When the bungalow where Laurence Delamar holidayed as a boy came on the market, he knew he had to make it his own. With the help of his partner Leonie Nanassy, he’s made it a dream retreat.

Words Alex Fisher. Photographs Paul Ryan-Goff.

When you park outside The Dunes it’s impossible to imagine what is hidden behind the high white-washed walls which separate the property from the road. So as I opened the door into the courtyard, I was amazed. Here was the perfect beach house: a white wooden home, surrounded by sand. Despite being positioned on the popular Mawgan Porth Beach, the rolling dunes offer total privacy and, after I closed the door behind me, I felt like I’d stepped into another world. 


To my left, a metal sculpture showed fish swimming through the air; ahead of me, clumps of orange flowers decorated the dunes and, to my right, the expansive wooden decking told me that the owners love to live their life outdoors. It was clear that not only do they lounge, read, dine and entertain in the open, but they also bathe. Tucked into a corner was a beautiful freestanding bath complete with shower and soap. I have never been to another property in the UK that has felt more filled with sunshine than this. It has an Antipodean feel, in that the outside space is just as important as the inside. ‘That’s the way we designed it,’ events director and Esalen massage therapist Leonie explains. ‘If I could give people one bit of advice when renovating a home, it would be to budget for the outdoor space from the beginning. Don’t leave it as an afterthought – and don’t underestimate the amount of pleasure these areas will give you.’ 

Inside, the property has an equally elegant, but relaxed feel. ‘We have a dog,’ Laurence says, patting the gorgeous springer spaniel lolling on the floor, ‘so we can’t be too precious. We needed somewhere that would just dust off and brush up without too much effort.’ The house, he explains, has been transformed from the one he visited as a child. ‘We holidayed here for years, and when I first brought Leonie here, it was still a dark brick bungalow with paper sheets and bunk beds.’ The couple laugh. ‘She wasn’t impressed,’ Laurence smiles.


Over the years, Laurence had got to know the owners of the bungalow and when he heard that they were thinking about selling, he was determined to have the property for his family to enjoy as well. ‘I had so many happy childhood memories of being here,’ he says, ‘that it already felt like a part of my life. This whole area means a lot to me. I would stay here with my parents, and my uncle, who was in the RAF, used to stay in the family quarters at the Watergate Bay Hotel, just down the road. 

‘I spent two years trying to buy the house, but as the owners lived abroad, it was tricky to progress anything. Finally, they had a burst pipe in the winter, the property flooded and then needed to be gutted. At this point the house went on the open market and I managed to persuade the owners to sell it to me.’

The couple had already renovated other properties together, and run a luxury 12-bedroom retreat and party venue in Devon, so they knew that taking on the project wasn’t going to be a problem. ‘We work well together,’ says Leonie. ‘Laurence has fantastic ideas, and we push each other on.’ They stuck to the original template of the building, cladding the brick walls with wood, and opened it up to the light by adding bigger windows and glass doors, which lead on to a large decked area.


Leonie’s previous career in art, fashion and styling, coupled with the pair’s love of international travel, ensured the interiors would be unique and innovative. Splashes of colour and unusual works of art liven a neutral background, creating a space full of flair and originality. Leonie made the colourful cushions that sit against a lattice woodwork bed headrest from an old scarf; the table lights are from Paris; a screen came from India, and the orange flowers that dance on the breeze outside were imported from California. ‘This place has everything we love. We have brought our eclectic passions together, under one roof. We are always so busy, this house is our little getaway, our love shack,’ says Leonie. ‘Just as Laurence had family time here as a child, his daughter, Natasha, has also had the opportunity to holiday here, and now that she studies in London, it’s her retreat, too.’

Having worked in the arena of health and wellness for many years, Laurence and Leonie feel passionate about how coastal life impacts on mental and physical wellbeing. ‘I love hiking with the dog and the cliff walks around here are stunning,’ says Laurence. ‘I feel more relaxed when I’m here. It’s about feeling connected to the outdoors, to the ocean and to nature.’ Leonie would go as far as to say that ‘the sea speaks to you. It calls: GET OUTSIDE! LOOK AT THE VIEW!’ she laughs. ‘When we are here, we are outside all the time. We’re not watching telly. We’re not glued to a computer screen. This is a little sun-trap; I’ve even sunbathed here in November. A hot bath outside in the winter, when it’s raining, is wonderful. It’s invigorating and energising. The elements combat any feelings of melancholy or depression that one might have. As long as you have the right kit on, you can be outside in any weather.’ 

As well as spending time on the beach, Laurence and Leonie also love the village of Mawgan Porth. ‘It has such a great community feeling,’ says Laurence. ‘When I was a child, most businesses closed in the winter, but that has really changed. The holiday season has extended, and now many of the restaurants and cafés stay open all year. There is a very energetic year-round surfing community, too; it’s a bit like being at a surf version of a ski resort – social and fun, but all based around a sport. We love the Café at the Park, which is just five minutes’ away. They concentrate on good quality local food, and we’re in there all the time. The Scarlet Hotel is just up the road, and they have a fantastic spa – you really have everything you need here.’

The couple’s busy life in event organisation and retreats means that they live between Hampshire, Devon, Cornwall and the US. However, they try to spend as much time as possible here at their beach retreat. When they’re not around, they invite friends to enjoy their much-loved property, and even rent it out to holidaymakers. 'We’ve travelled the globe and seen some fabulous beaches,’ says Laurence, ‘but at the end of the day, the beaches right here are the best in the world.’

For more information on how to rent The Dunes, visit thedunescornwall.co.uk or call 07974 385842 or 01769 580123. To find out more about Leonie’s healthy lifestyle retreats, visit handsonlife.co.uk, and for Esalen massage, esalen.org.

Leonie's five favourite places near Mawgan Porth:

1 The wild beach at Bedruthan Steps is a short cliff walk away. ‘I love it for its beauty, washed sands, craggy rocks and caves.’

2 The Park Café (mawganporth.co.uk). ‘The food here is fresh, healthy and cooked with love.’

3 The Scarlet Hotel (scarlethotel.co.uk). ‘This place serves the best tea on the terrace, with delicious homemade scones and biscuits.’

4 Retorrick Mill (retorrickmill.co.uk). ‘You can’t beat the Mill for its lively weekend gigs and nightlife.’

5 Disco Beads shop (discobeads.com). ‘I go here for friendly chat and the best anklets and bracelets which make great presents.’