When Tony and Gordon visited a unique property in Kingswear, Devon, they knew it was the home they’d always dreamed of. What they didn’t realise was that they’d end up knocking the house down. Words: Alex Fisher. Photographs: Paul Ryan-Goff
‘We were visiting friends in Devon on a wet and windy day, and we went to the estate agents for something to do whilst the weather was bad,’ explains Tony. ‘But then we saw a photograph of this amazing-looking Sixties building, sitting in 12 acres of woodland, and we knew we had to book a viewing of Kaywana Hall.’
At the time Tony and his partner Gordon were living in a loft flat in London. They’d always dreamed of making the move to the coast, but imagined it was something they would do in the future. In the meantime they satisfied their yearning for the sea with regular visits to yachting friends in Dartmouth.
Kaywana Hall – originally designed by architect Mervyn Seal – was known locally as the Butterfly House due to the roof being shaped like butterfly wings. The pair viewed the property for the first time on a bright winter’s day. ‘As we came up the drive we both knew that this was the house,’ says Tony. ‘The modern design was so striking and the huge windows had such fantastic views,’ adds Gordon. ‘Afterwards, we made ourselves look at other houses, but nothing compared to this. We felt compelled to make an offer and were over the moon when it was accepted.’
FACING THE CHALLENGES
However, things didn’t continue to run this smoothly. As Tony and Gordon hadn’t been planning to move, they didn’t even have their flat up for sale. The property market was at a low, and they struggled to sell. Eventually, the owners of Kaywana Hall accepted another offer. ‘We were so upset,’ explains Tony. ‘We’d set our hearts on this house, so we went away on holiday, thinking everything was lost. Then we got a call and the estate agents told us the other offer had fallen through and the house was ours.’
This was the first of many challenges the pair faced. There were several problems with the property, which had put other buyers off, and once Kaywana Hall was in their hands, these issues rose to the fore. The roof was leaking, there was no central heating and structural repairs were urgently needed.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
When it came to renovating the property, they enlisted the help of local architect Stan Bolt, who lived just up the road in Brixham. ‘The architects inspected the property and came back to us with what they described as a “rather radical plan”,’ says Tony.
‘We were shocked when they said the state of the house was so bad they believed it would be better to knock it down and rebuild it to the same design. It took us a while to get our heads round this idea, but they showed us that it made sense. There were no issues with planning, as all we were doing was replacing what was already there.’ They bought the house in 2004, knocked it down in 2007, but had not only rebuilt the house by 2009, they had also restored the outbuildings and created a luxury B&B business as well.
Gordon had worked as a GP when they lived in London. ‘It was a very stressful job,’ he explains. ‘I worked in a poor area, and became a counsellor and social worker as well. I tried to do everything for people and just burnt out. When we moved down here we knew we would have to start a new business. Neither of us thought it would be a B&B, but the house just lent itself so perfectly to the idea, it ended up being the natural thing to do.’ Initially, Gordon got a job working on the boats in Dartmouth Harbour, whilst Tony worked on the interior design for the new business. ‘I had a few paintings which I wanted to bring with me from London, and I decided to hang these in each room, then use the colours of the painting to determine the colour scheme of the room,’ Tony says. ‘The idea worked so well in our living room, that I applied the same principle to all of our three B&B rooms.’
The result is an extraordinarily sumptuous place to stay. The title B&B doesn’t really do the property justice, as each of the rooms are individual annexes to the main house, with their own separate entrances, bathrooms and terrace. Visitors have the use of the outdoor pool from May to September, and in the morning are served a colourful selection of seasonal fruit followed by a full English breakfast, with all the ingredients sourced from within five miles.
‘We have a lot of honeymooners,’ Tony says. ‘But some people come just to see the house. Designers who love architecture from this period like to visit. It’s great fun. You never know who is coming up the drive. We just try to make everyone feel welcome. We were party animals in London, and although that kind of life no longer appeals, we both still like to be sociable and meet new people.’
FINDING THE RIGHT WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Despite his misgivings when they first left London, Gordon is now working as a GP again. ‘I ended up studying for an Occupational Health degree and before I knew it, I was back in a GP practice again. But this time it’s different. As well as helping to run a surgery I also spend time in our forest chopping wood, and I go sailing and swimming. This time I have the work-life balance. Moving to the coast helped me get it right.’
Tony and Gordon's top tips on setting up a B&B
• Make friends with your nearest B&B, you never know when you might need them! Plus referring visitors between you will help to keep you full.
• Regularly sleep in each of your rooms. You will be one step ahead of your guests and may be surprised by that noisy pump that starts at 6am.
• Don’t short cut on the food. It should be local and the best quality. Breakfast leaves a lasting impression so try to introduce some interesting daily specials.
• Know your costs. It might be your business but you need to make some profit. Don’t forget your time also comes at a cost. Keep proper accounts and make sure you have a good accountant to help and advise.
• The little touches matter. Homemade biscuits and fudge are the least you can do. Forget the chocolates on the pillow, instead try a ‘sleep well’ pillow spray.
• Pay attention to detail. It will single you out as a very special and comfortable B&B.