A Creekside Retreat

PUBLISHED: 10:35 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013

Pencalenick House is surrounded by National Trust land

Pencalenick House is surrounded by National Trust land

In this February/March issue, we explore a modernist hideaway on the Fowey estuary. Tucked away in a secluded Cornish creek on the south coast, the location of Pencalenick House could hardly be more tranquil and is a million miles from the hubbub ...

Rebecca Matthews explores a modernist hideaway on the Fowey estuary Tucked away in a secluded Cornish creek on the south coast, the location of Pencalenick House could hardly be more tranquil. It is a million miles from the hubbub of modern life, and is to be found at the end of a winding lane that runs along the hillside of Pont Pill Creek.

This house is a remarkable example of contemporary and ecologically sound architecture and is surrounded by an expanse of National Trust land and oak and hazel woods. Just a short distance along the creek from where Daphne du Maurier wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit, Pencalenick overlooks the same inspirational landscape - a private sheltered cove and, beyond the estuary and its constant stream of passing boats, the pretty town of Fowey, famous for its cobbled streets and Cornish charm.

It is a rare setting, and property developer Johnny Sandelson could hardly believe his luck when he discovered it five years ago. Given its location, the site's previous incarnation as a TB isolation hospital seems logical, although it was never actually used. Having purchased the land, Sandelson commissioned architect Seth Stein to build a family home - but this was to be no run-of-the-mill dwelling. Stein designed an extraordinary property, boasting innovative design and modish touches, with a keen sensitivity to its surroundings.

From the other side of the creek, Pencalenick virtually disappears into the wooded hillside - a credit to the creativity of its design. The use of locally sourced natural materials means that the house sits comfortably within the contours of the steep landscape, adding a stylish but unobtrusive element to this untouched corner of Cornwall.

On reaching the end of the winding lane, the most prominent feature is the seeded grass roof. With a walkway on top and a decked terrace at one side, the roof benefits from sensational views over the creek - an idyllic spot for a hot tub - the construction of which is planned for this year. The self-maintaining roof serves as both an ecological means of insulation and, of course, aids the merging of the development into its wooded valley environment. This sense of ecological awareness was a foremost consideration in sourcing the building materials: the locally sourced natural stone and timber merge with the landscape, as well as slashing the project's carbon miles.

A huge, glass sliding door beckons you into the 40ft living area of Pencalenick House. Overlooking magnificent views of the estuary, the double-height windows make this an ideal spot from which to watch storms roll in over the water or the sun set behind Fowey. The open-plan space is flooded with natural light, and invites you in with its warm ambience and tasteful styling. A magnificent Cornish stone fireplace towers to one side surrounded by a cluster of comfortable sofas, their neutral tones the ideal complement to the cedar flooring and the slate-grey and soft copper hues of the stone. Black leather chairs and splashes of vibrancy from the modern art on the walls lend a stylish contrast to the organic colour scheme.

The furnishings are as stylish as they are comfortable. The Jasper Morrison tables and chairs in the living area blend in perfectly with the soft neutrals. A custom-made elm table sits in front of the sleek and contemporary kitchen space, with an Aga in the centre, behind which lies an extensive wine cellar. The walls are lined with a library of books.

The only noise heard is the rhythmic lap of the estuary waters and the rustle of the leaves, making Pencalenick a perfect place to indulge in some reading.

One of the building's most striking features is suspended above: a glass walkway, lit by natural light from a curved glass panel in the grass roof.

The house has five double en-suite bedrooms and two smaller bedrooms, which are designed for children, scattered across both floors. Each has a chic minimalist design, with stylish furnishings and a cool, clean colour scheme, finished with crisp bed linen. Windows overlooking the estuary line each room, with shutters that allow the fresh sea air to drift in.

The first floor rooms open onto a terrace that runs the length of the house: a beautiful spot to soak up the view. Paying close attention to detail, the spacious bathrooms have been constructed with heated slate flooring and deep Philippe Starck tubs and fittings. It is difficult to imagine anything more tranquil and relaxing than indulging in a long soak, absorbing the sounds of owls, the rustle of wildlife and the lap of water on the moonlit creek.

Enhancing the retreat-like ethos of the house, an empty room has recently been turned into a therapy space. With a view of only woods and water, and the murmur of nature as a soundtrack, it exudes the perfect atmosphere in which to relax.

The house opens onto a small lawn and terrace that has a selection of long tables for alfresco dining in the summer, while an adjoining path leads to a secluded barbecue area in the woods overlooking the creek.

Pencalenick embraces modern technology. The first-floor office is lined with more books, and comes complete with a Mac and WiFi and an iPod docking station, and an extensive selection of music and DVDs can be found amidst the books on the ground floor, while the games room has a 42-inch plasma screen television.

Although originally conceived as a family home for Johnny and his family, his commitments in London keep them away from Pencalenick on a permanent basis. Deciding to share the joys of his waterside hideaway, Pencalenick is now emerging as one of the country's most exclusive retreats. Guests tend to come as families or groups of friends, many finding the serenity of Pencalenick the perfect antidote to the pressures of city life. They can enjoy all the luxuries of a five-star hotel with the perk of privacy, including a team of full-time staff.

House Manager Debs and her partner, Pip, live at the house on a full-time basis. While Debs ensures the smooth running of the house, and personifies its remarkably warm welcome, Pip is the skipper of

La Caniche, Pencalenick's 47ft classic 1930s motor yacht. He takes guests cruising around the surrounding coastline, perhaps for a day's fishing for mackerel or bass, or to explore some of the coves, many accessible only by boat.

Chef Lee McCallum travels to work by water taxi each day from his home in Fowey. He is on hand to provide guests with fine cuisine, and as part of Pencalenick's policy of keen eco-awareness, his meals use locally sourced seasonal produce. Debs says, "I believe we have some of the best produce in the country here on our doorstep, offering incredible quality, consistency and variety in all areas of food production." The team has now begun to make use of Pencalenick's plentiful, if rather steep, grounds to grow their own organic herbs, potatoes and strawberries. Furthermore, Debs and Pip have recently started keeping free-range chickens, which roam around an enclosed space in the woods and further enhance the property's ethos of sustainability.

A unique building hidden away in the most romantic and isolated of locations, Pencalenick House will fill any visitor with a seductive sense of escapism, which lingers long after you've wound your way back to the outside world.

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