Colour Queen

Interiors innovator Lisa Whatmough has chosen a suitably meditative location for her stylish seaside hideaway – on a Norfolk beach, off the beaten tourist track. Words: Kathryn Reilly. Photographs: Bill Kingston

A small colony of black-headed gulls soars on the breeze above the vast, sandy North Norfolk beach beside Lisa Whatmough’s seaside bolthole. A handful of holidaymakers and their dogs are paddling in the waves and writing in the sand, but otherwise this place – Bacton Beach, between Cromer and Great Yarmouth – is empty. The timeless scene of sea-worn groynes, nodding grasses and surf is the perfect antidote to Lisa’s frenetic London life spent running bespoke homeware company Squint. Looking out at the scene, she sighs contentedly and says, ‘I’m very grateful for this.’

This is a Wi-Fi, landline and TV-free zone. And, like Lisa’s remarkable furnishings, this small, grey bungalow is more than the sum of its parts. It emerges, backed by a sea wall 20 metres above the shore, at the end of a bumpy lane that’s more pothole than tarmac. It feels as though you’ve come to the very end of England. In fact, looking out over the constantly changing sea, the next stop is Denmark.

KEEPING IT REAL
The retirement chalets and bungalows sharing this road are more what you’d expect in the sleepy town of Bacton. The ungentrified nature of the resort appeals to Lisa’s love of the ‘real’. ‘It’s so unglamorous,’ she says, approvingly. Just as she’s stayed loyal to her London location of Hackney through thick and thin, it’s hard to imagine her choosing a weekend home anywhere remotely chichi. ‘There’s no parking near the beach, no café, no chip shop. You’re just not encouraged to come for the day,’ she notes. North Norfolk this may be, but it’s not the ‘Hamptons of the UK’ kind we’ve all read about.

Bacton has one shop, one pub and a huge gas works – it’s quiet and unpretentious but boasts an absolutely spectacular beach. ‘Because we’re facing east, you get the most amazing sunrises,’ says Lisa. ‘I like to take a chair out and have my breakfast taking it in.’ Later in the day, the sunsets bathe the shoreline in pinks, oranges and reds. There’s something magical about it, says Lisa: ‘I’ve walked through the end of a rainbow, seen seals basking just yards from my door and dolphins playing in the sea.’ Most of all, she’s spent hours on the beach with Stan – her constant companion. The 12-year-old ‘mostly beagle’ is a rescue dog that has landed on his paws. Not only does he accompany Lisa to work every day, he has direct access to the beach via steps from the bungalow’s garden.

BATTENING DOWN THE HATCHES
‘This is a place of extremes,’ says Lisa. On a glorious day like today, it’s hard to picture the angry waves that cleared her roof during the storms of November 2013. So the shutters on every window are essential. But Lisa delights in this place, whatever the weather. She heads up from London every weekend, all year round. After the two-and-a-half hour journey, she’ll take a chair, a book and a glass of wine on to the beach in summer, or light a fire and hunker down listening to the wind and waves in winter.

Lisa found the property seven years ago after seeing it for sale online. She’d never been to Norfolk, let alone Bacton, but had decided to get a place by the sea ‘with neighbours’. The previous owner, who was an architect, bought what was a traditional three-bedroomed bungalow and took it down to its foundations and rebuilt it as a simple, watertight, four-room home with high ceilings and a clever layout, maximising the natural light and sea views.

Against a completely white background, statement Squint pieces add spice and vitality. ‘This is more functional than the dark colours I’ve used in my house in Hackney,’ Lisa says of her chosen backdrop, Farrow & Ball’s ‘Cornforth White’, which covers every room apart from the cherry wood veneer in the snug. Framed proofs of Squint’s ‘Peacocks on Grass’ and ‘Japanese Storks’ wallpaper hang on the walls of the hall area and Lisa’s bedroom. Several portraits of Stan are dotted around, plus a press shot of Take That (‘signed by Robbie about 25 years ago’), adding a light-hearted touch. But, being the CEO of a successful company, exporting the best of British to China, Russia and Dubai, is a serious business – which is why this meditative hideaway is so crucial.

A CIRCUITOUS ROUTE
While at Winchester School of Art, Lisa focused on sculpting in steel. ‘I’m a great welder. I can’t sew but I can weld. I had burns all over me, though!’ she says. It proved too dangerous and expensive a medium, post-college, so for a decade she concentrated on painting before realising she wasn’t ‘a 2D person’. Then, finally, she turned her extraordinary eye for colour to interiors. Having collected vintage textiles for years, many of which had been whittled down to small offcuts, she completed what she calls ‘a strangely circuitous route into design’ when she started to wrap lamps, tables, chairs and mirrors with these pieces. ‘I did a first collection at home and offered it to Liberty and Anthropologie, and they took the lot.’ So began a hugely successful venture, which has spawned many imitators. The company now employs 10 people, sells globally and is stocked in Harrods, Liberty and Heal’s as well as Squint stores at the contrasting locations of Shoreditch and South Kensington.

Squint designs are most closely associated with patchwork, but there’s much more to the look than that. Over-used adjectives such as quirky and eclectic don’t quite encapsulate it either. ‘Patchwork isn’t always appropriate,’ says Lisa. ‘What’s important is the visual relationship between the form of the piece – which is why the shape and the profile are so important – and the mix of colours and patterns.’ What really excites Lisa is colour. She speaks with passion about the ‘living colours’ of her velvet range, which includes furniture and tabletop pieces, such as the poppy-red jug and acid yellow vase on her dining table. This water- and heat-proof finish is achieved through electrostatic flocking – the cutting-edge equivalent of Lisa’s wrapping technique.

TIME TO REFLECT
Apart from a few shells in the bathroom, a tide clock and some vintage coral inherited from her grandmother, the coastal theme is left firmly out of doors. It’s a confident design scheme, carried throughout the whole house, showcasing Lisa’s artistic vision and flair. Even when she quickly arranges some simple folding chairs on her terrace for us to sit and stare at the view, they look like they’re waiting to be photographed.

She feels at home in this community, having made friends with the people who live here week-round, and confessing she sometimes goes out in her pyjamas (‘the most people say is “groovy trousers”’). Her 85-year-old next-door neighbour Lenny gives her gardening tips, and she enjoys just pottering. ‘Time here is very different,’ she says. It’s clear that this hideaway is good for her emotional wellbeing – and Stan’s. On their first viewing, Stan didn’t want to get back in the car. ‘He stood by the sea wall and cried,’ Lisa says. For more information, visit squintlimited.com.

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