As much as we loved our Californian-style ‘midmod’ bungalow, we both knew it was time to move on. Cravings for more space, a change of scene… and the thought of a new quirky property challenge were keeping us increasingly wired in to Rightmove and Primelocation, scouring the country from top to bottom and checking out quirky and unusual properties from Yorkshire to the Isle of Wight with nothing catching our eye sufficiently to gear us into action. But as 2011 set in, with the weather warming up and the market finally showing signs of recovery after the 2007 crash, our property flirting had to stop: it was time to make our move.
We eagerly wanted a change of scenery, more space for our design business and more personal space too to spread ourselves out a little. Being self-employed and running a largely digital-based business, we weren’t really tied to any one location – which sounds great in theory, but given the whole of the country to search, where do you start?! That said, our focus has always been the architecture of the house firstly, to see where that then led us.
At least we had our ticklist to work from – that should help narrow our search, right?…
- something quirky / architecturally interesting
- preferably midcentury / flat roofed / modernist
- something that needed work (we love nothing more than getting our hands dirty, feeling physically tired, and standing back and looking at the changes we’ve made)
- studios space for our design business
- a room for Scott’s piano
- lots of entertaining space for guests and visitors
- a good sized plot for growing vegetables and possibly even space for chickens
- a more manageable and usable courtyard-style garden
- large garage or outbuildings (future business ideas…!)
- we also loved to be surrounded by independent retailers, traditional green-grocers, fish-mongers, coffee shops and great restaurants to satisfy the foodies in us
- it was also important to be in touch with like-minded people: we wanted new conversations and the stimulation of being around other creatives
- and, dream come true… it would be by the sea too.
Not surprisingly, every property we looked at involved compromise: we came across some real architectural gems but the locations would never have worked for us (despite our trying to convince ourselves otherwise) and often they’d been poorly maintained and would require uneconomical (and out-of-our-budget) investment to update. Things weren’t looking hopeful. Phil & Kirstie would have despaired of us (we did apply for their show!), and I’m sure we would have been subject to one of Kirstie’s stern talkings to!
Then, out of the blue and listed with two agents: The Modern House and an agent local to the property in Whitstable, Kent, we came across Cambria. We vaguely knew of Whitstable as we’d looked at a property in nearby Broadstairs on a previous house hunt back in 2004 after a feature on Location, Location, Location, but it was nothing more than a winter-time drive through. Googling Whitstable in 2011 however came up with a surprising number of potential ticks in boxes… not least being by the sea! But would the house hit the spot?
We contacted both agents to get a feel for for the house, to see what interest it had received, to find out how long it had been on the market, if it had received any offers and the vendor’s situation. At this stage although wanting to make the move, we hadn’t yet got our bungalow on the market – we made the conscious decision not to view until we were in a position to make an offer, and so, motivated and with some urgency, we pulled together the marketing materials for the bungalow and began our private sale strategy.
We kept a daily vigil on Cambria via Rightmove as well as both agents’ websites to check on its status, and when all of a sudden the price dropped with the local agent, we knew it was time to book a viewing in, quick!
Here lay the dilemma, we would love to have purchased the property through The Modern House, we love the properties they list, and loved that Cambria, and our own bungalow were worthy of listing on their site (they have quite strict criteria) but we felt the local agent was more in touch with the owner, and when moving to a relatively unknown area, we needed local area knowledge. We were also aware we’d need recommendations regarding surveyors and possible tradesmen and services which London-based Modern House wouldn’t be able to provide.
So off we set to Whitstable! We picked the perfect day: it was early July and the sun was glorious. We were both excited and nervous, having viewed many homes and discounted them all fairly quickly, was this going to be yet another one of our discards?
Quite the opposite. Cambria had us from the first step inside: we instantly fell for its charm and architecture. Yes, it needed work – and lots of it – but for the first time we felt we’d found a project that was absolutely liveable in, even its current state. Smitten and excited we set off to explore Whitstable town, leaving the car behind at the house so we could walk in along the beach. This was a life could very much get used to! To our joy – and disbelief – we ticked off every single item on what we’d considered to be an insurmountable criteria list.
Mentally we’d already moved in, but of course we still had a bungalow to sell. A horrible position to be in, smitten with a property and not in a position to make an offer as we hadn’t yet sold. We were rightly concerned: the price drop had generated other viewings – perhaps they were other architecture fans, or simply looking at Cambria for its very good value square footage, or its plot too (all too often we see midcentury gems bought up, bulldozed and replaced with mock period newbuilds – more on this to come). We waited anxiously.
Thankfully that wait wasn’t long: within two weeks we had secured our buyers for the bungalow!
We returned to Cambria for a second, ‘head’ as opposed to ‘heart’, viewing prior to offering, armed with a raft of questions and a camera. In our excitement of having found our potential new home we were sure we hadn’t taken in the full extent of the renovations needed on the first viewing.
As we thought, a closer inspection raised issues beyond those most visible, but they didn’t dampen our spirits and we entered into (lengthy) negotiations regarding an offer. With almost thirty aluminium windows to replace (and eye-watering quotes received), a new roof, new bathrooms… the list goes on… we needed to secure it at the right price to make sure the house was viable and wasn’t solely a ‘heart’ purchase. Finally, offer accepted, three slow months of surveys, questions, and legals passed until, on the 1st of November 2011, we took the keys to our lovely new home by the sea!
Cambria, like the bungalow, is going to be another labour of love. We’ll document our progress as we go and and share it here on this blog along the way. Follow our journey through the renovation, and if you find yourself in Whitstable we’d love to hear from you!
Photographs of Cambria are ©The Modern House; aerial image is screengrabbed from Bing.