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Ahead of the curve

For decades it has been one of the most talked-about houses in Northern Ireland and now the iconic Strand Head in Co Antrim has been reborn as a five-star holiday retreat.

he distinctive listed property, which looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and Strand Beach in Portstewart, has been transformed into a luxury holiday home which has been booked out since it launched earlier this summer.

No expense has been spared in bringing the historic yet modernistic property back to life as a top-class seaside sanctuary for visitors to the north coast.

And the task of transforming its dated interior fell to a delighted mother and son design team, Evelyn and Luke Mehaffey of Stylish Living Design in Lisburn.


Evelyn and Luke Mehaffey in Strand Head

Mum of golf pro Olivia Mehaffey, Evelyn, who has 21 years’ experience designing high-end homes, has long admired Strand Head as it sits directly opposite the entrance to Portstewart Golf Club.

Being asked to breathe new life into the famous 1950s property was both a surprise and a thrill for this seasoned interior designer.

She says: “I would have been at the golf club a lot with Olivia over the years and I looked across at the house many times and admired it. I would just stand outside it and think ‘wow’. It immediately stands out as everything in terms of design has been thrown at it.

“To then be asked to come in and design the interior was a real honour.”


The view from Strand Head

Strand Head turns heads with its distinctive “butterfly” roof and unusual artisan mosaic wall.

It was ahead of its time when designed by celebrated Coleraine architect Noel Campbell in 1958.

Known as “the Master of Modern Style”, his dramatic designs have featured in architectural publications down through the decades.

Strand Head, a listed building protected for its architectural value, is one of his best-known creations. It’s even been suggested that, were it to be designed and built today, it would still receive considerable acclaim from the architectural media.

The location facing Portstewart Golf Club with views towards the famous Strand beach, out to sea and along the coast to the West and Donegal, is something which Campbell maximised.

The extensive use of glass walls (unheard of in the 1950s) and timber sheeting along with the unusual “butterfly” roof became part of his signature.

Noel used the magnificent site on the edge of the coast to capitalise on the dramatic sea views, something which Evelyn has also been true to in her approach to the interior design.


LET THERE BE LIGHT: The living area sits on the second floor, with sumptuous views over the Atlantic

She explains: “The house had been rented out for years and the interior was very tired and dated.

“The owner wanted somewhere luxurious for people to come and he didn’t cut a single corner in his attention to detail.

“An architect did some redesign to create the luxury en suites and Luke and I drew up a plan to create an interior that was all about the views and the location.

“We wanted to ensure the house had a very gentle flow and was easy for people to live in.

“We achieved this through carefully choosing fabrics that not only would last but would not take away from the views whatsoever.

“The house had to be luxurious and bespoke so that when people come through the front door they immediately think ‘this is beautiful’.”

Strand Head is typical of Noel Campbell’s futuristic design with the bedrooms located on the ground floor and the generous living space on the first floor.

The master bedroom has a dramatic full wall of glass looking out over Strand Beach. Another floor to ceiling corner glass window in the lounge provides breathtaking Atlantic views.

Visitors get the full north coast experience as the garden even features original hexagonal stones from nearby Giant’s Causeway.

Owned by a Co Armagh businessman who wanted to see the beautiful property brought back to life and enjoyed by others, no expense was spared in creating a very special holiday retreat.

Evelyn used only quality fabrics and furnishings throughout its interior where she has achieved a pared-back luxe look with gentle colour palates, rich fabrics, statement lighting and bespoke velvet headboards in the four bedrooms.

She says: “We wanted everything to flow and be very easy on the eye as you come in the front door and travel through the main living accommodation which is all painted in half smoked pearl by Zoffany.


A bedroom in Strand Head holiday home

“The height of the ceiling in the master bedroom proved a challenge as we wanted to make it feel cosy but still airy and bright.

“We decided on a bespoke statement headboard and beautiful luxury curtains.

“The fabric is in soft greys and soft-shell pink which looks very gentle and it has a herringbone weave. All the window dressings are double layered with voile for privacy.

“Voile gives a luxurious feel and is very soft and floaty. It is easily taken back so that you can enjoy the view.

“In the lounge we also wanted to maximise the magnificent view and we kept the colours here soft and natural with greys and neutral tones.

“It will be so beautiful in the winter time too when people can light the fire. We wanted to create a room that could be enjoyed all year round.”

As you tour the house there is no doubt that every room feels calm and welcoming.

There is even a lower ground floor beach changing and drying room, where guests can shed their sandy day wear and shower before entering the main house via a spiral staircase.

People passing the property have for decades stopped to admire the unique piece of abstract mosaic art which adorns the wall beside the front entrance.


WOW FACTOR: Natural, soft colours abound inside

The introduction of pieces of art into his projects is another classic Campbell design characteristic and Strand Head boasts one of his most visually striking.

Created by the late Colin Middleton, one of few surrealists of the early part of the last century, the origins of the crockery used are also part of local folklore.

Of the many ships that ran aground on Strand Beach beside the house in the 1800s, the George A Hopley is the best known.

It lost control in a hurricane force storm and was said to be carrying a cargo of rum, brandy, linen cloth, pig iron and, of course, China plates valued at around £66,000.

Locals were quick to arrive and soon started to “liberate” the cargo from the ship.

To thwart the coastguards and police, some of it was buried in the sand hills and to this day the largest sand hill in Portstewart is called the Hopley Hill.

It is fitting that some of the China survives in the artwork on Strand Head right beside where the ship came to rest.

The house is not just beautiful but spacious and practical. It comfortably sleeps 11 people and also features a fabulous private outdoor terrace complete with 12 seater dining table looking out over the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

As well as locals, since Strand Head opened its doors in June, bookings have also been coming from across the world for this year and next.

Evelyn, who has designed interiors for luxury homes across Northern Ireland during her career, adds: “It was a real privilege and pleasure to be involved in transforming such an iconic house. It really was a dream job. Every job we do we are grateful for and this one is definitely up there with my top five.”

– If you fancy exploring the north coast you can find out more at www.strandhead.com

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