West Bexington chalet given stylish makeover
PUBLISHED: 17:05 23 September 2015 | UPDATED: 17:05 23 September 2015
PETER BOOTON PHOTOGRAPHY
A pretty 1930s seaside chalet at West Bexington has been given a stylish makeover by the grand daughter of the original owners who bought it over 80 years ago
As a young girl Michele Vassar holidayed at her parents’ beach chalet in West Bexington every summer. Fifty years later that same chalet is now her home. In its early days the rudimentary timber chalet had no mains water or drainage, and although there wasn’t a bathroom at that time the property had its own cubicle in one of two nearby toilet blocks. “I remember mum filling a tin bath with water,” recalls Michele. “We also had an enamel basin on a stand for washing in.”
Built in 1932, the chalet was part of the ill-fated ‘Bexington-on-Sea’ development - a new seaside holiday destination in West Dorset boasting close proximity to unspoilt countryside and Chesil beach. A café, swimming pool and tennis courts were also built, as well as a number of furnished ‘summer bungalows’ each with two rooms, which were let at two or two-and-a-half guineas per week, depending on size. However, the project wasn’t a financial success and the 400 acre estate was put up for auction in 1934, but following little interest only some individual plots were sold.
At this time Michele’s grandparents purchased one of the bungalows and named it ‘Our Country Seat’, in the early days journeying most of the way from their London home to West Bexington by rail. Michele’s first visit as a baby was with her parents and her cousin in his heavily loaded car, with her pram tied majestically to the roof. As Michele happily remembers, summer holidays at the little seaside chalet were idyllic, and there were other children to play with as many returned year after year with their parents. “We’d play on the beach or make dens in the bushes and decorate them with daisy chains. It was a lovely place to bring a child, so safe and secure.”
In the mid-1960’s each chalet on the estate gained mains water, drainage and a bathroom, which was added as an extension built on to the rear of the building. Many of the owners personalised their chalets and when Michele’s parents took over ‘Shemara’, as ‘Our Country Seat’ was renamed, they fitted leaded-light windows in blue painted frames. “It was a source of pride that everyone had their own colour,” say Michele. Sadly this flurry of colour was swiftly replaced by uniform white in the 1970’s when all the chalets were ‘plasticised’ to make maintenance easier.
After taking over ‘Shemara’ from her parents, and then living in the chalet for a while, Michele decided it was time for a rebuild. Apart from the addition of a small extension to the rear for a second bedroom very little had been done to the property since the sixties. Also, the existing layout and heating system left much to be desired, the windows were rotting and the wiring needed replacing.
As a former architect Michele was well qualified to redesign the layout of the chalet and improve its construction. The existing timber frame needed some remedial work so Michele made the structure more rigid by adding heavy marine ply to the outside. To this, new wooden cladding was put on the front and rear of the building, with uPVC cladding at the gable end side walls to reduce maintenance. The walls, roof and floor were packed with the maximum of insulation.
The chalet’s new layout incorporates a living and dining area, galley kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom, alongside which Michele cleverly managed to fit in a small utility room. “I thought about it as you would a boat or a caravan, so I tried to build in as much as I could and have as little furniture as possible, just a few nice pieces.”
Mike Ellis of The Building Company in Weymouth carried out all the building work while his father, Pete Ellis, did all the joinery. This included fitted wardrobes, new kitchen units and bespoke shelving and cupboards throughout the chalet, all to Michele’s designs. “I needed to make the best use of every inch of space,” explains Michele. “Also, I wanted to create storage. Now both bedrooms have built-in wardrobes, floor to ceiling, as well as drawers and cupboards,” she adds, smiling.
When it came to designing the kitchen, Michele made sure every bit of space is cleverly utilised. In preference to a free-standing cooker there’s a combination microwave-oven and an electric hob from Dream Doors in Dorchester who also supplied the vitreous resin worktops. To gain more room to move around
Pete built 500mm deep units instead of the usual 600mm. “It’s a small kitchen so I like to have everything to hand,” says Michele, who even designed in a ‘bespoke bin alcove’ and shelves for her cookery books.
A lot of thought has also gone into furnishing the chalet. In the aptly named ‘Sea Bedroom’ overlooking Chesil beach, Michele has installed a handmade, limed oak bed from Loaf of London, above which is an ornate, gilt chandelier from her parents’ house that she has had professionally restored. There are lots of paintings, too, by local artists including Sam Cannon from Whitchurch Canonicorum whom Michele commissioned to paint a picture of ‘Sea Swallow’, as the chalet has been renamed by Michele and her partner since the rebuild. “My aim was to have everything done by local companies and people,” she enthuses.
Her delightful ‘table of curiosities’ in the dining area is no exception. Constructed from sand-blasted and limed ash, this functional yet aesthetically pleasing item was hand crafted by furniture maker Lee Petherick whose workshop and showroom is in Abbotsbury. Michele saw a glass topped table Lee had made and wanted something similar that could incorporate two vintage letterpress trays she’d bought on eBay. Now painted blue, the trays contain her collection of seashells. Four transparent plastic dining chairs in different colours, from John Lewis, perfectly complement the table.
Extremes of weather invariably feature in by-the-sea living, and Michele has taken this into account, too. The chalet is all electric, and there is no gas supply, so she has guarded against power cuts by installing a wood-burning stove as a back-up for the Rointe programmable electric heaters which are the main heating source. For use during the warmer months of the year there is a ceiling fan in the living area and ‘Sea Swallow’ also benefits from made-to-measure wooden shutters from Just Shutters which shade its interior during summer and provide additional insulation during the colder months.
Whatever the weather, Michele says she loves living by the sea, even when it comes up to the bottom of her front garden as it did in the very wet winter of 2013/14. Thanks to the successful rebuild and her ingenuity, ‘Sea Swallow’ is a warm and comfortably furnished home. Michele and her partner do have one rule though - any future items of furniture must be ‘chalet chic’.
Sea Swallow is available as a holiday let for two adults from April to October. For more details visit the website seaswallow.co.uk
Useful local contacts
• Lee Petherick Furniture - Abbotsbury, 01305 871036, leepetherick.co.uk
• The Building Company - Weymouth, 01305 789155, thebuildingcompanydorset.co.uk
• Dream Doors - Dorchester, 01305 897923, dreamdoors.co.uk
• Just Shutters - Southbourne Grove, Bournemouth, 01202 240769, justshutters.co.uk
• Sam Cannon - Whitchurch Canonicorum, 01297 480908, samcannonart.co.uk
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