Beach houses, whether modest little pastel shacks or magnificent glacial petite palaces, cast a spell over home buyers. Now it is the turn of Margate to display its coastal homes.
The resurgent Kent town made famous by JMW Turner — the artist called its skies “the loveliest in Europe” — wants its seafront promenade to be a thing of beauty once again.
The Beach Houses
The promenade will display a terrace of modern, open-plan houses, the architecture inspired by the classic British beach hut. Perched above the sea wall on elevated land that allows protection against flooding, the glass-fronted homes are clad in larch with steep pitched roofs.
Nine of the 11 houses, from developer Harriss Property, are set across two levels connected by a spiral staircase. The top-floor living space has a high ceiling, and there’s a terrace. Architect Guy Hollaway says his starting point was to “design homes that embody a sense of fun in their practicality and to create spaces where great memories are made”.
He adds: “We have used materials that are low-maintenance and durable, so all you need to focus on is the view. We hope to see these homes passed down from generation to generation” — as all good beach homes should be.
Construction is under way and completion is due next spring. Prices are from £390,000. The homes have 999-year leases and underground parking spaces. Call Strutt & Parker on 01227 451123.
On a clear day you can see Essex, which does not sound fantastic, but Turner was right — the Margate skies, whether blue, brooding or burning at sunset, are often glorious.
Margate is a very different place to the genteel resort that Turner knew in the 1830s when he painted more than 100 scenes from an unknown address in the Old Town.
From the Fifties onwards, Margate collapsed into tacky tourism and neglect. Now it’s determined to ditch its kiss-me-quick image.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
It has an iconic new seafront art gallery, Turner Contemporary, and a new high-speed rail service to central London.
The once-shabby Old Town is getting a facelift, with fashion boutiques, galleries, vintage stores and organic cafés replacing souvenir shops, while run-down lodging houses and B&Bs are gradually being turned into smart flats for weekenders.
The popular Old Town even has The Cupcake Café, set up by Lisa Hemingway. She says: “Most people come to Margate and say ‘I didn’t know about this little area, isn’t it nice?’ They generally follow that by saying, ‘It’s a shame about the rest of the town’. But it’s all very positive.
“We’re going in the right direction. Business is 10 times what it was three years ago.”
Developers and the local council are working on the fabric of historic Margate. The town is sprinkled with some fine but neglected Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture and also has some striking Art Deco flourishes.
RISING PROPERTY VALUES
Even the historic Dreamland amusement park, which fell into disrepair and closed in 2005, is being reinvented following a rescue campaign backed by English Heritage, and will reopen this summer along with its restored listed Scenic Railway, the wooden roller coaster. The Winter Gardens have been refurbished, too.
Guy Hollaway has unveiled plans for a spectacular modern-design hotel and apartment scheme, dubbed The Rendezvous, right next to Turner Contemporary.
Since opening in 2011, the gallery has proved to be a huge boost to the local economy, bringing in £6 for every £1 invested and triggering at least 35 new businesses.
The town that dipped so low no one thought it could rebound has even got flats that sold for £50,000 five years ago now going for more than £200,000. However, values are still low enough to excite bargain hunters.
Turner Heights — expect more such names — is a recent development of 40 flats at Zion Place, with prices starting at £109,950. Call Miles and Barr on 01843 231222. A 10-bedroom detached house at Marine Gardens is on the market for £365,000. Call Your Move on 01843 315057. A big house on Eastern Esplanade is priced at £400,000. Call 01702 744147.
Royal Sea Bathing, a splendid former convalescent hospital, is one of Margate’s notable developments.
Built in 1791 for TB patients, it has been turned into 250 flats for rental and sale, with a façade flanked by four tall pillars and a grand entrance hall with chandeliers from the old Lyceum Ballroom off Strand.
The site, now sold out, runs down to the beach and some flats have rooftop conservatories.
No one is pretending it’s Miami — the development scene is young and the design quality is not always wonderful — but Margate, like nearby Whitstable, has set its sights high. Turner would approve.