I caught up with Rachel Rist in the height of the lockdown. With so much uncertainty in the world, it’s oh-so refreshing to speak to someone so sure of their future.
Rachel, 63, has recently retired from 40 years in the education sector and has had her sights set on ‘winding down’ for some time now.
Buckinghamshire is home, but she’s been in search of something completely new as she settles down for her next chapter.
There’s no fun in comfort zones, right?
“I’m so thrilled my next chapter makes a story for you,” Rachel smiles.
“For me, it’s just what I had to do, but I guess – particularly in the strange times we find ourselves in – it is quite an unusual thing.”
In the new virtual world we’re living in, Rachel and I joke about the ‘ultimate online shopping experience’ – and we agree that this one tops the list.
A chance online meeting at the beginning of lockdown brought West Chevington Farm to the attention of house-hunting Rachel.
West Chevington Farm is a Platinum Homes development, merging country life with contemporary living – right beside the seaside. A total box-ticker for Rachel.
The 21 luxury homes are built on a National Heritage Listed Georgian farm, close to the pretty-as-a-picture Druridge Bay in Northumberland, near Morpeth.
It’s a place worlds away from Rachel’s Buckinghamshire home; but somehow, paths were crossed and she’s now counting down the days until she calls her beautiful barn-style house a home.
“I live in an estate house in Buckinghamshire. I put it on the market on 13 March and sold it four days later – just before the lockdown,” Rachel explains.
“Which I was obviously delighted about, but when lockdown hit, I was concerned about finding my forever home.
“My original plan was to retire in Devon or Cornwall. I knew I wanted to live by the beach – I’m my best me by the sea.
“I was looking online for something a little different – something special for me and my dogs. Having lived for most of my life in an estate house, I knew I wanted something special. I wanted a house that wasn’t a box.
“I just didn’t feel a connection with any of the homes I was looking at in Devon and Cornwall, so I started expanding the search.
At this point, West Chevington popped up, I clicked on the website and thought, ‘oh, this looks a bit special’.”
With an adult son who has left home – and a very open mind – Rachel was in the enviable position to be totally flexible.
Location wasn’t such an issue, as long as it felt right.
“I liked the West Chevington development because, first of all, it was near the sea, and secondly, I loved the design and the flair of the houses,” Rachel smiles.
“I liked the idea of a community starting together,” she adds.
“I’m starting a whole new life in my retirement. I love the idea of starting something completely new from the beginning, with some other likeminded people around.”
Bungalows and barn-conversions were top of Rachel’s search criteria. Throw in vaulted ceilings, oak beams, an open-plan kitchen and the sound of crashing waves and we’re on to a winner.
“I looked at the specification for The Byreman and I thought, ‘wow, this is exactly what I had in mind’.
“I’m all about contemporary interiors. I’m a huge fan of Grand Designs, and watching a lot of it over the years, I realised I love really simple design – lots of glass, lots of oak, lots of space. So I liked the idea of something that was, to me, my very own ‘Grand Design’.”
So, with the house ticking all the boxes, it was time for Rachel to do a bit of research into the local area.
“I’ve got family in Scotland. My brother lives just south of Edinburgh. I said to him, ‘I’ve looked at this house in Northumberland and I really like it’… and he said, ‘you are going to love the area – it’s beautiful’.
“But I’m ashamed to say, I knew hardly anything about the North East. I really didn’t.
“I fired up Google Maps – toured the area with ‘street view’ and chatted to my family. I very quickly learnt that it had two things: beautiful beaches and plenty of space. For me and my dogs, there’s nothing more we could wish for.
“The idea of walking the dogs on the beach really appealed.
“So that, paired with the beautiful homes at West Chevington, just made me feel so excited about the prospects of upping sticks and moving to Northumberland,” Rachel says, with a huge smile.
“I looked at the specification, I looked at the floorplan, and I just thought, ‘I don’t even need to go there!’
“I just had this feeling. The only way I can describe it is, it felt like coming home to a place I’d never been before.”
A homeowner’s fairytale if there ever was one. You hear about these moments on the TV, but until you see the beaming face (albeit over Zoom) of a person so sure of their next move, you won’t believe it.
A very excited Rachel called the Platinum Homes team at West Chevington and reserved her forever home without visiting the site. A massively life-changing decision, but not a difficult one at all, she tells me.
“It just felt right,” she smiles.
“The place felt right, the community felt right – everything just seemed to come together,” she adds.
“It’s a huge lifestyle change for me, but I’m so excited about it. I’ve been used to living a very, very busy life. I didn’t want to go on living in the same house and area, but leading a different life. I wanted a completely new life, so that’s why I felt the need to move.”
A week before our catch up, Rachel was able to make the trip up north to visit West Chevington. What was, at first, a bit of a surprise, turned out to be everything she’d imagined and more.
“It was very surprising at first because they hadn’t told me until I arrived that my house hadn’t actually been built,” Rachel laughs.
“I was expecting to see a house about six weeks away from completion. So it was a bit confusing when I pulled up and there was nothing on my plot.
“But the project managers met with me and all I can say is, they absolutely brought the building to life. They described where it was, they mapped it out for me, and they told me that I could change anything I wanted – if I wanted a window in a different place, the en-suite moved – whatever it was, they were happy to do it for me. So that, to me, felt an enormous privilege. I never, ever thought that I’d be in the position to have a say in how my next home looked.
“How many people get to meet the people who are building their house? These are artisan houses, made by real craftsmen. There’s nothing like my house anywhere else – and for me, that’s really special.”
It’s a shared vision. A home built from the heart. Having fallen in love, not only with the house, but the area itself, Rachel was delighted to hear that the buildings are being made from local stone excavated from the land – once a Saxon farm.
“It was wonderful to chat to the team and get a feel for the area’s history and heritage,” says Rachel.
“I feel so very lucky to have these fantastic people build my forever home. This house is created with love – it’s not just a building site. They’ve not just been thrown up. It’s going to be a really special ‘Grand Design.”
With an estimated moving date of late October, Rachel has her sights set on Christmas at West Chevington.
“I’ve been thinking about my dream home for years – planning my retirement, wondering where I’ll go. At one stage, about six months ago, I was thinking, ‘I can either have a beautiful home, or I can live in a beautiful place’ – I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to find a beautiful home in such a beautiful place.
“When I saw the vaulted roof with oak beams and the floor-to-ceiling windows, the first thing I thought was, ‘well, I’m having a real Christmas tree this year!’
“I’m also having a log burner. I just love the idea of coming in from the beach and cosying up by the fire. My interior style is very hygge – I love sheepskin throws, flickering candles, knit blankets. Roll on winter in my forever home.”
Rachel has spent much of lockdown, not only mapping out where her furniture will go in her new home, but mapping out what retirement might look like by the seaside.
“When I visited, there was one road as we headed towards West Chevington… we came over the hill and I could see the sea.
I took a deep breath in and thought to myself, ‘gosh, I’m home!’.
“It just felt really special. Your home is the backdrop to your life, it’s not just bricks and mortar – and that’s just as much about the location as it is the interiors.
“I’m heading north to reinvent myself in my retirement,” explains Rachel.
“It’s time to rediscover me – and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it.
“I am honestly so, so excited about this next chapter. It’s everything I’ve been dreaming of for the last 20 years. Who would’ve thought my next move would take me to Northumberland?”
“I have this really romantic idea of me walking the dogs on the beach, the sun setting in the distance.
“A beautiful home in a beautiful place. I am so lucky.”