Save our beach huts!

Nostalgic or sustainable? The traditional seafront icon facing a modern design challenge. 

We love a good beach hut. The mere sight of these steadfast little buildings stood sentry-like across a typically windswept British seafront can warm your probably frozen cockles.

Our local beach huts in Bude have gone down the retro route, all whitewashed walls and pretty primary coloured doors, purposefully tapping in to our preoccupation with nostalgia. Hey, it’s the seaside – it should all be about bucket and spades, knotted hankies and saucy postcards, yeah?

We know the reality of coastal living, we live here, and we love it. But it can’t half play havoc with your vulnerable regions if you’re not too careful. What’s the saying? There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.

Here in North Cornwall we have to be prepared to brave wind and rain one moment and blazing sunshine the next. We wouldn’t have it any other way, the weather defines our environment and therefore defines us. We go out and play in it, we walk our dogs in it. We embrace it. And we look good wrapped up in a dryrobe or Finisterre waterproof.

Rose-tinted visions of the good old British seaside stand up to neither storm nor scrutiny. It’s not the Costa del Sol, it’s Cornwall.

Our brave but vulnerable beachfront buildings need to be suitably clad. We should shake off the delusions, park the nostalgia and strip the white paint.

Over 200 beach huts were built in here in Bude a few years ago as part of a million-pound fund from Cornwall Council to develop our coastal assets. But they’re now starting to look a bit sorry for themselves.

The pretty primary paint jobs look good for a fair while, but you then need to apply new coats to keep up appearances at least once a year. This can be costly, so people don’t keep up. The huts inevitably begin to look shabby (and not of the chic variety). No-one wants to see rust dripping from cheap exposed fittings.

Anything exposed day and night all year round to the Atlantic wind and rain needs to be armoured appropriately. It’s a straightforward design and build philosophy.

Here at YEO, we prefer the Mentone Gardens beach huts at Summerleaze. They seem to have been designed by someone who knows their craft and has taken the elements into consideration. And because they’re a bit different, but still with the strong core of a good beach hut design.

The beautiful wood isn’t treated so it’s ageing naturally and with dignity. The man-made elements of this stretch are nestling sympathetically in to their natural surroundings. The colours are a relatively subtle wash rather than a clumsy thick coat of toxic gloss that would only crack and peel before long.

We need a bit of progressive long-term thinking rather than always harking backwards. Our buildings need to be sustainable. Why not design and build something that requires little, if any upkeep but will stand the test of time (and wind and rain)?

We were lucky enough to work on the The Hide house in Bude which uses untreated woods, stones and metals that age gracefully and don’t need any upkeep.

“Major criteria when discussing the concept for The Hide included low maintenance and longevity,” says Rob Colwill, property developer and homeowner. “We’ve enveloped the building in natural materials to give a weather resistant jacket of stacked stone and oak boarding, both products can now be left to do their own thing and the oak is already taking a silver shade as it oxidises through the weathering process.

“The Hide is a large and complex house with many cantilevers and overhangs so the thought of scaffolding to paint a big white cube every three years didn’t sit well with me… not to mention both cost and environmental impact.”

“As a result of this successful approach we now intend to do the same on a commercial basis,” continues Rob. “The Penavor development overlooking Crooklets Beach in Bude will use a very similar palette that we hope will stand the test of time in its prominent and exposed coastal position. We also think it’s a great way of softening contemporary architecture and reducing the long term running costs for the future occupants.”

This is how you do coastal design and build. The initial expense of using superior materials may put some people off, but this is far more cost effective when you consider the ongoing costs of using cheaper materials that then need constant maintenance.

Some smarter sustainable thinking will protect the investment already made in our beach huts. We want to see these little beauties still standing proud season after season, working with the wonderfully wild Cornish weather, not despite it. 

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