Surrounded by Hamilton Harbour on three sides, the grand Widdrington property, owned by the O’Shea family, sits elegantly at the end of Old Slip Lane in Pembroke. A derelict but wonderful garden folly, created in the 1940s by a former owner and predated by a fisherman’s hut and boat slip built in the late 1800s, existed on the grounds.
Like The Secret Garden, the folly was a series of Bermuda-stone walls with wild overgrowth, stairs leading to nowhere and whimsical statuary of squirrels, urns, cherubs and even a kettle. The old roofs, with their Bermuda-cedar beams, posts and rafters, found in abandoned rooms, were in reasonable shape, although adjacent remnants of an old potting shed and slat house were open to the sky.
“Linda O’Shea had been dreaming about and planning for the restoration of the derelict folly’s buildings and gardens ever since Widdrington became the O’Sheas’ home,” says architect Beryl Brown of The Studio Ltd. “When Linda first approached us, she had been assembling a wonderful scrapbook of images and notes full of architectural and garden spaces and objects she loved. It told the story of her vision and her feelings and pointed us in the direction we would take together. The project would absolutely not be what it is today without Linda’s passion and hands-on involvement, and made a most joyful and collaborative journey.”
The brief was to restore and renovate the hut into a poolside cabana, create a powder room/shower area from the boat slip and transform the adjacent ruins into a home gymnasium. In addition, the family wished to build a contemporary swimming pool and deck areas for lounging and entertaining. According to Brown, the intent was also to restore and replant the derelict gardens in sympathy with the historical surroundings.
Working with a Listed Grade 2 building site made the renovation challenging. “A first challenge was to design and work sensitively with the fragile structures so as to preserve and/or renovate the old walls, roofs and arches where possible, while also creating spaces reflecting life in the twenty-first century,” says Brown. “A second challenge was dealing with the major changes in the existing ground levels throughout the gardens and structures. An important landscaping plan was created, since the soft and hard landscaping are such an integral part of the overall design and aid the changes in grade and flow throughout the project. Accordingly, the design and materials of the new pool, spa and decks are organic, subtle yet elegant, so that there is a respectful synergy with the renovated rooms and replanted gardens.”
Other challenges included the historic, zoning and environmental restrictions placed on the site. “We worked closely with the Historic Buildings Advisory Committee from the beginning as it is a listed site, and we enjoyed welcome dialogue and support throughout the project,” says Brown.
“The majority of the old hut’s footprint, together with the proposed swimming pool, spa and deck areas, lay within the Coastal Reserve Zone,” Brown explains. “We had responded to the natural topography of the land during the design process, and, as such, we anticipated that the new construction would have a minimal impact when viewed from Hamilton Harbour. In addition, there has been a great collaborative effort to design a comprehensive landscaping plan. As the vegetation had also been neglected along the water’s edge, the intention was to remove existing invasive species and to plant natives and endemics with greater density.”
As this proposal was also in the Water Resources Protection Area, Brown met with the Environmental Protection Department to confirm that the site would be protected throughout construction because of its proximity to Hamilton Harbour. Even the construction of the pool was carefully examined. “The building-permit drawings also indicated that the construction of the pool would be as seamless as possible, thereby reducing any chance of leakage,” she adds.
The architects also designed the pool and spa to be maintained by an eco-friendly system. “The water chemistry has a small amount of salt in it which allows for the use of a salt-water chlorinator,” said Brown. “The benefit of this water treatment system is such that the chlorine is made proportionally to the amount of water in the pool and spa. Consequently there is no chance of over treating the water with chemicals which avoids the problems for sensitive eyes and skin.”
The judges were duly impressed. “You can tell that it was a real labour of love, a passion project for Beryl,” one judge states. “She did a fantastic job bringing all of those elements together and making them functional.” “Her attention to detail was outstanding,” comments another.
The quality of materials chosen for the project also impressed the judges. The architect used a honed and filled Syrian limestone on the coping surrounding the pool, the tile on the pool decks and inside the cabana. Glass mosaic tile, a combination of beiges and grey blues, line the inside lip of the pool and spa. In the bathroom, ceramic floor tile designed to simulate wood is randomly laid in lengths, while Bermuda stone covers the spectacular vaulted ceiling. Other materials include custom-designed and hand-stained Accoya wood used for all the new windows, doors, gates, staircase and cabinetry. The custom NanaWall in the cabana is stained Meranti wood, while the countertops in the cabana kitchenette and on the bathroom vanity are Crema Marfil marble.
Brown was thrilled with the work done by the general contractor, Stonewood Limited, and its subcontractors. “The masons, carpenters, tilers, faux painters and the technical crews did a spectacular job, working tirelessly and with so much finesse and pride,” she says. “Horsfield Landscape & Design did a terrific job of putting together the master plan for the gardens and grounds, while Kent Brazier, of Greenwood Fine Exteriors, together with Linda O’Shea, executed the planting and landscaping schemes with perfection.
“We worked with the history, the natural beauty and the unique character of the ruins and spaces left behind,” continues Brown. “The folly offered many clues for areas which were restored and for the creation of new spaces reflecting the clients’ wishes. We explored and designed from the outside in and the inside out. We kept as much of the existing site as possible, knowing full well that once pieces are taken apart they never reclaim their originality. In the end, I believe we kept the folly’s sense of timelessness, reaffirming it
s strength through simplicity.
“Not everyone is willing to undertake the risk, make the commitment or have the vision required for this type of project. We were blessed to have had Linda O’Shea on board from the beginning and a construction crew who worked non-stop with our project management team. It is a piece of history that taught us a little about the past but allowed us to restore or adapt it to stay alive for future generations. We believe that by giving the folly new life and extensive new landscaping we have definitely promoted the conservation and preservation of the property while completing a hugely successful project, after much collaborative effort.”
CONTRACTORS & SUPPLIERS
General Contractor–Stonewood Limited; Electrical Contractor–Sea-M; Plumbing Contractor–IEL; Engineer–Entech Ltd.; Excavating–Intelligent; HVAC–Air Care Ltd.; Landscape Design–Horsfield Landscape & Design Ltd.; Landscape Installation–Greenwood; Flooring–The Studio Ltd., Stafford Flooring, Pembroke Tile & Stone; Staircase and Site Millwork–StoneWood; Painting–Stonewood Limited; Specialist Staining–Andrew Petty; A/V and Controls–Precise Systems; Appliances–Joshua Bates, BAC Ltd.; Windows/Doors/Cabinet Fabrication–CNC Carpentry; Lighting–Client and The Studio Ltd.; Roofing–Stonewood; Glass Wall–NanaWall; Widdrington photoshoot styled by Molly Tolaram for Paget Park