LOOK THROUGH THE KEYHOLE OF ST IVES COTTAGE
PUBLISHED: 16:51 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 13:21 30 August 2017
The favourite harbour town of St Ives is full of romantic abodes - we land at Coxswain’s Cottage near Porthmeor Beach where the eponymous hero saved a shipwrecked crew...
With not a pastel-coloured beach hut in sight, Coxswain’s Cottage combines old world mariner chic with a touch of the industrial with repurposed ship light fittings and recycled driftwood.
Coxswain’s Cottage sits in one of St Ives’ many cobbled streets just behind Porthmeor Beach. The cottage is named for life boat Coxswain Thomas Andrews who once lived there. He took part in the famous rescue of the steamer SS Alba which hit rocks off Porthmeor beach. The ship was on route to Barry in Wales from Italy carrying coal when it got into difficulty (a newly-automated Godrevy lighthouse was held to be the culprit for confusing the ship’s captain).
The lifeboat managed to get 23 of the crew off the ship when the boat capsized and was washed onto rocks. The Alba restaurant on St Ives harbour is named after the famous ship and the ship’s boiler can still be seen off the coast of St Ives during low tide.
You’ll find evidence of this fascinating history in the kitchen where a light fixture has been installed which came from the captain’s cabin on the ill-fated ship. And there is more to come. I am in the process of getting his scrolls framed and you will be able to see artefacts that he was presented with for his service on the walls if you visit the house,’ says owner Pete Monaghan. Other unusual maritime accessories include the bedside lights which were reclaimed from a Japanese trawler.
Heading into the cottage from the narrow streets that make St Ives so charming (and a little stressful when navigating by car), Coxswain’s sits on steeped land so we enter on the first floor and drop down one storey at the back into what was once the cellar. This original part of the building was once a pilchard press and dates back 500 years and is now repurposed as the kitchen and dining space. In its ceiling is a ship’s mast head which holds up the ceiling of the house as well as the two cottages on either side; an architectural feature that has wisely been left in full view and is sure to be a conversation starter. It’s also Pete’s favourite feature. It harks back from the days when ships were wrecked on the beach and the parts would be auctioned off for building materials,’ he explains. It’s always interesting to look at it and think of how the 19th century builders would have got it up there as it is just huge. It was one of the things I loved about these cottages when I first came down and visited my friend Owen (next door), one of the first things I did was to pull the ceiling down to see the mast, exposing it for the first time in decades.’
Next door to the kitchen, Pete has introduced his own unusual feature: a steam room which sits in the family bathroom. The bathroom is split in two by a glass door with twinkling LED lights in the ceiling and fold down chairs offering a steam space for four. And when you are all steamed out, simply turn the taps on the overhead shower, without even having to move.
The idea came after having a couple of bottles of wine in The Sloop with my Dad (Richard) and my girlfriend (Cherish),’ explains Pete. When the morning came it still seemed like a good idea and I’m really happy I pushed to make it happen. It’s a really special and unexpected thing to have in a Cornish cottage and the way I designed the bathroom means there is plenty of space but there is still a bath and a shower so there are no compromises.’
The kitchen features a cosy dining nook which looks out to the ground floor at the rear. Industrial and maritime lighting sits over a scrubbed farmhouse table which mixes bench seating with classic Eames designed Eiffel chairs.
A courtyard outside offers space for summer socialising - and a back alley leads to a private tunnel direct to Porthmeor Beach: one of the county’s favourite surf spots and home to the newly reopened Tate St Ives.
Although this cellar area of the house dates back 500 years, the top two storeys of the house came later – around the 1800s and the granite built home (which was missing from the land registry) was occupied by the same family until it was sold to Pete in 2014.
Thus began two years of careful work to create the house today. The cottage had not been worked on for many years when we bought it,’ he says. It was a painstaking two-year process to sympathetically restore it whilst modernising and adding some luxury features like the steam room and upstairs ensuite bathrooms. We didn’t want to alter the original layout so we kept features like the original staircases and floorboard ceilings. Otherwise it was fully taken apart and put back together again. The local builder who we used (Dave) does top class work and it really shows when you look at the edges and joins around the cottage.’
Nothing went to waste - a butcher in Truro has now repurposed the old kitchen units in his shop. I made an effort to recycle and retain wherever possible so cupboards, doors, banisters etc have been kept and restored instead of thrown away and replaced.’
The living room sits between the split level house, providing access to cellar kitchen and rear exit down stairs while sitting at ground level at the front entrance. It’s a cosy space dominated by an L-shaped sofa filled with comfy looking cushions. Exposed stone walls are surrounded by wainscot in heritage green paint, and the old fireplace has become a useful nook to hide all-mod cons of a flat screen television and other accoutrements of modern living. The mirror in the lounge was created by a local artist and its chunky ruggedness is a great contrast to the clean lines and light lime stone pointing in the granite walls.’
Split by the soft blue-grey painted stairway which takes us up to the two master bedrooms, the first bedroom sits in the ground floor and has made a feature of the old solid stone walls of which the cottage is made from. Look above the doors and windows and spot the original old lintels, slightly sagged, but doing a sterling job despite their advancing years. Throughout the house old wood has been repurposed for doors and furniture, including this one for storage in the twin bedroom. Look carefully and the occasional stamp will give clues to where the wood originates from. I spotted letters on the shower room door – what will you spot? Upstairs two main bedrooms continue the theme with the added advantage of modern shower rooms complete with luxury toiletries and fluffy bathrobes.
Coxswain’s Cottage is filled with accessories reminding guests of its coastal location with upcycled furniture and storm lanterns providing focal points in the deep windows. The open fireplaces have been made into features and are now home to ceramics filled with dried flowers and candles.
For Pete, the history of the house was a major attraction. I was attracted by the history of the building and by the idea of turning it into a modern residence while keeping its essential character. It was a small cottage, so fitting in the things that people look for in modern life - ensuite bathrooms etc, was a challenge, but I think we achieved a great result.’
And of course the secret entrance to Porthmeor Beach adds to the attractions. The feeling when you open the beach door and see Porthmeor beach stretched out in front of you never gets old and that’s what sold the house to me. I love the theatre of taking friends down there and seeing the surprised looks on their faces when they see what’s on the other side.’
Coxswain’s Cottage offers a glimpse of an old St Ives, which many considered long lost; a time of simple living, when the beaches meant a way to earn a living and before surf boards were invented. And while visitors now look to the harbour town for pleasure, Coxswain’s Cottage offers a place that embraces history - alongside all the surf and shopping.
Coxswain’s Cottage is offered by Beachspoke from £570 based on a three-night stay.