We all know that when it comes to the perfect coastal home – it’s all about the location. KEVIN PILKINS discovers the WC by the sea that has been painstakingly reinvented as a luxury home
In every part of Cornwall, space is at a premium and competition for some of the most unlikely buildings has been fierce in the rush to land grab a portion of paradise. And undoubtedly among the most unusual lots are the public toilets that have found themselves going under the hammer as cash-strapped councils close down derelict WCs.
One of the most promising sold two years ago for £115,000 and overlooks St Austell Bay at Poldark-watchers hot spot Charlestown. The enthusiastic buyer of the 502sq ft building – complete with urinals – was Charlotte Thomson and fiancé Joey Auger.
There has been a spate of toilet conversions and makeovers around the country. A public toilet in Ewell, Surrey has been converted into two bijou semi-detached houses. Another has become occupied in Forest Hill. Another one in Norfolk has been re-christened The Wee Retreat, while Bristol has an art gallery which used to be a loo and Edinburgh City Council has put up for sale five of its WCs. And two former public lavatories in London are now chic, on-trend cafés – which celebrate their former use rather than try to hide it – book your table at The Convenience and Attendant which come complete with original 1890 Doulton and Co. fittings, signs and posters. But this is the first luxury residence with a sea view in the heart of Poldark country.
Charlotte was born in Kent, but she has lived in Cornwall since she was six months old. She attended Truro High School, did a business degree in Plymouth and started her own online retail business importing shoes from China. Her adventures so far have seen her win lads’ mag FHM’s High Street Honey title beating off 14,000 other entrants and winning £10,000 and a modelling contract with IMM. She became the face of Sandstorm Swimwear, worked on Kiss FM radio and was crowned Miss Portsmouth and Miss Cornwall and was a finalist in the Miss England and Miss Great Britain beauty contests.
With her fiancé Joey Auger, Charlotte – who also co-owns The Falmouth Bay Seafood Restaurant with her mother Valerie – bought the privately owned toilet for as a derelict, decommissioned public lavatory and have converted it into a light and airy living space and quirky, off-the-wall holiday home. The privy with all mod cons is now up for sale with an asking price for the much sought-after building is £595,000. Until it is sold the now named Harbour Lights is earning its keep as a holiday let.
Harbour Lights overlooking St Austell Bay at Charlestown goes back to 1771. Formerly, it was a fish cellar and fishing net store. ‘I bought my first property in 2008,’ says Charlotte, 29, ‘It was a tin miner’s cottage in Portreath. I did it up and sold it on. Joey and I did the same with properties in and around Portsmouth. When I came back to Cornwall to look after my mum we started looking around. We renovated a reading room in Ladock.
‘I like to do things outside of the box,’ she admits. But she may have found her match in Joey. ‘Joey likes to take things that one step further! He’s a machine. He’s developed an array of buildings. You could say he has an eye for an opportunity. I often get dragged along to derelict water towers, tin mines and coastguard huts and other unusual buildings up for sale! Actually, the toilet has probably been one of our most ‘normal’ adventures. At least it had a roof and plumbing!
‘The initial vision was Joey’s. I was just the labourer who did the pretty bits! After a lot of sketching on paper napkins, we came up with a design. We started with a £65,000 budget. We saw the potential. It wasn’t all location, location, location. We had a picture in our minds of what we wanted to do – and we had to give it a go.
‘Due to the clifftop location we had to go with a coastal theme but didn’t want the cliché wooden boats and hackneyed decorative seagulls. We put a bit more thought into it than that. We did buy some antique portholes and old rope though as well as reclaimed timbers antique wooden cladding for the walls. We had our work cut out to get rid of the smells!’
Charlotte collected driftwood for the house. The banister rail is an old tree trunk. The reclaimed wood came from the Longleat Estate, Queen’s Pier at Falmouth and the Harry Pounds Submarine Base.
‘It wasn’t actually the 7am starts in the pouring rain and freezing cold in February and March that were the worse part,’ she tells me. ‘It was the summer and, covered in dust, seeing people walking by with their ice creams.
‘One incident that I now find amusing but definitely did not at the time, was when the dumper that Joey was driving tipped over and trapped me up against a wall. But I forgave him – after a bottle of Muscadet and some fish and chips on the beach with our three chihuahuas –Barney, Chanel and Coco.’
So how have the locals reacted? ‘The vast majority have been incredibly supportive. Although we are called the Loo People!’
Oxford-born Joey, a qualified aerospace engineer, was the one who discovered the unique property on Quay Road. ‘WC Fields said: “Never work with animals or children”,’ says Joey. ‘He underestimated the patience required when working with your partner.
‘Charlotte and I are best friends. We work well together and get each other the majority of time. But sometimes the whole “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” is so apparent! She worked her socks off. She’s got bigger muscles than me now! She called it the powder room. I called it the bog!’
It took nine months to get planning and seven months hard labour to get it all done, he remembers. ‘We ripped out all the urinals and poured thirty-five tones of reinforced concrete,’ he says. ‘And after a lot of swearing have finished up with a two-bedroom luxury loo you can live in.’ The house also features a large en-suite and walk-in wardrobe/utility area upstairs and open-plan lounge, diner, kitchen, a separate wet room and a look-out deck. ‘We have definitely utilised every inch of space and ended up with a luxury WC by the sea – with underfloor heating.’
It also features plenty of other luxury touches including Italian marble, a Sonos sound system and solid oak doors. ‘We have kept the originals Ladies and Gents signs. We couldn’t throw them away. We have created a bespoke bog. All in all we reckon that we’ve have made a good job of it.’
Asking price : £595,000 Jackson Stopes
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