Bold & Beautiful – Mollie Bigley Designs a 4,200 square foot home in Devonshire for her own young family
By Mollie Bigley Design & Architects

When an architect designs their own home, it’s the perfect opportunity not just to build their dream house but to try out all those new ideas they couldn’t persuade their clients to accept.

Hidden at the end of a quiet road in Devonshire and embracing all her design ideas and dreams is Surf Top, the family home of architect Mollie Bigley, owner and founder of Mollie Bigley Design & Architecture.

At Surf Top, a traditional style house with a contemporary feel, Bigley seized the opportunity to try new things. “Most things worked out really well. A few things not so great, but I’m not going to tell you what those are,” she laughs, adding, “It’s great to have something to experiment on. You don’t have to convince a client to try something new. I’ve already done it.” The resulting 4,200-square-foot, four-bedroom house with one-bedroom pool house, sitting on three-quarters of an acre, is one of purpose, stories, meaning and character.
Existing on the property when they bought it was a small two-bedroom cottage, sixty percent of which came down. “We kept the front bit,” she explains, “We changed the colour and the openings, it’s really just the shell we kept.”

Wanting her home to fill lived in, Bigley purposefully chose materials that would age beautifully, like lacquered brass switch plates and marble countertops in the kitchen.

As you walk in, the house feels compact, with the staircase, laundry, gym, TV room and pantry all in the front section. But then, as you walk through, it bursts open to reveal an expansive kitchen, dining and living area that opens out onto the verandah, garden and swimming pool and, from this angle, a pergola frames the pool house perfectly.

Familiar with building and maintaining Bermuda homes, Bigley was determined to embrace, not fight, the elements. To this end, one of her priorities was underfloor heating, which she has used beneath the limestone flooring at ground level. “We only turn them on in the wintertime and you will know the difference,” she explains. “It’s very dry in this house, which is lovely on a damp morning.” Added to this, all the walls are lined with drywall.

Natural materials, such as the limestone flooring, dominate this home. There is wood flooring upstairs, as well as wooden beams, handrails, cabinetry and shelving, and many of the fixtures and fittings are brass: “All the finishes I chose to age with the house,” she continues. “Most houses, you get new finishes, it looks great, and then a year in, everything is rusted and falling apart. I decided we’re not going to fight Bermuda. Things like our switch plates, they’re all on lacquered brass and they’re aging. We want all that tarnish. It gives the house character, life and a sense of history.”

At the back of the house is a beautiful verandah, pergola, swimming pool and one-bedroom pool house. Two hundred-year-old ship’s knees act as pergola braces light fixtures from salvaged ships help illuminate the outdoor space at night.

Despite having three young children and being a regular party host, Bigley even braved marble countertops in the kitchen: “As you can see, there’s rings and etching. I don’t care. It shows that the house is lived in and that we have a good time here,” she says. Describing herself as a “type A” personality, Bigley says she wanted the house to be “family friendly” and “beautiful at the same time,” with everything “clean, neat and in its place.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in the laundry room, where each child has their own locker. Where there had previously been a staircase, there is now a laundry chute leading down from the children’s bedrooms upstairs, complete with a laundry basket, all neatly enclosed in its own cupboard.

Bigley says she can’t resist salvaged sited, and her home includes an array of pieces she’s found and repurposed, like the newel post at the foot of the home’s staircase which she picked-up in Maine.

Also in the laundry, Bigley “raised the sink up” to be on the same level as the countertop above the washer and dryer. “I wanted this all to be on one level. It’s really great when you have to scrub something or you get a big bucket and you’re trying to fill it,” she says, adding that “throughout the house, I did some things that the plumbers were like: ‘Why would you do that?’” When it all turned out how she hoped, she enjoyed the satisfaction of hearing, “oh, that actually makes sense.”

Everything has a place at Surf Top, and no where is that more apparent than in the family’s laundry room Each of Bigley’s children have their own locker, and a built-in laundry chute is neatly ticked inside a cupboard.

Bigley also got a lot of “push back” for using the former water tank under what is now the open-plan kitchen, living and dining area to house the HVAC system. “All the air-conditioning and heating comes from the floor. It’s fantastic. I’m really glad I dug my heals in. It means you get tonnes of ceiling height. You don’t have to lower the ceilings for all the ducting.” Another feature that Bigley says “most people would balk at doing” is the windows, some of which are white, but most of which are black. Instead of having subframes, they are set into the masonry, making them less bulky.

While colour doesn’t feature heavily at Surf Top, the library is painted entirely in Farrow & Ball’s Stiffkey Blue.

The nature of Bigley’s profession means she can’t resist salvage sites, and rescued pieces provide multiple stories throughout the house. There is an “old table” in the kitchen with the odd paint mark or ring courtesy of her children: “I don’t care, because my kids are young and they’re going to do that. It think it adds character.” The newel post, which is the “fancy end piece” at the foot of the staircase banister, came from a salvage place in Maine. A diamond-patterned glass and wood pocket door that separates the kitchen from the hallway had a previous life in a Vermont library; a tallboy, which is used as a drinks cabinet, came from Orange Bay; and 200-year-old “ships knees,” also from Maine, have been used as pergola braces. Also salvaged from ships are the outdoor light fixtures, which come from the brilliantly named company Pieces of Ship: “Why wouldn’t you use ships lights on the outside? If they’re good on a ship, they work here,” points out Bigley.

While colour isn’t a prominent feature throughout Surf Top, Farrow & Ball’s Oval Room Blue has been used in the kitchen and pantry which differentiates the workspace while complementing the wood and stone. Upstairs, off the “all-white” main bedroom, is a library and study room, which is painted entirely in Farrow & Ball’s Stiffkey Blue. “My husband wanted an all-blue room, so we did an all-blue room,” she confides.