Kathryn Tyler had wanted to design and build her own home since she was a child. Years later, an overgrown section of her parents’ Cornish garden gave her the opportunity she’d been waiting for. Words: Alice Westgate. Photographs: Paul Ryan-Goff
For most of us, it’s the stuff of dreams to find a hidden plot of land at the end of your garden. And it would be pure fantasy to design and build a new home on it. But this is exactly what happened to Kathryn Tyler when her parents bought a house in Falmouth: ‘Part of their garden was totally inaccessible and was overgrown with brambles,’ she remembers. ‘Soon after they moved in we scrutinised the deeds and realised that there was an extra 33 metres of land down there. We couldn’t believe how much space had been hidden.’
Kathryn grew up in London, but her love affair with Cornwall had blossomed on childhood holidays since the age of 11. When she realised that there was an art college in the town, she set her heart on attending it: ‘I loved Falmouth from the start and was determined to come here to study. Where else in the UK do you get palm trees on campus and trips to the beach at lunchtime?’ As soon as it became clear that Kathryn wasn’t ever planning to return to the city, her mum and dad followed her to Cornwall and bought a house in 2002.
Kathryn – who studied graphics but transferred her skills to the world of interiors by setting up her own design business, called Linea Studio, in 2004 – had long harboured a desire to design a home of her own. ‘When we discovered the building plot I was only 22 and didn’t have the funds or knowledge to get going straightaway,’ says Kathryn. ‘My parents nearly sold the land to a neighbour, but I persuaded them to hang on, promising I would build on it myself one day.’
A LITTLE HELP FROM A FRIEND
When it came to putting her ideas on to paper, Kathryn enlisted the help of a friend who was studying architecture: ‘I showed him my sketches and he helped me refine the concept and get it through planning. We worked collaboratively and planning permission was granted within six weeks.’
The first block was laid on Kathryn’s 30th birthday, in June 2009, and for the next 15 months she oversaw every stage of the build, from project managing the team of contractors to sourcing every fixture and fitting with the most incredible attention to detail. Doing all this herself kept costs down and, as a testament to her skill and meticulous approach, the whole project ran like clockwork and even came in under budget.
Kathryn designed the house from the inside out: ‘I had been collecting mid-century and modernist furniture for years, and really wanted to create a suitable container for those pieces,’ she says.
The furniture in question, which ranges from Knoll sofas to Eames chairs, had been gleaned over the years from eBay, charity shops, boot fairs and the local dump. It had all been stored in her parents’ garage, waiting until she had a home of her own.
So it was a no-brainer that the house should be evocative of the 1950s and reminiscent of work by her Scandinavian design idols, who include Alvar Aalto, Sverre Fehn and Hanne Kjærholm. Its cubist form is clad in a mixture of cedar and white-painted brick, a finish that is something of an obsession both inside the house and out. ‘The look was inspired by a turned white brick wall I had seen in the Louisiana Museum in Denmark. Bricks naturally form a wonderfully textural pattern that makes render look quite characterless in comparison.’
The new building was orientated towards the coast and incorporated several outdoor spaces, including two balconies, one of which has an outdoor fireplace. Inside, it has a large open-plan kitchen, dining and living area, plus an office, four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Everywhere her choice of materials is restrained with those favourite white-painted brick walls looking beautifully utilitarian against natural oak furniture and fittings. The floors are in cork, concrete and oak-batten parquet. ‘My aesthetic is simple,’ says Kathryn. ‘I am not an ornate person and prefer a plain Scandi-style backdrop that creates a certain uniformity. I like a restricted colour palette, too – just white, wood and grey – and tend to bring in small amounts of colour through accessories and collected vintage pieces. I live and work by those principles.’
Another passion is sustainability, so the house has mind-boggling amounts of insulation along with heat recovery ventilation and rainwater harvesting systems. All these elements, combined with locally sourced materials and Kathryn’s beloved upcycled furniture, make the whole house delightfully eco-friendly.
Life in Cornwall, which Kathryn shares with her partner Chris, a consultant for NGOs working in the water sector, is a pretty laid-back affair. 'We work largely from home so we often go to the beach for a swim during the day, then spend the evenings back at our desks,’ says Kathryn. ‘And if either of us can’t get our heads around a problem, we can head off on a walk along the coast and talk it through. It is a liberating process.’
Clients who phone up during the day might be surprised to hear water in the background; this is because Kathryn and Chris love to paddle their kayaks around the local coastline in search of remote creeks. ‘You can’t help but prioritise your life by the coast,’ adds Kathryn. ‘There’s no point living somewhere like Cornwall if you don’t take advantage of all the freedom it offers.’
Another benefit of living in Falmouth is the strong network of friends provided by the town’s artistic community: ‘Many of us graduated at around the same time,’ says Kathryn, ‘and we constantly bounce ideas off each other. It is a very supportive and creative atmosphere in which to live.’
They often meet up at local eateries, including Gylly Beach Café and The Falmouth Townhouse, both of which have interiors designed by Kathryn. But they also congregate at each other’s homes, and that’s when Kathryn’s house comes into its own. ‘The island unit in the kitchen is on wheels so we can move it to one side for dancing or to extend the dinner table,’ explains Kathryn. ‘Afterwards, we gather round the fireplace on the balcony, with deckchairs and plenty of blankets so we can chat over bottles of wine far into the night.’
This house is a fabulous example of modern architecture at its most user-friendly, where every aspect of the building suits the couple’s lifestyle down to the ground. ‘I want to live here for ever,’ admits Kathryn. ‘Every time I come home, this house gives me an immense sense of satisfaction.’
Kathryn's Cornish design inspiration
• Local architecture: ‘Once you scratch the surface, you find that there are lots of interesting modernist buildings tucked away in Cornwall. Several well-known architects, including Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, designed their first house projects nearby.’
• Art galleries: ‘I find inspiration in the work on show at Newlyn Art Gallery, Tate St Ives and the Leach Pottery. There are lots of independent galleries in Cornwall, too – such as Millennium and Kestle Barton – which showcase the work of up-and-coming contemporary artists.’
• Arts events: ‘There
is such a strong arts community here, with festivals and pop-up installations happening all the time. I especially love the annual Open Studios event, which sees local artists and craftspeople throughout Cornwall opening their studios to visitors for a whole week in summer.’
• Falmouth University: ‘Previously known as Falmouth College of Art, this is where I studied and was the reason for my move to the area. The college, which is surrounded by subtropical gardens and is a stone’s throw from Gyllyngvase Beach, produces a steady flow of artists, designers and like-minded people. It makes you feel as if anything is possible.’