work was going on inside, all the furniture and objects from the house were piled into two shipping containers in the garden. “It suddenly felt like the house was like a snail without its shell,” muses Amelia. “You know when objects take on the smell of a house? You walked in the containers and they had that smell.”
There was no shortage of furniture; Amelia’s grandparents had bought the house furnished and when they died, any unwanted pieces from their main home were stored here. “It had become a glorious monument and a big to-do list. So, we had to go through things one by one with the family, which was quite a process… and it’s ongoing! My Aunt, who’s 85, was very attached to things like the meat safe, where they used to keep their food before fridges – she absolutely wouldn’t throw that away.
“It’s an art form picking out what has meaning and what doesn’t. It was about balancing the newness with the comfort blanket of all the stuff that’s a manifestation of them and their values. It’s all quite complex when you’re overlaying multiple people’s memories, while also embracing a new age,” says Amelia.
“No one wants to live in a hotel that’s devoid of personality. It may seem nice to begin with because the towels are fluffy and it’s beautifully put together but, ultimately, that isn’t what humanity wants. We crave a sense of belonging,” says Amelia. They have had existing pictures reframed and chairs reupholstered to fit the new scheme, and have kept much of the storied pieces that have been in the house for decades and which continue to give the place soul.
In the house when it was bought was a wooden table made from the shipwrecked scraps of the Royal Charter – a famous wreck in North Anglesey – which now takes pride of place upstairs. While in the hallway sits a beautiful mahogany writing desk that has been in the family for decades. A treasure trove of memories, it houses all manner of items; from classic children’s toys to local sailing club booklets and her Aunt’s holiday diaries. “We found a secret drawer in the back about five years ago filled with letters belonging to the past owner,” says Amelia. “It’s one of those magical bits of furniture – you feel like if you look at the back of it there would probably be an opening into another world, like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
“It’s nice to think that although my grandparents aren’t around to see it, their stuff is still here,” says Amelia. “And that amount of energy – you hope – will always result in something positive.”
THE STORIED MAHOGANY WRITING DESK SITS IN THE HALLWAY PAINTED IN PRIMROSE HILL BY MYLANDS. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
That sense of fun and escapism that Amelia and Anna have so beautifully created inside the house extends outside. And one of the most striking features of the exterior is the carved bargeboards painted in apple green which frame the new roof extension facing the sea. The carvings were adapted from Amelia’s sketches based on Japanese wave drawings. Hidden among the waves is a carved image of a little sailing boat “with my brother hanging out of the back,” laughs Amelia, which harks back to a somewhat calamitous sailing adventure during which their boat sank. While above the porch is a Latin inscription which translates to ‘1961 Hunters at Greystones,’ referencing the family name.
Naturally, Amelia’s father and his siblings are thrilled with the transformation of the house which is well-used by the whole family, particularly during August when they all come together here for sailing season. “We have a boat that races throughout the week and so we all come and stay. The sea is full of coloured sails and we’re there at the window with the binoculars trying to work out how we’re getting on. We’re usually close to last! It’s still not a really smart place where you think you better take your shoes off – it suits having a lot of people and children running around.”
In the quieter moments, Greystones has just as much magic and at the moment it is home to Amelia, her husband and their children. “It’s a great place to let your thoughts settle. Everyone has a story to tell with their home and it’s a lovely journey to go through.”
BESPOKE CARVED BARGE BOARDS FRAME THE NEW ROOF EXTENSION. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
THE MINIMAL OPEN PLAN KITCHEN DINER IN WATERY TEAL WITH PUNCHES OF APPLE GREEN AND RED AND THOSE SEA VIEWS. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
THE LAIDBACK AND TEXTURAL LIVING SPACE WITH ROOM FOR ALL THE FAMILY. IMAGE: VENETIA VAN HOORN ALKEMA
LAYERED COLOURFUL APERTURES BETWEEN ROOMS DOWNSTAIRS CREATE A SENSE OF FREEDOM AND FUN. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
THE ‘FLAG ROOM’ PAINTED IN CHEERY LAMPLIGHTER BY CRAIG & ROSE EMBRACES THE PRIMARY COLOURS OF MARITIME SIGNAL FLAGS. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
THE PLAYFUL ’70s BEDROOM PAINTED IN FRESCO BLUE BY CRAIG & ROSE. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
THE INTIMATE STUDY ROOM OVERLOOKING THE DUNES DOWNSTAIRS BLENDS OLD AND NEW. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
AN ANTIQUE MULE CHEST AND RECLAIMED BATH GIVE CHARACTER TO THE BATHROOM. IMAGE: BROTHERTON LOCK
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