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RX Architects on how to build a beach house that’s more than just a summer fling

Rye-based architects Derek Rankin and Rob Pollard on the dos and don’ts of creating seafront properties

rx architects beach house
Rob Pollard

rx architects portrait
Ashley Gendex

We all want to live beside the seaside, but as Derek Rankin and Rob Pollard, founders of Rye-based architecture firm RX Architects, know, building on the British coast comes with its challenges. Having completed a wealth of new-build homes in East Sussex and beyond, the pair share the lessons they have learnt.

What kind of projects do you work on?
‘Most of our projects are one-off homes, lots of them beach houses,’ says Pollard. ‘But with more people moving from cities, tourism is improving, so we’re also working on wineries, hotels and restaurants.’

What are the key considerations when designing homes by the sea?
‘There’s the weather – you’ve got salt air, winds and a lot of solar heat gain – so you have to create places where people can be outside but protected from the elements,’ says Rankin. ‘The reality in the UK is that you’ll only be sunning yourself on the beach for five per cent of the year,’ adds Pollard. ‘A house has to be multifunctional, so it can be used for big family gatherings on hot days but also when you’ve got howling winds and rain.’

seabreeze house on camber sands by rx architects
Seabreeze house on Camber Sands by RX Architects
Mike Manning

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With the rise of Airbnb, do you have to make sure homes can also function as holiday lets? ‘It’s a continual conversation,’ says Rankin. ‘People sometimes change their mind after a house is completed. You have to build in enough flexibility, whether it’s extra bunk beds or areas that can be kept separate. Because of where these places are, people will be coming to stay all the time. You always need room for a few more beds and space to sit.’

What materials are best suited to seaside conditions?
‘We think about the long-term,’ says Pollard. ‘We prefer hardy materials like natural and charred timber and concrete.’

What led you to choose pink pigmented concrete for your recent project, Seabreeze? ‘The house sits directly on the beach, so it’s really affected by the sand,’ explains Pollard. ‘Our idea was to create a completely sealed envelope that’s very robust. We realised we could take concrete – a material that’s typically quite harsh – and make it a bit more joyful, reminiscent of Mediterranean beach houses. Depending on the sunlight, the pink can take on all kinds of different shades.’

suttons beach house on camber sands by rx architects
Suttons Beach House on Camber Sands by RX Architects
RX Architects

How do you steer clients away from seaside clichés?
‘We’ve had clients ask us to create all-glass white cubes,’ says Rankin. ‘You don’t want to live in a glass box on a busy beach, because you’ll be on show all the time and your rooms will be very hot. Luckily, we have the luxury of taking clients around existing beach houses, which helps them see what we’re talking about.’

How do you adapt interiors to suit indoor/outdoor living?
‘It’s about being clever with space: rather than filling it with furniture, you have to make it functional,’ says Pollard. ‘You need storage for suitcases and cushions to take out on sunny days. Also, timber boards on the ground floor are not a good idea. The effect of people constantly coming in from the beach is like sandpaper – it will take the finish off. We use concrete or tiles, as they are hard-wearing, durable and can easily be washed down.’

What do you like best about your job?
‘What’s fun is that, 99 per cent of the time, these homes are for clients to bring their friends and family together for a nice occasion,’ says Pollard. ‘In London, things are more restricted, but here there is a lot more free rein to be creative and tailor designs to each person’s wants and needs. It’s great to share that journey with them.’ rxarchitects.com


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