JANET MCMEEKIN discovers how Dan and Nina Rowland built their dream coastal home, combining their creative talents to design a stunning, biophilic haven.
On sun-drenched days when there’s a gentle breeze and the tide times are just right, you’ll find the Rowland family hopping into their trusty motor boat and heading to the golden sands of West Wittering beach for a barbecue and refreshing dip.
“When we anchor at magical East Head, it feels as though we are in a different country,” says Dan, who with his wife, Nina, has created their dream eco home, complete with a natural swimming pond, near the shores of tranquil Chichester Harbour.
The enterprising couple, who together run their architectural/design practice, Studio Fuse, clicked the moment they met in a London wine bar in 2011. Having married in 2013, the pair, who have both travelled extensively, juggled their jobs with exploring various exotic locations.
“Inspired by beautiful properties and breathtaking, natural environments in places such as Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia, we often chatted about building our own home where we could live and work in harmony with nature,” says Nina, who also owns interior design agency, FormRoom.
Three years later, when their first daughter, Isla, who is now eight, was born, craving more space and freedom, these tentative ‘pipe dream’ conversations became a reality.
“As we both have a strong affinity with the sea and love all sorts of watersports, from swimming to surfing, sailing to paddle boarding, the coast was definitely calling to us,” says Dan. “It was just a question of finding the right spot in the UK to put down roots; somewhere unspoilt yet not too remote.”
Recalling a memorable coastal break when he first stumbled across Bosham in West Sussex, Dan felt the picturesque harbourside village would be a great place to begin their search.
“Neither of us could quite believe it when we quickly discovered a very promising one-and-a-half acre plot, comprising a dilapidated 1930s house and overgrown paddock with a large pond, just a stone’s throw from historic Bosham,” Dan explains. Within days, the Rowlands set up a viewing at the plot which, it transpired, had been on the market for two years.
“We weren’t totally surprised to hear that the huge, sludgy green pond had proved to be too much of an obstacle for many prospective buyers,” says Dan, an architectural designer. Rather than feeling fazed, Dan, who is passionate about ecology and biophilic design, was intrigued and excited.
“By carefully thinking about the design of the site as a whole; thinking beyond just the footprint of the proposed house, I realised this was a special opportunity for the home to connect with the landscape and water, and knew that we had to buy this plot.”
Having formed an instant, deep-rooted connection with the plot and its setting on the fringes of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the couple were delighted when they managed to clinch the deal.
Wanting their home to connect seamlessly with the outdoors and have an intrinsic relationship with nature, plans for the contemporary house, built from structural insulated panels (SIPs), and clad in Siberian larch, were formulated.
“I enjoyed every aspect of designing our home, from the helical staircase with its ash wall cladding in the triple-height hallway, to the airy kitchen-living space with its large sliding doors leading out to the natural pool,” says Dan, who studied psychology before branching into architecture.
“One of our main sources of inspiration was lasting memories of our visit to a lush forest spa in Thailand, where walkways snaked through waterfalls, plunge pools and ponds covered with lilies. This really embodied what we wanted to recreate in the outside space here.”
In August 2018, the project to build the high-performing, sustainable house started. What neither of the Rowlands had anticipated were the numerous challenges that would lie ahead.
“It turned out to be a rollercoaster journey,” says Dan. “Originally, I’d thought that removing 500 tonnes of sludge to create the natural pond would be the most difficult aspect.
“However, while building the house, my father passed away, Nina’s parents were both diagnosed with cancer, and the Covid-19 pandemic struck.” Despite the hurdles, Dan, helped by talented builder Scott Harris, forged ahead. Sub-contractors were hired for jobs that Dan couldn’t do, such as the electrics and plumbing.
While her husband was focusing his energies on the project and often working late into the night, Nina was juggling caring for a new-born and toddler, while meticulously designing the ‘pared-back and pure’ interiors that the couple envisaged.
“I was determined our home would be a grounded, yet stimulating environment with a natural, clean, earthy palette,” says Nina.
“I wanted the interior to complement and echo the exterior by injecting a laid-back vibe, incorporating textural materials to create depth and a homely feel. For example, in the bathrooms, the taps have a live brass finish that are developing a beautiful patina.”
“When I couldn’t find the pendant light for the hallway or the exact wall lights that I wanted, I cut up sushi mats, stuck them to plumbing pipes and sourced opaque lightbulbs,” Nina explains. “By doing this, we saved ourselves around £2,500 on lights alone.”
In August 2021, the spectacular house was completed, and the Rowlands were able to start fully enjoying the fruits of their labours.
“Since moving in, every day has felt like a new adventure,” says Nina. “We are constantly immersed and interacting in an ever-changing natural environment.
“One of the most rewarding aspects is seeing Isla and Lexi’s little faces as they spot a deer stopping off for a candid drink at the pool, marvel at swallows swooping down to wash their wings in the shimmering water, and gaze spellbound as large, colourful dragonflies hover over the waterlilies.
“These stop-and-stare moments never cease to amaze them – and us – and this unique, close relationship with nature constantly impacts on every aspect of our lives.”
The Rowlands were thrilled when they received glowing feedback after their build journey aired on Grand Designs.
“When presenter Kevin McCloud referred to our home as an ‘aquatic Eden’, it was so lovely to hear,” says Dan.
“The response from the public was fantastic. We were blown away after the show aired, when so many people starting expressing that they felt it was one of the best episodes of Grand Designs.”
These days, as well as living in their home, the Rowlands also hire it for location shoots and have received numerous requests from luxury fashion, furniture, holistic brands and even television shows.
When they are away on holiday, Dan and Nina often rent their the house to guests, keen to stay in this stunning coastal retreat.
“People love the fact that they can enjoy our pond, the hot-tub, sauna and tennis court,” says Dan. “As we’ve discovered ourselves, there’s just so much to do in West Sussex and we’ve plenty of recommendations for places to visit nearby. Nina and I often say that we feel so lucky to have discovered such a naturally beautiful place to live that offers so much, right on our doorstep.”
DAN AND NINA’S FIVE FAB LOCAL PLACES TO EAT
The Crown & Anchor at Dell Quay (crownandanchorchichester.com), is a great local pub and we often travel there in our family canoe. The food is super and so are the coastal views.
The Crate, Bosham (thecratecafe.co.uk), is our favourite local hangout. It serves delicious food and is a fun place to eat, or just enjoy a coffee. It has a welcoming and laidback atmosphere.
The Anchor Bleu (anchorbleu.co.uk) is a popular local pub, located in the heart of Bosham village and right next to the water’s edge.
The Boathouse Café (idealcollection.co.uk) at Chichester Marina is ideal for a coffee before or after a walk through the nearby ancient oak woodland.
West Wittering Beach Café (westwitteringestate.co.uk) is dog-friendly and perfect for a drink or bite to eat after a beach walk.
Like what you see? Check out our article on a James Bond-inspired architectural gem on the Cornish coast here!