An art-filled Modernist beach home - Grand Designs Magazine

An art-filled Modernist beach home

The Pet Shop Boys' former manager shocked his Hastings neighbours with his Modernist design

By Charlotte Luxford |

Tom Watkins faced both positive and negative curiosity from neighbours during the construction of his Modernist Grand Designs home back in 2004. Built from concrete blocks coated with durable lighthouse paint, the property sits just metres from the shingle beach.

Inside, the house is light and airy and filled with Tom’s collection of art, sculptures and contemporary furniture. The utilitarian kitchen/ dining space contrasts with the master bedroom, which is a shrine to Philippe Starck.

Grand Designs talks to him about his eventful journey to self-build his dream home.

modern blue sofa blue chair red hand chair white walls oval dining table

Photo: Mel Yates

Your project provoked mixed reactions; how did you deal with local resistance?

Well apart from offering to buy them out, I ignored them and referred them to my granted planning consent. Many love the place now and local businesses embrace the increased trade that the house still brings.

This weekend we had an Australian trio who asked to take pictures of me outside the house. All very flattering but occasionally intrusive. The magic of the location and the giant sugar cube act like a magnet to sightseers.

Was obtaining planning permission difficult?

Planning is always difficult in the UK. There will always be fuddy-duddies more concerned with nostalgia than progress – total hypocrisy when you consider the number of mock Georgian properties being squeezed into sites no bigger than dog kennels.

It is time that the whole planning process was reviewed locally and had more specific guidelines. The fact that your dog won Crufts and you opened the church fête should not give you the power to refuse some funky architecture!

beach garden pot plants blue stairs dog surfboard

Photo: Mel Yates

What advice would you give to others looking to build on the coast?

Make sure you know the area, geography and climate and visit in different seasons. An ideal location that has no drainage, poor internet communications and roads subject to flooding may appear very picturesque in high summer, but much less appealing after several days of torrential rain and snow.

Ensure you use local tradesmen – trying to get your boiler fixed by your favourite London-based builder is not going to work in the middle of a freezing winter in Hastings.

How did you cope with budgeting?

Thorough research and keeping tight control of the project; as a professional designer, I had full training in accountancy and bookkeeping. I allowed a 10 per cent overrun and ended up extending to 20 per cent because I chose to landscape the garden.

Ensure you have access to the full amounts and negotiate favourable terms up front.

White home interior colourful artwork cartoon dog large bone maroon chair

Photo: Mel Yates

Is there anything you’d like to change?

I wish I had included a bathroom on the top floor, but I love the house, especially the addition of bright-red paint to the back corner section. That shines out to sea like a beacon.

Did your art collection influence the build?

My art is my life; it allows me to express my creativity. My appreciation of the Bauhaus school and Ettore Sottsass’ Memphis group is echoed through every nook and cranny.

What are you doing now?

Right now I’m planning another exciting, larger and more futuristic project; I’ve just got planning and I’m now getting tenders in for the build. Watch this space.

grand designs tom watkins. Shingle beach two dogs white modernist house exterior

Photo: Mel Yates