How a Hong Kong interior designer transformed a disused Norfolk pub into her seaside holiday home

On the seafront in North Norfolk, a pastel yellow abode stands out from the crowd of shoreline properties.

With a pier-side setting, in its earliest days it was a Victorian bathhouse where the gentry came to soothe their bodies in warm seawater. Later it became a pub, but fell into disrepair and went into liquidation. It was at this point that Anji Connell and her husband, Barry, who are based mainly in Hong Kong but who also had a Norfolk flat where they spent weekends away from their London home, came to the rescue.

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The year was 1999 and having purchased the former pub at auction, the couple had ambitions to turn the stunningly located, sizeable property into a chic boutique hotel. Anji, an interior designer by trade, would be in charge of the design, while Barry was ready to take the helm as chef, having completed a one-year professional chef’s course at the Ritz Escoffier School in Paris for the purpose.

However, what began as a 24-week renovation turned into a three-year project. Damp had taken hold and mushrooms were growing from the walls; extensive work was required. External walls and floors were replaced and the layout transformed from nine bedrooms to four, all upstairs and sea-facing with en suite bathrooms, including a master suite with an attached sitting room and dressing area.

We wanted a haven; somewhere to luxuriate.

The plan to call the property home took over from the idea of a hotel, even if elements of the original design remained, including the upstairs cinema room, and spa featuring a sauna and steam room with French doors leading out to a private roof terrace. “We wanted a haven; somewhere to luxuriate,” says Anji. This remained as true for a home as it had been for the hotel.

The downstairs of the 5,500-square-foot property was initially designed for guest living and dining, with a kitchen at the back. This allowed the various common areas, which include a sitting room, library, dining room and study, to take full advantage of the blue ocean vistas and the views of the nearby Victorian pier.

The home’s vibrant vibe is further enhanced by Chinese artworks that hark back to the couple’s Hong Kong background.

The interior design brings in the blues of the sea that lies just feet away, but also adds striking red and bright pink hues, ensuring a bold interior that nevertheless remains warm and welcoming. The vibrant vibe is further enhanced by Chinese artworks that hark back to the couple’s Hong Kong background. A porthole window in the kitchen adds a nautical element to the seaside home.

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“I wanted it to be a complete getaway where you could chill out, warm and cosy, with everything you needed – saunas, steam baths, the ability to help yourself to wine and delicious food from the upstairs pantry adjoining the cinema, and in the summer to be all open to sea and sky,” says Anji of the feel the couple were striving for.

A stainless steel bathtub in one bedroom is crafted from one complete piece of steel by a submarine manufacturing company.

It’s amazing lying in bed and all you see is the sea. It makes it very difficult to leave it!

The luxurious baths are certainly a highlight. A stainless steel bathtub in one bedroom is crafted from one complete piece of steel by a submarine manufacturing company, while the bright red bathtub in the master suite was made by Finnish brand, Durat, from recycled plastic. There is also a Chadder & Co cast iron freestanding tub.

“These were important for the hotel, particularly with its name, The Bath House,” says Anji. They reflect the building’s 1850 origins as a Victorian spa and bring a new bathing element to the property, particularly as the original pump used to transport seawater to its Victorian baths was too rusty to be saved during the renovation.

However, the best thing about the Norfolk property is the views. “It’s amazing lying in bed and all you see is the sea. It makes it very difficult to leave it!“ says Anji.

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The couple spend around three months of the year in Norfolk, and approximately three months each in their homes in Hong Kong, South Africa and London, with some time for travel, too. “Design-wise, Norfolk is the polar opposite of my Hong Kong home, which is sleek and minimal with lots of concrete, metal and glass,” says Anji. South Africa is “uncluttered, inviting, comfortable; London is more modern eclectic.” And Norfolk? It has turned out to be the most “homely” of all.

 

This story was originally published in our October 2018 issue as ‘A Sea Change.’ Get acquainted with Hong Kong’s best designers in Designer Profiles, and grab a copy of our 38th Anniversary October issue, on newsstands now.

Photography: William Pitt