Look inside a midcentury house in St Ives

How B&B owners Angela and Olivier Noverraz stumbled across a 1960s house by the seashore in St Ives, which they have filled with midcentury finds. Words: Jo Leevers. Photographs: Penny Wincer

An old iron gate at the bottom of Angela and Olivier Noverraz’s garden opens on to a meandering coastal pathway that runs south from St Ives to Carbis Bay. At points, the path is overhung by branches until, finally, it comes out by steep steps down to the dramatic sweep of the bay. It was on this pathway that the couple first caught a glimpse of the overgrown garden – and then the house – that would become their new home.

‘We were walking down to the beach when we saw a For Sale sign on the garden gate,’ remembers Angela. ‘Rather cheekily, we peered in to have a nose around. The trees were laden with apples and the garden was in full flower. It was gorgeous. We thought, “whatever the house looks like, let’s buy it!”’That was two years ago and – as luck would have it – the house came with as much potential as the rambling garden. It was a 1960s-built home that had good proportions and a wraparound sun terrace, but was in need of plenty of updating. ‘The house was in relatively good state of repair, but the decor was very fragmented,’ says Angela. ‘The floor surfaces were all different and there was a lot of bright pine and walls painted yellow – the overall effect was quite dark – despite the lovely big windows.’

Angela and Olivier could envisage a way to transform the house in a style that would hark back to its 1960s heyday but adapt it for modern family life with their children Leila, now six, and Maxwell, three. The couple had already worked a similar alchemy with a stylish bed and breakfast in the heart of St Ives, Trevose Harbour House, reinvigorating coastal style with classic midcentury furniture and bold colours. While they focused on the business, they lived locally in a ‘stop-gap’ house. For this next project, they would delve deeper into their own collection of vintage furniture and lighting to create a truly personal home.

But first, the yellow and pine had to go: ‘We painted it white – coat after coat to gradually bring back a clean backdrop,’ says Angela. ‘Then we added a few feature walls for colour and laid good quality sisal on the floors to bring a bit more warmth.’

However, what really brought the house to life was their own furniture, which had been collected from various cities around Europe. ‘After we first met, we lived in Rome for three years,’ explains Oliver. ‘Just next to where we lived was the largest fleamarket in the city, which became our weekend pilgrimage. We’d go and have coffees, then walk around the market. We got to know the guys who were selling the good stuff – and one of our first buys was a pair of 1950s Italian chrome chairs. Back then, we just loved the style and it was a cheap way to furnish our flat, but since then the look has become much more in vogue.’

Other pieces of midcentury furniture – a long, slim sideboard, an original Guzzini light and several neat, petite cocktail chairs – were equally prescient purchases and have now found their ideal setting in this Cornish home. ‘We’ve lived in lots of places over the past 20 years, but our furniture didn’t always work,’ says Oliver. ‘But as soon as we put it down in here, everything clicked. The house and furniture hail from the same era, so the scale and materials are all in balance with the architecture. It’s the perfect combination.’

Angela and Olivier met at the Lausanne Hotel School in Switzerland: ‘Ah, it was love at first sight,’ smiles Angela, whose parents are Italian and Dutch while Olivier is Swiss-British. They both spent the next decade working for major hotel chains around Europe before settling in the UK. Even as a child, Angela had lived a ‘nomadic’ life moving around the world as her father also worked in hotel management. ‘But the one thing that united all the places I’ve lived was being near the sea,’ she says. ‘When we moved to Cornwall, it stemmed from an almost physical need to move back to be by the coast. It felt like coming home.’

They left jobs in London to succumb to what Angela calls ‘the mysterious draw of the M4’. Ever since they met, Angela and Olivier had talked about running their own business and St Ives, where they settled in 2011, presented an ideal spot. ‘There’s a thriving art scene and, of course, the coastline is beautiful,’ smiles Olivier. ‘At certain times of year, the blue of the sea is as good as any stretch of the Mediterranean.’

Owing to their international backgrounds, Angela and Olivier’s furniture has an equally Continental flavour – and each piece comes with its own story. ‘The long sideboard and the vintage globe were bought when we were visiting family in Holland,’ says Angela. ‘Luckily, we share the same aesthetic,’ adds Olivier. ‘Whether we are in a market, an auction or an art gallery, we’ll often be drawn to the same items.’ They both love the midcentury approach: ‘We like the purity of the lines and the fact that the proportions of each piece are very elegant,’ he adds. ‘The furniture of that era was designed to be very functional yet with
an attention to detail that created beautiful, timeless objects.’

Another bonus – for both their home and their hotel – is that midcentury furniture was made to last. ‘They used good quality wood, which was hand-finished with care,’ says Angela. There’s a good showing of European and British midcentury designs in the couple’s latest venture, Sands Studio, a self-catering sister apartment to their award-winning boutique hotel. ‘For Sands Studio, we sourced a lot of pieces at local Cornish shops and auctions, which is a nice touch,’ she adds.

When they aren’t working, the family spend plenty of time on the beach or in the garden, where they have added a fire pit and a beehive. ‘We’re hoping this will help pollinate the garden flowers and fruit trees and produce delicious honey for us at home and for our guests,’ says Angela. Having made plenty of holidaymakers feel at home by the sea, Olivier and Angela can finally take some time out to do the same for themselves in their new home. Hospitality is a full-time job that doesn’t stop at the end of the day or at the weekend. ‘We’re always available if someone needs us, but it is wonderful to get home and immediately feel immersed in a serene environment,’ says Angela. ‘This house feels like a special place, where we can retreat and create a sanctuary for our family.’

See more of Angela and Olivier’s style by booking to stay at trevosehouse.co.uk and sands-studio.co.uk.