A near-death experience led Bram and Lisa Vis to follow their dream and build a cutting-edge home
A life-changing event can dramatically alter a person’s perspective. This is something Bram Vis and his wife Lisa found out the hard way after he was struck with a brain haemorrhage, leaving him temporarily in a coma. They were just about to exchange on a house that needed a lot of work on the Isle of Wight, where Lisa grew up, when Bram was taken ill. But you could say that Bram’s illness had a silver lining…
Bram came out of his illness with a zest for life, and a determination to spend it in a home that was worthy of such a miraculous recovery. ‘The fact that we didn’t get the original house because of the brain haemorrhage actually turned out to be a good thing,’ he says. They had been to see countless homes on the island before the ordeal, but none of them could quite match up to the couple’s criteria.
Finding the right project
‘We’ve been interested in dealing with property for years and moved to the island in 2010,’ explains Lisa. ‘But with every house we saw we wanted to change something. In the end Bram said, “This is ridiculous, there’s nothing that we like and you keep wanting to knock walls down, so why don’t we just build our own house?” So creating our own home from scratch came out of desire but also need, as we just couldn’t find what we wanted.’
A sea view was on Bram’s wish list, so when the pair found a prime spot overlooking the Solent strait. ‘The land was owned by our current next-door neighbour and we knew that planning consent was difficult to obtain,’ explains Lisa. ‘He’d already put in for permission to build a house next to his, but this was rejected, so it wasn’t in place when we bought the plot. We made a deal to ensure that if we didn’t get approval, all bets were off and we could have our exchange money back.’
Luckily Lisa and Bram’s plans were approved for the Grand Designs Isle of Wight project, with the help of ex-grand designer and local architectural designer Lincoln Miles. He proposed a predominantly one-storey house with a dramatic V-shaped cantilevered frame that would be virtually invisible. It was to be nestled in-between protected trees on the hillside. ‘If you’re on the ferry you can’t see our house,’ explains Lisa. ‘We wanted it to seem as though it belonged there already – not a stark new-build shouting like a pair of bright-white trainers.’ It wasn’t a straightforward process, however. Bram and Lisa took several leaps into the unknown, and at 836 square metres the sheer size of the house presented a unique challenge.
For example, the gargantuan property was going to be clad in Richlite. This is a first-of-its-kind compressed paper and dark-oiled Kebony timber composite that requires each panel to be constructed by hand, and a very high-end pebble-dashing that covers the lower half of the property.
‘It looks absolutely stunning, but at the end of the day it’s a bit of cladding, and it took absolutely ages to do,’ recalls Bram. ‘If we were told before we started how much it would cost, and how long it would take, we would never have done it.’ Using stones from nearby Bembridge beach, it took several craftsmen months to place the pebbles by hand – the task was completed at a painstaking square metre per day. ‘We did build it in a discovery fashion, hence it was more stressful due to the route we took. We made it more difficult for ourselves,’ adds Lisa.
And what about the size of the property? Would it have worked if it was smaller? ‘Yes, probably,’ admits Lisa. ‘Essentially we live on one floor most of the time. Downstairs is all extra space that we use if and when we need it – it doesn’t feel too big because we can choose not to use a third of it every day.’
A risky decision
The journey up to the house via a gravel path leads you to a secret glass entrance. This contains a generous light-filled hallway that links to their favourite part of the house: the huge open-plan living area. ‘It was quite a risky decision to have one big main room, and that’s what we spent the money on,’ says Lisa. ‘We decided to invest in the best glazing and lighting systems, while we cut back on other areas. We didn’t want to compromise in this room because it’s where we spend most of our time. It’s the wow of the house and we’re lucky to experience it every day.’