RIBA Journal Culture Lymington Architect 01

RIBA Journal: Dream Catcher

Romance isn't dead... you just need to grap what life throws in your path


I washed up in Lymington. Like a piece of flotsam brought in upon the tide, I always think that in many ways I had no choice in the matter. The spirit of place that draws us is as powerful as the force of the tide, and in my case, both were at work. Arriving in a place by boat gives a unique perspective; it transcends time as it is the experience of our ancestors. Sailing across from the Isle of Wight, the Jutes arrived in this area of Hampshire in the 6th century, originally calling the town ‘Limentun’, ‘Limen’ a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Lemana’ (meaning Ash tree) and ‘tun’ meaning hamlet.

A keen sailor, I bade farewell to London life, culture and security to work in the sailing industry in 2000. A romantic at heart, the idea of living on little other than coffee, love and the bare essentials, propelled by the force of nature was deeply attractive. I wanted to explore the world from the outside looking in.

Happening upon Lymington many times during my adventures at sea I felt drawn back, and in 2005 I was eventually able to call Lymington home. The journey up the Lymington river is richly layered as one gradually encounters salt marsh, the original source of wealth in the town, narrow tidal creeks that demand exploration and a Georgian market town that rolls elegantly down the hill out to embrace the sea. All this with a backdrop of forest that reminds you that another source of great beauty is minutes away in the form of the New Forest National park. The Jutes arrived in what is now South West Hampshire from the Isle of Wight in the 6th century and founded a settlement called limentun The Jutes arrived in what is now South West Hampshire from the Isle of Wight in the 6th century and founded a settlement called limentun

Starting at the Town Quay, Lymington’s High Street, still partly cobbled, serenely climbs the hill and is well studded with friendly hostelries for the visiting sailor and Friday lunchtime office outing. At PAD, we are proud coffee snobs and self-confessed foodies. There are often purple carrots and rainbow beetroot sitting amongst the lime render and burnt timber cladding samples. Our favoured lunch-spot, the aptly named ‘Lemana,’ has the best coffee and cake in town and some of the best live music.

Lymington allows us to ‘breathe deep and be’. The New Forest does not welcome intruders easily and in our lifetime we will always remain ‘gridders’ (relating to the strategically positioned cattle grids that deter the ponies from walking onto the main roads). However, PAD studio has gained a level of trust and respect in the small space of time we have been here, as we strive to root our projects into their surroundings and understand what it is that makes each place and site unique. We are not ashamed of living outside London and as a studio we seek out cultural opportunities and to promote them locally.

Our love of the coast, and understanding of living in a small confined space is one of the factors that deeply influenced the design of the Exbury Egg, (currently home to artist Stephen Turner for a year). Whilst out walking with Stephen on the salt-marshes he nearly stood on a gull’s egg. Picking it up, and commenting on the tension between nature and man’s ‘plodding feet’ Stephen announced that he would like to live in an Egg. Never one to let a challenge go easily, we embarked upon making an egg-shaped home/studio.  A year later, unable to gain planning permission (as we may set a precedent!), we decided that we would work around the restrictions and registered The Egg as a ‘ship.’

Throughout the project we worked with local schools and this will always be the true legacy of the Egg – the look of amazement on the faces of so many children who, challenged by us, to think big, understood that with a bit of determination, mad dreams can be made into reality.

Wendy Perring, Director - PAD studio