Following the natural and nuclear disasters in Japan living near an atomic power station on the coast might have lost its allure. The owners of a converted lookout tower near Dungeness, explain how they came to own it and the allures of living there
A stark brick rectangle stands in the middle of a barren shingle beach. Its nearest neighbours are a metal pylon, a huddle of low-lying clapboard cottages, and a hulking nuclear power station.
Featuring metal balconies and narrow vertical windows, it could easily be mistaken for a defensive military outpost, but the building - a former coastguard tower - is actually the much-loved holiday home of designer Fiona Naylor and her husband Peter Marlow, a photographer.
Peter first spotted the place when he came down to Dungeness, Kent on a shoot in the mid 90s.
“It was used by the coastguard to direct shipping,” he explains, “but I noticed that they were moving out. I wrote to the Dungeness Trust to express an interest and they replied a year-and-half later accepting my offer.” Inside the four-storey block they found an emergency generator, a room full of life jackets and a clanging metal staircase painted canary yellow.
“We wanted to retain the feel of the original architecture while opening it up and converting it into a seaside sanctuary. We’ve kept the brickwork and the metal stairs but finished the living spaces with plaster.
“The design was inspired by the original building and the surrounding landscape: blue Belgian limestone slabs, oiled American oak, stainless steel fittings and a colour palette of sage, green and grey.
“Dungeness can be beautiful and serene but it can also be quite a bleak and windswept place so we wanted somewhere warm and domestic. We put in underfloor heating and took steps to secure the building against the elements.
“The galvanised steel on the exterior is original but we coated it with melted aluminium. This is finished with a special paint used on oil rigs. We also kept the original teak window frames.”
“It’s a unique place,” says Peter, “the largest stretch of shingle in the world after Cape Canaveral in Florida. The light is amazing, there’s the RSPB nature reserve, and the sea is 50 meters away.
“Our kids love it here. We have a small catamaran, and we’ve got to know the local fishing community. We text the fishing boats to find out what they’ve caught. The views over the channel and back to the power station are superb.”
These delights, of course, may not be to everyone’s taste, but Peter and Fiona are not alone in loving the quirky otherness of Dungeness.
Film-maker Derek Jarman bought a cottage here in the 80s and famously created a beautiful garden using local plants; and the architect Simon Conder has designed some award-winning buildings on the beach – including a rubber clad bungalow flanked by an aluminium airstream caravan.
None seem to have been put off by the presence of the power station. “It makes strange noises from time to time,” says Peter, “but it doesn’t bother us.
“Apparently they dish out free iodine tablets – it stops the absorption of radiation – but we’ve never felt the need to take them up on the offer!”