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This rusted-steel clad gem is a modernist landmark in Lewes

7 Aug 2017


LEWES is celebrated for its Bonfire Night tradition of burning effigies and rolling of flaming tar barrels down the medieval high street. But when architect Sandy Rendel designed an extraordinary home to sit under the East Sussex town’s chalk cliffs, not everybody was impressed.Townsfolk feared that the lofty, contemporary structure would be out of place in the rural landscape, and it took the local council years to grant planning permission for the project.


Grass act: The views of the river and nature reserve opposite the property are a key feature Today, however, it is the building, a palace of Corten rusted-steel cladding, concrete and gleaming glass, perched commandingly on the banks of the River Ouse, which has triumphed.Since it was completed in 2015, the five-bedroom home has become a stunning architectural landmark, its industrial-looking shell, wrapped in steel mesh, giving more than a nod to the site’s previous incarnations as a riverside dock to the chalk quarry, and later, a cement works.The fact it is here at all is testament to the vision and determination of owner Stephen Yeomans, who first saw the land in 2010. ‘I saw the potential to build an incredible house on the site due to its position and the views across the river,’ says Stephen, who works for a media agency in London. ‘The plot was narrow and close to the road. But Sandy’s design overcame the challenges and made the views of the river and nature reserve opposite the house the key feature.’When you step into the open-plan ground floor through a hallway clad in blackened sawn-oak boards, the 360-degree views through the floor to ceiling windows are overwhelming. At each end of the room — divided into a kitchen, dining area and living room — are enormous sliding glass doors, extending the living area to a leafy garden, on one side, and an al fresco dining area on the other.


Touch of glass: The East Sussex house has a pitch-perfect position in the townLooking directly across the river to the South Downs National Park is akin to stepping into a Constable painting. To the right there are glimpses of Lewes Castle. To the left, the river winds enticingly into the distance.‘We have the most amazing sunsets here,’ says Anita, Stephen’s wife and mother to their two-year-old daughter Beatrix, adding that the interiors, with their simple colour palette of greys and white, have been ‘kept simple so the eye is not distracted from the view’.At work: AnitaBut if the lines are clean and simple, there has also been great attention paid to detail — from the rough-sawn timber cladding that runs the length of the room and hides the television, fridge and freezer and cavernous cupboards, to the commodious natural basalt kitchen islands, and the quirky and elegant door handles.An open-tread oak staircase climbs to the first floor (past the office with its large window, overlooking the entrance), where all five bedrooms are riverside, their large windows capturing more views.The master bedroom and largest guest room each have elegant en suites with floors of mosaic effect — long, marble panels in russet, grey, white and blue hues, designed by Stephen. Everywhere, too, there is abundant storage — from the built-in cupboards on the landing to built-in, wall-to-wall wardrobes in most of the bedrooms. The furniture and fittings are sensational — from the 200-year-old, elm wooden dining table (designed by Jeremy Pitts and available to buy, with the house) to the carpentry throughout the home, crafted by Inglis Hall, a local company. Pitts also detailed, designed and sourced materials for all the cabinetry elements in the house.Eat your heart out: The 200-year-old elm wooden dining table.



Anita at workIn the garden — where there is the potential for a boathouse, or garden studio (the property has mooring rights on the river) — a large burnt-wooden sculpture by a local artist adds to the sense of tranquillity. For Stephen and Anita, the house also documents the period when they met, married and had their daughter. ‘We met in 2013 — well before the build started,’ says New Zealand-born Anita, a lawyer. ‘We married in March 2015, and Beatrix was born that year, just before we moved in during the October.’So why are they selling? Anita smiles and gives a resigned shrug: ‘Well, Stephen does love a project. I think he enjoys the process almost more than the result. He’s renovated lots of flats in the past — the ones he’s lived in in London, but this is the first time he’s built a house.’When the couple moved to Lewes from London, it was, Anita says, something of an experiment. Would they miss the capital, or settle into country life?The move, like the house, has proved a resounding success. ‘We have great transport links to London, we’re close to Brighton and Lewes is a wonderful town,’ she says.So it’s not surprising that their next project — the renovation of a Georgian house with land on which they may be able to build another home — is in the centre of the historic market town. For Stephen, the greatest delight has been to build such a unique and beautiful house, with the invaluable assistance of ‘brilliant builders’ Myriad Construction. But though he’s itching to get on with the next project, he knows he’ll miss the view. ‘We’ll build a nice house again. But we’ll never have a view like this.’* The house is for sale at £1.95million via themodernhouse.com


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