Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

The Engine House: A Romantic Rescue in the English Countryside (Available for Getaways)

Search

The Engine House: A Romantic Rescue in the English Countryside (Available for Getaways)

August 5, 2019

What does it take to find the romantic ruin with your name on it? For London art director Sandy Suffield the process was much like online dating: “For months, I obsessively trawled websites dedicated to derelict buildings. I looked at an embarrassing number,” she tells us. “And after a couple of abortive attempts with two other buildings, both chapels, I bought The Engine House. What compelled me? Um, er…I fell in love.”

Built at the turn of the 20th century to supply electricity to a nearby stately home in Suffolk, two hours northeast of London, the brick structure was abandoned just a few years later, in 1914, when a fire destroyed its manor. From time to time over the decades, The Engine House was put to use—as a forge, a green grocer’s storeroom, and an artist’s studio—but when Sandy arrived it was empty and in need. And exactly what she was looking for.

Sandy has degrees from Central St. Martins and the Royal College of Art and an impressive resume: she began her career as as designer at Pentagram, later became the art director at TimeOut London, and then moved to California to work for Apple. Now freelancing in London, she has a fondness for antiques and “things with stories,” such as time-forgotten properties. And she wanted to give her heart over to a giant creative project, a retreat she could share with friends, family, and kindred spirits (yes, it’s available for rent). Here, the little electrical building that found love.

Photography by Jefferson Smith, unless noted, courtesy of The Engine House.

Sandy first saw The Engine House on UK site Wreck of the Week—and took possession exactly a 100 years after the local estate fire that put it out of commission. She worked with interior architect/designer Michael Corsar, a friend from her Pentagram days, to transform the structure into a living space.
Above: Sandy first saw The Engine House on UK site Wreck of the Week—and took possession exactly a 100 years after the local estate fire that put it out of commission. She worked with interior architect/designer Michael Corsar, a friend from her Pentagram days, to transform the structure into a living space.

“The building was never intended to be residential, but it had such good bones, it was just exciting to breath life back into it,” says Sandy. “I bought it with planning permission already granted; the proposed plan wasn’t right for me but it was important to know that there was a precedent for approval.” As for the extreme cleanup and months of constructions required: “I plied friends and family with a good picnic and booze and they helped remove old tiles and take down the derelict old lean-tos on the outside. After that, I was lucky to find great local builders, in particular my brilliant contractors Seamans and Robbie, the bricky.”

A new extra-wide paneled front door opens to the living area. There’s a sunken sitting room, aka The Snug, on the left, and the concrete steps lead to a large eat-in kitchen with a checkered floor.
Above: A new extra-wide paneled front door opens to the living area. There’s a sunken sitting room, aka The Snug, on the left, and the concrete steps lead to a large eat-in kitchen with a checkered floor.
 A huge selling point for Sandy was the building’s double-height interior. “My aim was to maintain the same feeling the space had when I first visited, and to not carve it up,” she says.
Above: A huge selling point for Sandy was the building’s double-height interior. “My aim was to maintain the same feeling the space had when I first visited, and to not carve it up,” she says.

An addition that runs perpendicular to this 540-square-foot main structure allowed Sandy and Michael to double the size of the house and introduce three bedrooms (that’s one in the mezzanine over the snug) plus two baths. Scroll to the end to see floor plans and Before photos.

To make the building livable, the interior brick walls had to be covered in insulation. Wanting to preserve their original look, Sandy added an outer layer of brick (using reclaimed brick from the site and imperfect new brick), all “deliberately laid to look rough,” she says, “like the walls that sit hidden behind the insulation.”
Above: To make the building livable, the interior brick walls had to be covered in insulation. Wanting to preserve their original look, Sandy added an outer layer of brick (using reclaimed brick from the site and imperfect new brick), all “deliberately laid to look rough,” she says, “like the walls that sit hidden behind the insulation.”

The exposed beams are original as are some of the Victorian quarry tiles: Sandy reports that most broke when they were being removed to allow subfloor heating to be installed. Reclaimed clay tiles like these, she says, are easy to find (one source we know of is London interior designer Mark Lewis’s online shop—see his Flooring section).

The kitchen cabinets are Ikea’s Kungsbacka design made from recycled plastic bottles and detailed with Hackas pulls ($6.99 for a two pack). The counter is Dark Concrete, a quartz from Whitton Worktops. The diminutive black stove is a Bosch.
Above: The kitchen cabinets are Ikea’s Kungsbacka design made from recycled plastic bottles and detailed with Hackas pulls ($6.99 for a two pack). The counter is Dark Concrete, a quartz from Whitton Worktops. The diminutive black stove is a Bosch.

Sandy’s cabinetmakers, Deben Joinery of Suffolk, built the overhead open shelving.

“I’m an eBay, charity shop, vintage addict,” says Sandy. “This is both an aesthetic choice and a reluctance to contribute more stuff to landfill.” She also comes from a family of aesthetes and shopkeepers: her mother opened The Hambledon Gallery, a lifestyle store in Dorset that her younger sister now runs. And her elder sister’s related shop, The Hambledon in Winchester, was voted UK independent retailer of the year a while back and just celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Above: “I’m an eBay, charity shop, vintage addict,” says Sandy. “This is both an aesthetic choice and a reluctance to contribute more stuff to landfill.” She also comes from a family of aesthetes and shopkeepers: her mother opened The Hambledon Gallery, a lifestyle store in Dorset that her younger sister now runs. And her elder sister’s related shop, The Hambledon in Winchester, was voted UK independent retailer of the year a while back and just celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Sandy found the Hans Due 1972 Optima lights on Guloggratis, “the Danish equivalent of Craig’s List—I bought them separately! A Danish friend helped me communicate with the sellers.” She grew up with the folding chairs–”my parents bought them at Habitat in the mid-seventies”—and notes that all of the furniture is vintage: “I try to reduce the amount of new stuff that I buy.”
Above: Sandy found the Hans Due 1972 Optima lights on Guloggratis, “the Danish equivalent of Craig’s List—I bought them separately! A Danish friend helped me communicate with the sellers.” She grew up with the folding chairs–”my parents bought them at Habitat in the mid-seventies”—and notes that all of the furniture is vintage: “I try to reduce the amount of new stuff that I buy.”
Glazed double doors framed in oak open to a brick terrace and walled garden. The grocer who once used the building as a storeroom planted tomatoes that Sandy says “still sweetly and stubbornly grow out back.”
Above: Glazed double doors framed in oak open to a brick terrace and walled garden. The grocer who once used the building as a storeroom planted tomatoes that Sandy says “still sweetly and stubbornly grow out back.”
“We had to dig down to create enough head height for the snug and mezzanine bedroom,” says Sandy. She recently introduced a pair of classic Ikea sofas to the space. (Scroll up to see how she originally furnished the snug.) Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above: “We had to dig down to create enough head height for the snug and mezzanine bedroom,” says Sandy. She recently introduced a pair of classic Ikea sofas to the space. (Scroll up to see how she originally furnished the snug.) Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Ikea’s 1986 Moment sofa by Niels Gammelgaard, has a steel frame that was inspired by a visit to a trolley factory. (Long discontinued, the design can be found from vintage dealers.) Sandy reupholstered the cushions in Rivet from Camira, a fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above: Ikea’s 1986 Moment sofa by Niels Gammelgaard, has a steel frame that was inspired by a visit to a trolley factory. (Long discontinued, the design can be found from vintage dealers.) Sandy reupholstered the cushions in Rivet from Camira, a fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
The addition’s glazed hallway overlooks the garden. Deben Joinery did all of the woodwork: shown here, walls and doors in oak. The floor is micro-concrete. “I wanted the extension to look like a new addition and not a pastiche of the original building,” says Sandy, “but they have things in common: simplicity and good light.”
Above: The addition’s glazed hallway overlooks the garden. Deben Joinery did all of the woodwork: shown here, walls and doors in oak. The floor is micro-concrete. “I wanted the extension to look like a new addition and not a pastiche of the original building,” says Sandy, “but they have things in common: simplicity and good light.”
All of the rooms are painted white—”just a good, basic white, nothing fancy”—because, as Sandy points out, “there’s enough color in all the tat I’ve bought on eBay.” Among the finds in the downstairs bedroom: Kaiser Leuchten bedside lights, an orange Holmegaard vase from a thrift store, and framed collections of men’s silk pocket squares.
Above: All of the rooms are painted white—”just a good, basic white, nothing fancy”—because, as Sandy points out, “there’s enough color in all the tat I’ve bought on eBay.” Among the finds in the downstairs bedroom: Kaiser Leuchten bedside lights, an orange Holmegaard vase from a thrift store, and framed collections of men’s silk pocket squares.
 Above L: Oak stairs in the addition lead to two bedrooms and a bath. Above R: Sandy’s “Donkey Oatey” came from Paul’s Emporium in Islington, one of her favorite London antiques haunts. Right photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above L: Oak stairs in the addition lead to two bedrooms and a bath. Above R: Sandy’s “Donkey Oatey” came from Paul’s Emporium in Islington, one of her favorite London antiques haunts. Right photograph by Sandy Suffield.
 Above L: Bedroom Two has a peaked ceiling and arched window. Above R: Sandy describes the bedside lights as “1960s crushed ice Shatterline style.” Right photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above L: Bedroom Two has a peaked ceiling and arched window. Above R: Sandy describes the bedside lights as “1960s crushed ice Shatterline style.” Right photograph by Sandy Suffield.
A pair of vintage French metal hanging rack flank the bed in the brick-walled mezzanine.
Above: A pair of vintage French metal hanging rack flank the bed in the brick-walled mezzanine.
In the upstair bath, elongated matte brick tiles—Rhian 30 x 10  from Walls and Floors—set off a Pozzi Ginori Citterio basin ordered from ViaDurini. Not shown: the room’s large soaking tub.
Above: In the upstair bath, elongated matte brick tiles—Rhian 30 x 10  from Walls and Floors—set off a Pozzi Ginori Citterio basin ordered from ViaDurini. Not shown: the room’s large soaking tub.
A Swedish 1950s Hans-Agne Jakobsson hand mirror and intaglios on a shelf in the upstairs bath. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above: A Swedish 1950s Hans-Agne Jakobsson hand mirror and intaglios on a shelf in the upstairs bath. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.

Floor Plans

The house with its addition is now L-shaped—1,290 square feet in total—and oriented to the garden.
Above: The house with its addition is now L-shaped—1,290 square feet in total—and oriented to the garden.

Before

A glimpse from Sandy’s first Engine House visit. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above: A glimpse from Sandy’s first Engine House visit. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
The original checkered floor. That’s the front door (left ) as it was. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above: The original checkered floor. That’s the front door (left ) as it was. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
The double-height interior and natural light were big attractions. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above: The double-height interior and natural light were big attractions. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
The green grocer left behind his daily calculations. “I was so sad I had to cover them, but I have photos of all the scribbles,” says Sandy. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
Above: The green grocer left behind his daily calculations. “I was so sad I had to cover them, but I have photos of all the scribbles,” says Sandy. Photograph by Sandy Suffield.
School milk bottles as found (L) and cleaned up (R). Photographs by Sandy Suffield.
Above: School milk bottles as found (L) and cleaned up (R). Photographs by Sandy Suffield.

How is Sandy feeling five years after falling for her place: “It’s good to bring a building back to life, good to try to re-use stuff, and fun to find beautiful things. I’d do it all again tomorrow if there wasn’t such a chunky hole in my bank account. But as my Yorkshire granddad, Norman, used to say ‘They don’t make shrouds with pockets.’

The house is 10 minutes from the Bury St. Edmunds train station in Suffolk, and rents for £350 per night in summer, and £250 per night in October and November. For more details, go to The Engine House (and for a closer look at Sandy’s finds, follow @theenginehousesuffolk).

Ready to repurpose? Here’s more inspiration:

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

From our network