Through the keyhole: Modern new-build has sensational views across Torbay

PUBLISHED: 15:22 12 August 2020 | UPDATED: 17:00 12 August 2020

Nikki and Simon Rice have created an eye-catching coastal home at Torquay. Photo: Steve Haywood

Nikki and Simon Rice have created an eye-catching coastal home at Torquay. Photo: Steve Haywood

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Simon and Nikki Rice demolished an old bungalow to create this amazing self-build project at Torquay

An upstairs terrace, complete with perfectly positioned sun loungers make you feel as if you’ve jetted off on holiday. Photo: Steve HaywoodAn upstairs terrace, complete with perfectly positioned sun loungers make you feel as if you’ve jetted off on holiday. Photo: Steve Haywood

The path of true love never runs smoothly – unless you design that path together. And the rest of the garden. And the house it’s attached to.

Simon and Nikki Rice have built their dream home in a perfect spot, overlooking Torbay and the East Devon coastline.

The stylish, contemporary building was constructed to capture the views, with a spacious kitchen and living area that opens out to sea. An upstairs terrace, complete with perfectly positioned sun loungers, makes you feel as if you’ve jetted off on holiday whenever you pop up to enjoy a coffee.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” says Nikki, breaking the silence because I’ve lost the ability to use words. “We come up here and just think: we’re so lucky to have this.”

The strikingly modern kitchen was installed by Mark Booth of Peter Booth Kitchens, Abbotskerswell. See booth-kitchens.co.uk. Photo: Simon MooreThe strikingly modern kitchen was installed by Mark Booth of Peter Booth Kitchens, Abbotskerswell. See booth-kitchens.co.uk. Photo: Simon Moore

This house has been a real labour of love for Nikki, 59, and Simon, 65. The couple first met (very fleetingly) in Torquay, just over 40 years ago when Nikki went to stay with her sister and brother-in-law at the home he was sharing with Simon.

“I’d just finished poly (college) and was all punky and feminist and alternative,” says Nikki. “Simon was there, already suited and booted. We just weren’t right for each other then, were we?” she adds. “You had different things to do, I had different things to do. It was like the film Sliding Doors. It just wasn’t meant to happen then.”

So that was that. Life went on separately for the pair until a chance meeting in Bristol decades later saw the couple get together – this time permanently.

They married in Zanzibar in 2012 before deciding to settle in Simon’s home town of Torquay, eventually buying an old bungalow near the coast, knocking it down and embarking on a self-build.

Nikki and Simon have created an eye-catching coastal home. Photo: Steve HaywoodNikki and Simon have created an eye-catching coastal home. Photo: Steve Haywood

Such a stressful process can test even the most harmonious couples. But the pair were determined to use the project as a way of cementing their relationship.

“This process has been a lovely coming together for us, later in life,” says Nikki, who sorted the interiors, leaving Simon to work on the exterior and garden.

“This is our creation and we’re so pleased with it. This house is everything we wanted it to be.”

Read more: Take a look inside this gorgeous, colourful home in Bovey Tracey

Luckily, both Simon and Nikki have previous experience of designing and building. Former massage therapist and life coach Nikki took on a pub conversion in Budleigh Salterton and has also refurbished old houses up and down the country.

Insurance broker Simon is responsible for creating one of the houses just up the road. The contemporary building with an Art Deco-style turret was his first self-build.

Simon and Nikki Rice designed and built their dream home together. Photo: Steve HaywoodSimon and Nikki Rice designed and built their dream home together. Photo: Steve Haywood

“This was nowhere near as hard as that one,” he says, showing me pictures of the four-storey house with a construction job that involved carving a big chunk out of the landscape. “That was tough. The build here was damn quick – about 11 months, I think, and that included the demolition of the bungalow that was here.”

The main hurdle with this house was the planning.

“That was the worst part,” says Simon. “We bought the bungalow in 2016 and then the planning process took two years.”

The couple are being diplomatic but it turns out there were quite a few objections to their project – about 84 to be precise.

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: All of the Wenge wood here was supplied by Exeter-based Beach Bros Ltd. See beachbros.co.uk. Photo: Steve HaywoodSTAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: All of the Wenge wood here was supplied by Exeter-based Beach Bros Ltd. See beachbros.co.uk. Photo: Steve Haywood

“There were numerous, um, hurdles..!” says Simon. “But now we’ve had some of the people who lodged complaints come up to us and tell us what a lovely job we’ve done here.”

Any visitor would quickly be bowled over by the simple elegance of this place, purposefully created to capture what’s going on outside.

Each room does the bare minimum so that your eye is constantly drawn to the sweeping panoramic views over Torquay, Shaldon, Teignmouth, Exmouth and, on a good day, right across to Portland in Dorset.

“We do spend a lot of time just sitting and looking,” says Nikki, admitting she relished the opportunity to work out exactly where she was going to window watch before her house was built. “That’s the bit I enjoyed most,” she says. “The part when we’d got the floorplan and the shape of the building. Then I could decide how we divided it up into rooms, based on how we were going to use the space and what would go where.”

A sophisticated colour scheme sets off the striking artwork. Photo: Steve HaywoodA sophisticated colour scheme sets off the striking artwork. Photo: Steve Haywood

Meanwhile, Simon sorted out the sunshine. “For me, it was crucial that we planned around that,” he says. “On our open veranda at the top, we can be up there until 9pm, 10pm at night in the summer and still get the sun hitting us.”

Inside, a sunken bath overlooks the sea – a glorious way to end the day. Nikki was determined to add plenty of luxury when it came to the en-suites, downstairs cloakroom and bathroom here. They’re all delightful but the upstairs one is particularly special, demonstrating clever use of an awkward L-shaped space.

Nikki has a real eye for a bargain when it comes to adding the finishing touches. Wall lights, ornaments, candle holders, artwork and furniture has been carefully researched.

“If I find something I like, I’ll see if I can find it cheaper somewhere else,” she says. “I get real satisfaction from that.” Nikki is also an artist and hopes to try to devote more time to her creative talents in the future. She’s not short of inspiration here. “I enjoy all of the views out of every window – they’re perfectly framed,” she says. “I love nature and I love skies. It’s just brilliant.”

SMART SHOPPING: Wall lights, ornaments, candle holders, artwork and furniture have been carefully researched. Photo: Steve HaywoodSMART SHOPPING: Wall lights, ornaments, candle holders, artwork and furniture have been carefully researched. Photo: Steve Haywood

The garden often gets left behind during a self-build project – but not here. Green-fingered Simon made sure he got planting before the original bungalow was demolished to make way for their new home. The result is a beautifully established garden, with a pond, greenhouse and cosy seating areas.

The couple have each played to their strengths, dividing up the workload equally and making sure they both got what they wanted, all while compromising on other details. It’s been a heroic team effort.

“We’re just getting to the stage where we’re really starting to enjoy it,” says Nikki. “This was a massive project and it’s tough. It’s tough on your energy levels, it’s tough on your relationship but it’s such a fantastic exercise when you pull through it. What a great challenge to dive into together.”

Nikki and Simon wanted to add a thank you to their building contractor, Matt Hurley at Hurley Contractors . Nikki and Simon are selling the plot of land next door to their home. Any interested parties should contact Gerald Pincombes ,

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