Coastal home renovation

Marilyn and John Wood flooded their home with light by introducing plenty of glazing and a new single-storey extension to create a large open-plan layout with views of the sea

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Situated on the edge of the beach in Swanage, with uninterrupted views around the bay, the location of Marilyn and John Wood’s home is breathtaking, and the spacious, light-filled interior is equally stunning.

The open-plan living area leads to a lofty, conservatory-style kitchen-diner fitted with modern units, while glazed bi-fold doors span the back of the property, opening out to a beautiful balcony right above the beach.

From the roomy entrance hall, a spiral staircase leads up to the first floor, where there is a living area and the master suite, complete with sea views, wet room, dressing room and balconies both front and back. It took many years and a lot of hard work to reach this stage, however.

Fact file

  • The owners: Marilyn Wood a retired nursing home owner, and her husband John, a retired builder
  • The property: A two-bedroom Victorian home
  • The location: Swanage, Dorset
  • What they spent: The couple paid £90,000 for the property in 1989 and have spent around £340,000 on remodelling and extending it. It has recently been valued at around £950,000

The property

Marilyn and John’s home is set at the wider end of an unusual, wedge-shaped building, originally built in the Victorian era. The front entrance is at ground level, but the property is on a slope, with commercial premises beneath it at the back, facing the beach. The couple bought the entire building in 1989, and in 1992 converted the flat-roofed ground floor into three apartments, one of which became their home. The other two were later sold, along with the commercial space below.

‘Our home was a lot smaller then, and the front entrance was accessed through a large covered area, almost like a garage,’ remembers Marilyn. ‘Inside, there were two en suite bedrooms off a very long, dark corridor, which then opened out to the living room and kitchen at the back. There were mismatched ceiling levels, steps up and down, and the kitchen was only a galley layout with a small conservatory attached, which was our dining area.’

Transforming the property

Once the couple had retired, and after selling Marilyn’s nursing home business in 2008, they decided to invest some of the proceeds in remodelling their own home. ‘We’re both really drawn to open-plan living, so we wanted a big entrance hall and a very spacious feel,’ says Marilyn. ‘We also wanted to make much more of the light and the seaside location.’

It was John, with his years of building experience, who visualised how to transform the property, in a two-phase project that would take five years to complete. The first stage was to tackle the ground floor. The ceilings and floor levels would be altered to achieve a generous and consistent height right through the apartment; the corridor would go, and John planned to rearrange the space to form a bedroom and new bathroom. The living area would be opened up, with new, bigger glass doors leading onto the balcony, while a larger structure housing a new kitchen and dining area would replace an old conservatory.


The open design of the spiral staircase means it doesn’t interrupt

Reworking the layout

John’s vision didn’t stop there, however. He also wanted to incorporate the empty garage space at the front into their home. His idea was to move the main entrance forward and transform the space into the impressive hallway that both he and Marilyn wanted. With the help of an architect, plans were drawn up, and work began in autumn 2008. John was the project manager and carried out some of the structural work himself to save money, calling upon his contacts in the building trade when required.

‘For the first six months, during the work on the hallway, we just lived at the back of the apartment, with everything going on behind a wooden screen,’ recalls Marilyn. ‘We could only use the back door, and it was freezing cold. In January, we moved into a rented property for another six months until the kitchen and living areas were completed.’


Bringing the entrance forward and incorporating the garage has provided additional space,

New kitchen-diner

While John concentrated on designing and building, Marilyn focused on the interior. The emphasis is on light, with a pale, gloss-tiled floor extending from the modern glass porch through to the bi-fold doors and balconies overlooking the beach at the back. The living space is divided from the kitchen by a contemporary, raised fireplace that neatly diverts attention from the essential, supporting pillars.

With its high, curved ceiling and massive, linear rooflight, the new kitchen-diner is one of the most striking spaces, and Marilyn visualised it fitted out with modern, clean-lined furniture. She started browsing local kitchen showrooms for inspiration, and was delighted to spot a top-of-the-range display kitchen for sale that suited the space. ‘We saw this kitchen and loved the style,’ she says. ‘It was the unusual layout with the two islands and run of wall units that really caught my eye, and, being ex-display, it was amazing value.’

John and Marilyn moved back into their refurbished apartment, but were already planning the second stage of improvements, which would see John adding a level above their existing home.


Light filters into the dining area through the rooftop glazed dome and the first-floor glass floor panels, supplied by Dorset Glass. The chandelier is from Living Interiors. Controls for the Bang & Olufsen sound system are hidden in panels in the wall

Master suite

This was to incorporate a master suite and a second seating area. The couple also wanted outside access to take advantage of the sun later in the day, and John envisaged creating a glass box structure that would be similar to the porch he had built at ground level. Planning permission for this was refused, however, as it was felt that it would conflict with the unique castellated frontage of the original building. The compromise was a run of bi-fold doors providing access to the balcony. ‘It’s still a lovely spot,’ says Marilyn. ‘In summer, it gets sunshine from mid-afternoon, so sitting up there with an early evening drink is a real treat.’ One of the key questions for this stage of the project was the choice of staircase used to connect the two levels.


The side of the property facing the beach is almost entirely glazed, with a balcony on each level providing outdoor space. There are commercial premises below the ground floor of the apartment

The staircase

‘A conventional staircase design was going to be very expensive and would have taken up a lot of space. Also, to comply with building regulations, we couldn’t site it too far from the front entrance,’ says Marilyn. ‘Overall, it would have had a big impact on how the hallway would eventually look.’

John came up with an innovative solution, sourcing a reclaimed spiral staircase that is now a focal feature of the airy hall. Echoing the circular theme, he also introduced fabulous glass floor and ceiling panels that allow light to travel vertically through the building. He recycled a glass dome from the original flat roof, lining it up above a glass floor section that gives views from the upper level down to the dining area in the central hallway.

A second panel lets light from the bi-fold glass doors at the front spill into the space below. ‘The glass was all John’s design,’ recalls Marilyn. ‘It was only when the cut-outs were done that I understood how amazing it was going to look. They’re one of the most spectacular features and the light coming through makes a real difference.’

The finished project

The second stage of construction took around nine months and was completed in 2013. The result is a luxurious upper floor, with a spacious bedroom, separate dressing area and a smart black-and-white bathroom. Fitted by a local firm, its clever layout and wet room styling maximise the room’s sense of space and disguise its quirky shape.

Having spent much of the last five years on the project, John and Marilyn are now enjoying the chance to relax in the fabulous surroundings they have created. ‘Living by the sea is very special, and now our home makes the most of it,’ says Marilyn. ‘The beach can become very busy in summer, but it’s a small price to pay, because waking up to those views every morning is incredible.

The costs

Structural and building materials and labour£140,000
Glass including bi-fold doors, balconies and floor cut-outs£43,000
Kitchen units, appliances and worktops£35,000
Bathrooms and dressing room£27,000
Architect, surveyor, structural engineer and legal fees£24,000
Sound system£20,000
New plumbing/heating/hot water system£19,000
Flooring (tiles and carpets)£13,000
Decorating materials£4,000