Devon’s prettiest homes: Gitcombe Retreat in the South Devon countryside
PUBLISHED: 17:27 10 June 2019
Gitcombe Retreat is a spectacular house built to celebrate its commanding position over the South Devon countryside. CHRISSY HARRIS paid (an extended) visit
Oh, how often I've imagined living in the houses I'm lucky enough to see doing this job.
I regularly picture myself cooking and eating in flawlessly finished kitchens before relaxing on designer sofas in cosy living rooms while gazing over landscaped gardens and never-ending countryside.
At Gitcombe Retreat, I lived this dream for two whole days.
Owner Peter O'Brien very kindly suggested my family and I could stay in his incredible holiday let, part of the Gitcombe Estate, near Dartmouth.
In the name of painstaking Through the Keyhole research, I said yes, packed my bags and moved in.
What a place. Designed by award-winning local architects Roderick James, this oak-framed building complements its surroundings but saves the biggest wows for the inside.
"You walk in and there's that immediate height created by the oak frame and then the two sides of wraparound glazing," says Peter, as I gather my composure.
"Then there's the light, and the peace. It's so comfortable and you sleep so well. I've stayed here a few times and it's just amazing."
Peter, 37, created this luxurious, four-bedroom, barn-style modern house as the latest part of an ambitious project to transform the Gitcombe Estate.
He and his father Rodney, 72, bought the site, a private complex of holiday accommodation, which includes the impressive Gitcombe Manor House, back in 2013.
Since then, the father-and-son team have invested a huge amount of time, effort and money in a place that now enjoys a reputation as one of the best family getaway spots in the country.
"After a year or two of getting the maintenance of the estate together, my dad and I had a chat about the existing stable block here and what an amazing place it would be to have an oak-framed house, or something like that," says Peter, who ran a successful holiday rental firm in Dorset with his father before they moved to Devon.
"But we didn't want to build a white elephant," he adds, stressing how important it was for this new build to blend in. "We didn't want to make a statement piece externally. We wanted it to sit in the hillside."
Work started in November 2017 and everything from cement lorries to timber delivery trucks and 40-tonne cranes had to negotiate the narrow country lanes that lead to this site, tucked away in a secluded valley.
"The only time we experienced any difficulty was when the builders ('fantastic' local firm Alec Hoare & Son) were just about to leave and it started snowing," says Peter, describing what was otherwise a pretty straightforward year-long process.
"They told me they wanted to just get a bit more work done but I said, boys, unless you get out now, you're going to get stuck here.
"I was looking over across Dartmoor and I could see the writing on the wall. The snow was phenomenal. Within two hours, it was a total whiteout."
With a little help from the estate's Rugged Terrain Vehicle (RTV), the building team managed to get home before coming back to finish off the construction work.
Then it was time to concentrate on the interior. Peter's exceptionally high standards means that all of the fixtures, fittings and homeware inside these glass and timber walls are high-end, right down to the classy-looking wooden tea tray in the pantry.
Nothing here is 'just okay'; the finish on everything is neat and symmetrical, allowing the rustic untreated wooden frame to stand out as the star of the show.
"I'm so pleased with it," says Peter before admitting there are still some minor details he wants to sort out. "I'm still tweaking certain things, I'm like that. I want to get some more art for the walls and I'm waiting for a bit of coloured glass for the splashback in the kitchen.
"We've just had the garden planted and all the bulbs are coming, look," he says as we stare out of the huge bifold doors, towards Dartmoor in the distance.
"I just love the feel you get in this part of Devon," says Peter, who grew up in Somerset but has been a regular visitor to these parts over the years. "There's nowhere like it."
I think I'm going to like living here.
Peter felt it was important to create a holiday house everyone could enjoy.
Gitcombe Retreat has Mobility Level 1 and Mobility Level 2 ratings, meaning it's suitable for people with a range of disabilities.
The living area is all on one level, with a wheelchair friendly bedroom and en-suite bathroom on the same floor.
CREATING THE INSIDE LOOK
Interior designer Holly Keeling in Totnes helped Peter to choose the soft furnishings, leaving him to concentrate on the rest, including floors, kitchen and dining furniture.
"It's being able to identify the places to source things, that's what I found difficult at first," says Peter. "But the more I do it, the more I like it."
LIVING ON SITE
"It's not for everyone," says Peter, who currently lives in the coach house building on the estate.
"But it's no different from being in a neighbourhood except the people you see are on holiday, so they're always friendly!"
A WORD FROM THE ARCHITECT
James Lock, from Roderick James Architects LLP in Totnes, says Gitcombe Retreat is nearly eight times larger in volume than the former stable block it replaced but has adapted to its surroundings.
"The new house is built into the surrounding landscape and is designed to appear as a single storey barn-like structure from the entry side, whilst opening up on the more private side to embrace the far-reaching countryside views," he says.