Property of the week: Gem in a stunning riverside location
Gillian Molesworth finds a creekside home in South Devon where old meets new in seamless harmony.
Sue and Patrick McIntosh decided to rent a cottage near the Salcombe estuary, to re-visit happy memories of their youth. On their walks around the area, they frequently passed a picturesque farm on Waterhead Creek. Patrick remembered the farm from boyhood, and helping the farmer drive his sheep up the road.
One day, destiny struck: the McIntoshes glanced in a glass window in town, just as an estate agent was pinning up a picture of the farm, newly come on the market. Its name was Waterhead, the same as the creek that bordered it.
"I said to Patrick, we've got to buy it," recalls Sue. "We never ordinarily would have looked in that window – it was obviously meant to be.
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"The location is so beautiful – the creek is right at the bottom of the garden.
"It is wonderfully quiet, especially coming from a more urban environment – and there is so much bird life to enjoy."
Nearby Salcombe, of course, is a great draw for sailors. Patrick is an avid sailor, while Sue has fond childhood memories of dinghy racing. In 2000, the couple started on the long road to converting the property from a traditional stone building with dark, small rooms to a spacious property suitable for modern family life.
The couple decided to incorporate an adjacent barn into their plans, and connect it to the main property by a tunnel.
"The idea was that I wanted something that looked old from the outside, but felt light and airy inside," she said.
"In one section of the farmhouse we knocked three rooms into one and made a great big farm kitchen, with an inglenook fireplace on one end and an Aga at the other. It was very warm and cosy."
History was important to Sue: she felt strongly about keeping the traditional character of the property, which is so old that it was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086.
She also wanted to take advantage of modern materials such as glass picture windows, sliding doors and skylights, to maximise the effect of the property's beautiful aspect and connection to nature.
"The view is always changing with the light," said Sue. "Sometimes you get a sunset which is golden or silver, which is very lovely.
"The top of the barn has a big drawing room which is so spacious and airy, it's one of our favourite places to be.
"We also have a big cinema screen that pulls down, so in the winter we can enjoy movies there."
In her design palate, Sue used a lot of white and light colours to make the most of the airy feeling.
She also incorporated nautical touches such as a rope banister, as a nod to the area's sailing heritage.
Sue's other favourite places in her property are the self-contained summer house and her indulgent bathroom, sumptuously kitted out with a marble bath, throne-style loo, and a chandelier.
She loves the flexibility of the multi-winged property, which allows her to close off sections if there are just two people in the house, and then open it out to accommodate their three children and grandchildren, or entertain friends in comfort.
"We were 22 for Christmas once," she said. "It works very well because we've moved the kitchen into the barn, so there is a social space for eating and being together, but there is more privacy in the sleeping areas.
"Everyone loves it – there's the creek at the bottom of the garden, and it's near the beaches as well, so there's lots to do for families."
The property's adaptability is one of its main selling points, says Savills estate agent Richard Addington.
"It's very well designed to accommodate different generations of a family, or to have part of it let out to help with income," he said.
"It has a dazzling location, and its renovations have been done thoughtfully and to a very high standard."
Indeed, Sue averred that the couple envisioned it as their forever home, so no corner was cut in its careful design and execution.
"People who know me have said that there's a lot of me in it. I take that as a compliment," she said.
Waterhead, East Portlemouth, South Devon, POA
Property: A small waterside estate on the banks of a quiet creek, sensitively modernised
Location: Near East Portlemouth, with Kingsbridge about six miles and Salcombe (by boat) about one and a half
Accommodation: Six bedrooms, four with en-suite bathrooms, with four further cloak or bathrooms. Main accommodation includes superb open-plan reception, dining area with vaulted kitchen, 40 ft sitting room, study, games room, conservatory. Separate 775 sq ft annexe with kitchen and shower room
Outside:Boathouse and slipway, gardens with croquet lawn, borders and wildflower meadow. Paddocks and wetland, 9.63 acres in all
Agents: Savills Exeter, to 01392 455755, www.savills.co.uk