Fall in Love With This British Architect's Colorful Weekend Retreat
Were it not for its bright red chimney, Toot Rise would blend perfectly into the rural sandstone hill on which it is built. But this stainless steel cylinder pierces the chestnut-clad house like a sharp new pencil satisfyingly pushed through the lid of a shoebox. It is at once a deliberate signpost and the final flourish of British architect Nick Evans, who designed the two-story structure in East Sussex as a weekend home for himself and his family.
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"I wanted it to be a strong element that worked inside and outside," says Nick, a partner at ECE Architecture who spends most of the year living and working in London. "I wanted that color continuity you don’t normally get in houses. It was more like a piece of art—a very calm timber box with something coming through the center."
This love of bright colors continues inside the 2,280-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom house that Nick shares with his wife, Celia Sellschop, their 14-year-old daughter, Allegra, and their four-year-old basset hound, Daisy. Eye-popping color is used sparingly, but with great effect, not least in the brilliant green kitchen that sits at the home’s center. Celia is a chef in London and runs a supper club, so space for culinary experimentation was an essential part of Nick’s self-imposed brief. This is the first home he has designed for himself, and he’s glad he didn’t do it earlier in his career.
"A lot of people try when they’re younger," he says. "It’s nicer when you’ve got a slightly more stable set of views, because architecture can be very fashion-conscious. There are lots of ‘isms’ that become ‘wasms.’ "
By the time Nick got to this project, he was quite economical with what he wanted to do. "I kept the ideas simple and worked really hard on those ideas," he says. The concepts draw on Le Corbusier and Craig Ellwood’s Case Study Houses, but British design is also an influence, notably that of Alison and Peter Smithson, who were leading lights in postwar Brutalism in the United Kingdom. "They did a house for themselves," says Nick. "It was super simple, with a wood-burning stove in one corner and windows of very similar proportions to ours."
To explain how he designed the space, Nick pulls out a scrap of paper, and with about a half dozen strokes of his pencil, the main level falls into place: three-fifths for living and two-fifths for sleeping, with every corner, every surface, and every wall drawn with Nick’s own hand.
Builder Bill Copp, whom Nick entrusted with his plan, runs a small local firm and had never built anything like this before. He started by knocking down the shack that occupied the site and then learned as he built, with Nick’s drawings in hand.
But first, Nick had to get the sight levels correct. The old shack largely ignored the sea. Nick wanted to be able to watch the surf from the sofa and the bath, as well as from the stove. So he and Celia rigged a rather dangerous method of sitting on a chair on top of a table and dropping a tape measure to get the correct perspective.
"All so we could sit and look at the sea," says Celia. "It’s a very peaceful house. Even in winter it’s warm and cozy."
The doors at the sea end of the house can be folded away or slid back to bring in the sea air, allowing the family to gaze at the water or across at Dungeness. This bizarre shingle headland is the closest thing the U.K. has to a desert, and it houses a miniature railway, a nuclear power station, and the much-documented fisherman’s cottage that was once home to the late filmmaker Derek Jarman.
The opposite end of the home looks out across undulating hills where sheep graze—although anyone peering out this way will also spy Nick’s vintage Porsches.
"The green one is a 1959 Porsche 356," says Nick. "It’s about the right period for the Case Study Houses. Some of the Craig Ellwood houses have beautiful Porsches parked in front of them in photos—just hovering in front of the house, looking pretty cool."
Almost 60 years after Ellwood’s heyday, Nick’s design has all the understated elegance of one of his originals. But from the solar panels atop the roof to the rubber matting on some of the floors, this house is no copy. It’s the result of a lifetime of experience and consideration. And it’s looking pretty cool, too.
"We wanted the house to be a receptacle that grabbed everything that was outside in terms of views and light."
Nick Evans, architect and resident