Menai Windridge has lovingly decorated her traditional home in Devon to reflect its heritage and enviable quayside location.
Built in 1685, Menai Windridge’s elegant waterside home in Topsham, Devon, used to be a custom house and forms an integral part of this atmospheric town’s maritime history. Menai and her late husband Matt bought a holiday home here when their now-grown-up sons were toddlers, but when Menai was suddenly widowed 15 years ago she decided to move here permanently to make a fresh start. ‘My previous home in Topsham, a pretty 18th-century fisherman’s cottage, held lots of memories, so when this house came up for sale I couldn’t help but be tempted,’ explains Menai. ‘There’s a real sense of community here – it was once a thriving port and shipbuilding centre which, thanks to a growing host of delightful independent shops and fantastic restaurants, has enjoyed a renaissance over the last few years.’
Menai fondly remembers driving down from London with the boys, who learned to swim, windsurf, fish and sail out on the picturesque estuary, and it was always the place she thought she and Matt would retire to. ‘The marine views from my old cottage were only accessible from the top floor, but this riverside property offers panoramic vistas from every south-facing window,’ says Menai. ‘It’s like being part of an ever-changing watercolour painting. It wasn’t just the amazing views that attracted me – I also knew I needed somewhere to stamp my own personality on.’
Retaining many of its original architectural features, including the fireplaces and period panelling in most of the ground-floor rooms, Menai’s new home had exactly what she needed. ‘To me it represented a blank canvas upon which I could create a fresh look. For the first time in my life, I had no one to please but myself, and it opened up a whole host of horizons,’ recalls Menai.
Part of the attraction of the house was that Menai could make a comfortable home for herself while still retaining a strong sense of the building’s history. The architectural configuration goes back to the days when trading vessels moored outside and their masters paid their dues in the ground-floor offices; the two floors below this were used for storing bonded goods, and the two floors above housed more clerical offices. By allowing the past to influence the present, Menai has cleverly created a sophisticated and uncluttered interior with little touches of the past.
This has been achieved using a restrained palette of blues, greys and white that reflect the exterior landscape, a mix of contemporary and antique furniture and some quirky pieces from unusual places. ‘Inspired by a visit to New England, which is famous for its timber houses, I’ve become devoted to natural wood,’ says Menai. ‘The bathroom panelling, for example, was sourced from a Victorian school, and the cladding in the kitchen was rescued from an old chapel and bought from a reclamation centre. I refuse to paint it because the scratches and knocks illustrate the passage of time.’
When it came to kitting out the kitchen, Menai commissioned local builders to create the bespoke space she dreamed of. However, it proved to be a rather more taxing job than originally anticipated as the existing walls were less than smooth. But, despite the challenge, Menai nally achieved the kitchen she’d envisaged, which forms part of the airy open-plan living and dining area. ‘It’s the perfect spot for entertaining,’ she says. ‘I especially love hosting huge Sunday lunch parties which tend to go on for hours – this flowing space becomes a very congenial environment.’
Fuelled by happy memories of student camping trips and later, family holidays, Menai’s passion for France is evident throughout her home. ‘Contemporary French furniture fits in with both traditional and modern interiors,’ she says. ‘I also enjoy taking risks by placing things out of context. An elegant crystal chandelier in the kitchen, for example, and a giant clock above a decorative mirrored chest of drawers – it’s all about creating a wow factor through juxtaposition.’
Throughout her home, Menai has introduced a quiet nod to nauticalia, using marine items sparingly in surprising situations. In the living room, speakers for the sound system are displayed within the skeleton of a canoe and in the bedroom, boat sails double as curtains concealing a recessed storage area. ‘I knew that trying to carry wardrobes up the tiny, winding staircase would have been impossible,’ says Menai. ‘So I decided to utilise nooks and crannies as cupboard space – it reminds me of being on a beautiful yacht where everything is compact and shipshape.’
Looking back, Menai can see how far her style has evolved since moving in, both professionally and personally. ‘This house has given me the space I needed to grow,’ she re ects. ‘It’s a privilege to own a place that has played such a major part in Topsham’s history. Plus, having to make all the decisions about how to decorate and furnish the rooms has been positively liberating. For the first time in my life, I can definitely say this is my home – this is pure Menai.’
Photography: Colin Poole