CORNWALL HOMES: COASTAL LIVING
PUBLISHED: 12:18 22 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:41 30 August 2017
A new book reveals the glories of life by the coast featuring best seaside homes, including a cottage in Port Isaac familiar to Doc Martin viewers
A new book reveals the glories of life by the coast choosing some of the world’s best seaside homes, including one little cottage in Port Isaac
The ancient village of Port Isaac, situated close to the Camel Estuary in North Cornwall, is a source of endless inspiration to the designer Jan Constantine, who has owned a cottage there since 2001. The stone core of the building is believed to date from the 17th century and has provided a home for many generations of fishing families.
Its original plan – two rooms on the ground floor and two rooms above, delineated by exceptionally thick walls – was simplicity itself. The entrance lintel is very low. People must have been much smaller in the days when it was built,’ says Jan.
Sea Cove Cottage is perched on cliffs with a spectacular view across the tiny bay and beach, where there is always something interesting going on. In recent years, Port Isaac has been the main location for the television series Doc Martin, which featured Jan’s cottage as the home of the character Louisa. The popularity of the series has attracted many tourists – with coffee shops and art galleries taking over from traditional food outlets and antiques stores – but Port Isaac is still an active fishing village, famed for its wonderful crab, and the place has not changed in other respects. The singing fishermen still sing on the beach on Friday evenings in summer, and the local brass band still plays too,’ says Jan.
Although the old cottage had been converted into a holiday home in the 1960s, Jan knew when she bought it that the building needed a total makeover. There was a flat-roofed, L’-shaped extension containing the kitchen, with a large sink blocking most of the view, and a narrow sun room on one side. It all had to go!’ says Jan. A full-width living room was added at the back and an open-plan kitchen area was set into the middle of the house. It took a lot of time and patience but eventually we got permission to extend the building, lifting the roof to create a more interesting apex with exposed beams. By installing a wall of glass doors to span the width of the cottage, we opened up the sea view.’
Despite the amount of work that proved necessary –including damp-proofing and installing new bathrooms on both floors – it was important to Jan and her husband David to retain the integrity of the building. New flagstones were sourced to match the original flooring and oak floors were laid elsewhere. Outside, the small area overlooking the harbour was paved and a half-height glass screen was erected at the seaward end of the terrace.
This view is only for those with a good head for heights,’ says Jan, especially now that we have exchanged our old iron balustrade for glass.’
A wooden bunk was built over the stairway to provide additional sleeping space and the original wooden panelling that survived in the back bedroom was repaired and later replicated in other rooms up to dado height The interior decoration has been kept very simple, with plenty of white paint and touches of duck-egg blue. Many of the curtains are made of mattress ticking, but Jan used some of her embroidered seaside fabrics for curtains and blinds on the smaller windows. Most of the nautical artefacts on display in the cottage were found in local junk shops.
When the structural alterations were complete, Jan and David and their two young daughters started to spend as much time as they could at the cottage. In 2002Jan set up a textile design business, which soon began to flourish, with homeware stores in Cornwall eager to stock her products, including cushions featuring seaside motifs such as fish, gulls and yachts. She has also supplied specially designed cushions to some of the leading hotels in the area.
Since her mother was a tailor and her grandmother a dressmaker, Jan believes that fabric design is in her blood. Over the years she has created an exquisite collection of hand-embroidered textiles inspired by vintage and rural themes and her favourite things, including Union Flag designs. I like the Union Flag because I’m proud to be British and I sell hundreds of them, especially in London,’ says Jan. Her soft furnishings are in great demand both in Britain and abroad; they range from the eye-catching bright colours of her Love collection to the more delicate traditional embroidery of hearts and flowers.
Sea Cove Cottage is now rented out to holidaymakers for most of the year, whenever it is not occupied by the family. And although Jan’s main home is in Betley, near Crewe, 435 km/270 miles to the north, she still escapes to Cornwall whenever she can, especially during the quieter winter months, when the crowds of tourists have melted away. Life in Port Isaac is simple and relaxing. I find inspiration all around, so I book time in my diary to be here alone,’ she says. Some of my best designs come to me at the seaside.
Whenever I’m away, I can’t wait to get back to the place.’
This unassuming blue door flanked by terracotta pots has become an attraction for fans of Doc Martin, who flock to Port Isaac to find the locations used in the television series. The upper half of the façade is hung with tiles of Cornish slate in the traditional manner.
It was very important to Jan and her family that the 17th-century cottage should retain its authentic appearance. Missing original features were replaced by modern lookalikes, such as the Cornish slate flags in the kitchen, where a Belfast sinkand a blue Smeg refrigerator enhance the period feel.
Enlivening an otherwise monochrome scheme, two of Jan’s signature design motifs adorn the cushions on the living-room sofa: the British Union flag and heart shapes from her Love collection. Family connections with the sea are recalled in poignantimages of sailors and in sailors’ uniforms displayed behind glass.
The textural contrast of roughly hewn stone and smooth wood panelling makes this wall an appealing backdrop for a collection of Cornish coastal scenes and lakeland images. A vertically propped fishing rod offers an interesting visual counterpoint to the horizontal lines of the picture frames.
Subtle tactile and visual juxtapositions add to the appeal of the table-top displays at Sea Cove Cottage. Here, a weathered slimline anchor is set at a jaunty angle against a windowsill, while neatly arranged items of fishing tackle are paired with smooth-surfaced shells and a jagged shell necklace.
The guest bedroom, which looks out on the lane at the front of the house, has a single bed either side of the narrow window. The original wooden panelling was restored and replicated in other rooms up to dado height. A bold red, white and blue colour scheme gives this cosy space a patriotic feel.
The most irresistible feature of Sea Cove Cottage is the paved terrace overlooking Port Isaac harbour, which is humming with activity for most of the year. Wood-framed, clear-glass panels were installed at the seaward end of the terrace to make the most of the views.
Coastal Living is avaiilable to readers of Cornwall Life for the special price of £18 including postage & packaging (rrp £25). To take advantage of this order call Macmillan Direct on 01256 302 699 and quote the reference GI6.