Occupying one of the most prestigious locations on Tenby’s coastline, Gunfort Mansions was built in the 1870s and unsympathetically converted into apartments in 1953. In late 2019, Item was commissioned to refurbish, remodel and rebrand a third floor Grade Listed property – a family heirloom renamed ‘Min Mor’.
Project management involved wrestling with Cadw planning restrictions, conservation issues, fire regulations, gas supply problems, protracted legal disputes with neighbours, seasonal closure of the town centre, the near-impossibility of waste disposal, labour supply difficulties, an overseas client and, not least, a pandemic.
However, the outcome exceeded expectations and more than doubled its value thanks to a meticulously space-saving design that extracted an additional bathroom, an enlarged second bedroom and an entirely new third bedroom with mezzanine playspace from the 1000sq.ft plan.
Care was taken to orient all activities toward panoramic ocean views and maximise light ingress. The previously partitioned grand salon was restored as an open kitchen/dining/living area. The walk-in bay that had been its centrepiece was complemented by a new Juliet balcony and full-height Accoya heritage-compliant French doors. An one metre wide opening screened with dual pocket doors was made in the 700mm thick solid stone wall to create a full width sightline that extends across the whole sea-facing frontage.
A project of this vintage can go one of two ways: an early decision was not to insert a geometrically perfect shell inside the 175 year-old apartment and go full curtain-glass modern, but to follow the undulating floors (and walls and ceilings) where they wanted to go, which led to an outcome that was sympathetic to the character of what was once a grand salon. It also dictated an unusually hands on (and time consuming) approach to everything. Without a straight line in sight, Nothing could be made off-site. Even the skirtings had to be routed specially to peculiar curves.
These restrictions in turn led to a certain creative freedom. Having established certain design keynotes with the remote client, the required modus operandi called for craftsmen and contractors experienced and flexible enough to turn up and improvise with us according to guidelines rather than plans. Although dozens, perhaps hundreds, of drawings were made, much of the design grew organically on site.
For instance, the semi-stucco plaster finish used throughout was cooked up via a series of trial and error experiments made in the lounge. All paint finishes were wet-mixed on site and are unique to each room. The complexity of these rich neutrals was intended to bring out different hues at different times of day: it was important that the east-facing living areas be dazzling white in the morning but feel enveloping rather than cool in the evening. The north-facing bedroom appears to be a simple sand colour in strong light, but acquires the green/blue tones of the external view as the light dims. The master bedroom appears to be a similar white sand hue matched to the beach below, but it retains pure, warm tones throughout the day. Paintings were chosen and commissioned to bring in complementary blacks and blues, with splashes of copper and gold.
The hand-finished kitchen splashbacks and shower room are also unique bespoke-commissioned surfaces, consisting of Italian resin-based plaster coloured on site to blend harmoniously with the limed timber and charcoal porcelain tiles.
The kitchen was almost entirely stickbuilt on site from reclaimed 35mm thick timber. The complex horseshoe-shaped worksurfaces had to be non-standard depths, and feature large curves and unexpected flares, and so were cast in situ from white concrete topped with multiple resin coats. Like much of the decor, furnishings at Min Mor not only look like they were built to survive storms, they were authentically built that way. Curved concrete worktops were similarly cast to size in the bathroom and shower room.
The cabin bunks were also made using reclaimed chunky timber, with inbuilt secret storage. Weathered timber cladding on the walls make this one of the most atmospheric spaces in the apartment. Hidden fire rated glass block windows pierce the kitchen walls and allow natural light into the sleeping quarters. A chunky loft hatch in the second bunk gives access to the private play space above, overlooking the kitchen and, again, those views. At various points in the build, this area was known as The Mezzanine, The Crow’s Nest, The Brig and The Child Prison. Regardless of nomenclature, its a universal hit with kids, the squishy gym floor allowing them to spend hours up there. It also functions as an unofficial third bunk, allowing the flat to potentially sleep 7 or 8.
A secret bookcase door was originally designed to connect the lounge to the enlarged second bedroom, but this was replaced with the recessed circular bookcase echoing the circular coffer of the lounge chandelier. The change also liberated more storage space – another design keynote. Storage was practically and playfully designed into every available nook. Among the ‘hidden spaces’ referred to in the Wales Online editorial entitled ‘Incredible Transformation of Dated Tenby Flat’ is a concealed concealed cocktail cabinet with ice and coffee maker in the lounge, accessed by push-open wall panels.
Many of the more interesting parts of Min Mor aren’t obvious at first sight and Most of the taxing design challenges were involved in solving unseen problems. But creativity thrives on limitations: when it proved impossible to persuade Cadw to grant permission for a balcony similar to the apartment below, a raised timber platform was inserted in the door splay that allows one or two people to perch and lean on the Juliet Balcony. The enlargement of this area and it’s open interface with the sea makes a huge difference to the living area, connecting occupants viscerally to the sounds and sensations of the sea.
Converting apartments to open-plan accommodation poses special challenges for fire regulation compliance. One outwardly unremarkable area was actually the key that unlocked the whole floorplan: the shower. Previously this area had been designated a fire escape route from the master bedroom. Opening a door from this bedroom into the living area should have been considered concessionary, as it opened a new escape route. However local building control took the view that it increased fire risk, on the assumption that a fire was most likely to break our in the kitchen and spread through the new opening to trap occupants of the master bedroom. However, it was pivotal to the space layout that occupants of both the cabin and the second bedroom have access to the shower room, and it function as an escape route for the master bedroom in the event of a fire in the kitchen. The solution was a Jack-and-Jill wet room with an industrial drain-mat floor and dual-opening door handles – without which no open plan living area, third bedroom, or additional bathroom, would have been permissible.
Light made from recycled bay window welsh slate tiles. Hi tec low tec William Holland bath juxtaposes exposed masonry wall. Raw brass taps and copper sinks were hand-aged with salt and vinegar solution, then rubbed back, to give convincing vintage look. Also in shower room that ingeniously provides an approved fire escape route and at the same time a generous 1500x1200mm shower in a jack and jill space previously a dark rear corridor – now lifted with slits in the new curved wall that divides the bedroom.
full height glazing obscure separates the ensuite bath in the master bedroom, filing the previously dingy bathroom with diffuse natural light.
round corners – detailing – seaglass
copper vintage cups and vases
Dollar folded concrete coffee table.