Private view: Bognor's strange seaside beauty

Exclusive, extraordinary and for sale. There are the homes that just have to be seen - so we've hunted them down for a fascinating and very private view.

This week: The White House, Bognor Regis, West Sussex

What: A whitewashed four-storey, four-bedroom holiday 'cottage' you'll not find anywhere else.

We say: If there is a building that can be said to be Britain’s most extraordinary seaside home then this towering Arts and Crafts oddity in the traditional seaside resort of Bognor Regis is probably it.

The White House was built in 1898 by colourful Victorian architect John Hawes when he was just 21 years old and it’s an extraordinary creation best described as a tower cottage.

Designed to be higher than the seafront hotels it sits behind and offer views over the sea, this architectural oddity is a four-storey edifice of single rooms connected by a tight, steep side stairway, although there are ground floor and first-floor extensions at the back providing extra space for a kitchen and large sitting room.

 

West Sussex house

 

John Hawes is worthy of a mention. He built the house for he and his three brothers but, after a brief but successful career as an architect, Hawes became a priest and spent the rest of his life building churches in both the Caribbean and Australia.

His quirky design for The White House is a cross between a hobbit home and an Arts and Crafts hideaway and is difficult to negotiate if your are tall or shaky on your feet – moving from room to room requires dodging the low doorways and tackling the tricky stairs.

But the original Arts and Crafts detailing makes up for this including several ornate fireplaces, an original fresco in the main sitting room and in the particular the kitchen butler sink alone is worth a look.

The vendor, I was told, uses the house as her main home but I can’t see a couple living here unless they are happy existing cheek by jowl, but it would make for a really fun family holiday home.

Coastal homes

The money shot for the property is its fifth-floor balcony, from which you can peer across the churning waves, most of the town and a wonderful view up and along the seafront. One worrying point which would have to be fixed is the low wall that runs around this viewing platform and a glass surround would have to be added (if local planners would allow it) to prevent people tumbling off when the wind is up.

One other variable in this mix is its location; Bognor Regis. The town has been a mildly unfashionable seaside backwater for some time, famous mainly for its Butlins holiday camp, which is a mile east of the town’s pier. And George V, who gave it its Regis moniker, is said to have commented (inexplicably) moments before he died…“bugger Bognor”.

But these days, according to Felicity Chetwood of selling agent Strutt & Parker, the town is gaining status again. “Bognor Regis is definitely up and coming mainly because it’s one of the more affordable seaside towns in southern England and it’s attracting a younger, more fashionable buyer both for first, second and holiday homes,” she says.

The White House was built in 1898 by colourful Victorian architect John Hawes when he was just 21 years old