Unique homes in Kent: A converted train carriage on Dungeness Beach

By KentOnline reporter

Article first published on Houzz

The home sits in the shadow of the famous Old Lighthouse at Dungeness. All photographs by Chris Snook

Not many people can count a railway carriage as their ideal place to get away from it all, but when Mark Hampshire and Keith Stephenson want to escape, they head to their converted Victorian guard’s carriage on the Dungeness headland in Kent.

'We do a lot of thinking down here, and usually head back to London buzzing with ideas'

In the early 20th century, employees of Southern Railway were allowed to buy rolling stock and drag it onto the shingle to use as holiday shacks.

Now the house is this couple’s haven away from London, where they run their interiors company Mini Moderns.

"We bring an iPad with a few films on it and have the record player and my vinyl collection here, but no TV or broadband," says Mark.

"It would ruin the magic of it. We do a lot of thinking down here, and usually head back to London buzzing with ideas."

The living room sits within the original railway carriage and the space had been divided into two rooms. At night, beams from the nearby lighthouse flash across the room and a wood burner keeps the place warm.

Their home is one of around 25 in Dungeness that were converted from the railway carriages.

"It’s basically just a series of little wooden structures fitted together and sat on the beach,” says Mark.

The pair got the keys to the house in March 2012. Their first four months were what Mark calls 'exploration work'.

They pulled up carpet to reveal a mishmash of wooden and concrete flooring and ripped off the hardboard that boxed in walls and hid features, such as the carriage windows in the living room.

Keith, left, and Mark
The couple decorated much of the house with Mini Moderns products, including paint, wallpaper, bedding, cushions and kitchenware.

Builders then worked for six months to reconfigure the space, sandblasting bitumen off the floors and lead paint off the walls and installing new plumbing and heating.

Then Mark and Keith could start decorating, using predominantly white as a backdrop. The house is small, so maximising the sense of space was crucial.

“Painting it all white allows for more flow through the house,” says Keith.

“Separate colours in all the rooms would make the place feel really tiny. It means we can add our own paint colours and wallpaper as highlights.”

A stainless steel worktop in the kitchen acts as a nice contrast to the teak used elsewhere in the house. “It also looks a bit like the worktops in a fishmonger’s,” says Mark, “so it feels fitting.”
Bright blue fabrics inject personality into the couple’s white bedroom. The bed is another teak piece, found on eBay and cut down to fit the space.

“Sticking to one wood throughout was another way to unite the rooms,” adds Mark.
“The key thing was to not be bitty. It doesn’t work in small spaces. The house is compact and we needed a consistent look.’

The duo painted the outside of their home in smart black. Many of the other homes on Dungeness beach, including the one that belonged to film director Derek Jarman, wear this striking colour.

“The winters are harsh here and there’s always a wind, so the exterior takes a beating,” says Keith. “You need to totally repaint about every other year.”

Mark loves this corner of the living room. “It’s my favourite place in the house,” he says. “I have all my vinyl in that little cupboard, including music for relaxed Saturday afternoons, but also for drunken evenings!”
This sideboard was created by Margate artist Zoe Murphy. “She is a genius at upcycling,” says Mark, “and used our Darjeeling wallpaper to make this chest personal. It really fits the space and has the same wood tone as the bed.”

When it came to personalising the house, Mark and Keith deliberately avoided anything too ‘seasidey’.

“Living here, we have started to understand real sea and real weather,” says Keith.

“This is not a pretty seaside village. We are so in touch with the beach – we’re on it – so we don’t need driftwood and those kinds of references.”

The spare bedroom is just big enough to hold a double bed. “But it has sea views, so guests don’t tend to complain,” says Mark.

Keith and Mark love the wild landscape of Dungeness, but the area divides opinion.

“There are no half measures with it,” says Keith.

“People who love it really love it and people who don’t like it, hate it! It’s the big sky and vastness of the place we love.”

A trolley salvaged from the bins outside the duo’s work space and wallpaper from their Dungeness range brighten a corner near the entrance.

More stories at www.houzz.co.uk

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