Lunch with Finn Beales

We caught up with photographer and director Finn Beales on the extension of his 17th century Welsh longhouse over a bowl of freshly made pasta, inspired by his latest shoot in Piedmont, Italy.

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Finn Beales is famous for his award winning travel and lifestyle photography and the cinematic style he brings to his work. His unique pictures have gained him a loyal Instagram following of half a million and he’s published two best-selling photography books - not to mention working with global brands on commercial campaigns, including Land Rover, Marshall, Cartier and more.

How does your home renovation story start?
We've lived in this place for 20 years, although it's been in my wife’s family for longer than that, so it holds a great deal of sentimental value.

Two rapidly growing kids meant we had to move or make the house bigger. We looked at so many different places but couldn't find anywhere that compared, so we decided to extend.
How did you find your inspiration?
My travels have certainly influenced the build, but above all, I was terrified of spoiling the beauty of what we already had, which is extremely easy to do when you extend a period property - something already time-worn. So, with the help of some excellent architects, we designed a modular style extension that mimics local farm building vernacular.

Although a contemporary build, I didn't want a shiny new, modern interior. The new needed to respect the old, so we chose natural raw materials throughout - all beautifully imperfect. For example, we have raw plaster walls - there's no paint - it’s sealed with beeswax. All the windows are lined with oak. The gable end of the original house which is now an interior wall, was repointed with lime and left exposed. The kitchen is also oak with Welsh slate worktops, and the floors are raw concrete - a modern take on flagstones. All of these materials are perfectly imperfect and will age and develop a patina as a result of use - and that was a key principle.

I also wanted a large family space with far-reaching views where everyone could congregate. The rooms are pretty small in the old part of the house, so it wasn't big enough for us all, especially if we had friends over. The kids would disappear up to their bedrooms, separating the family. The new light and open-plan space means everyone now hangs out together, which is really lovely.
What was the most important thing to get right?
The kitchen was hugely important for us - we love cooking as a family and entertaining friends. I shoot a lot of food and farming projects through my work and have just returned from a fantastic job in Piedmont, Italy shooting for a food and wine magazine. We ate loads of pasta, and I’ve been making it at home recently, which is a fairly messy process!

We designed a small preparation kitchen across the hallway from our open-plan area, and this doubles as a back pantry housing the fridge, freezer, washing machines, etc. This keeps all the mess out of the public eye leaving the open-plan family space uncluttered and so much more relaxed. We lucked out in that a local school was being refurbished at the time, and they were stripping out the old science labs, so we used their units and work surfaces in our back kitchen. From the ’60s, they’re beautifully made, time-worn and unique, especially with graffiti on the worktops from unruly school kids!
How does your chosen aesthetic mirror your lifestyle?
As a photographer, I pay a lot of attention to light. We orientated the new building East-West with large glazed areas on these elevations to take advantage of the golden hours at either end of the day. We get this incredible golden light pouring into the kitchen in the mornings and evenings.

In contrast, there is relatively little glazing in the South. That was thought out because when the sun is high, it bores in through a Southerly elevation, which can be pretty unpleasant. There's that phrase, only mad dogs and Englishmen will go out in the midday sun. The old cottage faces south, so we lime washed the stone walls (a traditional technique), and this reflects the midday sun bouncing it into the house in the middle of the day - reflected light is softer and more beautiful.

I also knew I wanted a relaxed, slow living feel for our home life. I work all over the world, and the pace can be frenetic, especially leading a team of people on set in Los Angeles, far away from home. As much as I love it, it can take a lot out of me creatively, so I love coming back here to unwind. Life is about balance, and I don't want to run myself ragged. I need to have a place to relax and put myself back together so I can approach each new assignment with the creative energy they require.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
Our biggest challenge with the build was accessibility. We’re at the end of a steep, kilometres-long farm track, which is not particularly accessible. Getting materials and machinery here was sketchy at best, and we built over the winter and being in the mountains, it rained a lot! The build team did a fantastic job despite the challenges.

How did you ensure your project was environmentally friendly?
We tried to source materials from as close to home as possible the wood cladding came from Wales, and the roof is corrugated tin, from down the road in Herefordshire. We insulated the building using cellulose fibre insulation which is manufactured from recycled newsprint and fire-retardant salts. Although concrete, the flooring acts as a giant heat sink, storing heat from the daytime sun (solar gain) and releasing it in the evenings. It is always so warm in the new part of the house!

We seeded wildflower meadows all around us, and all the roof water trickles down to a pond below, which attracts an abundance of wildlife.
How important were the small details for you?
The details come together to make the whole, so they are critical. We interact with door handles, switches, and sockets every day, making them almost more important than anything else. I wanted them to be tactile and have a pleasing ‘click’.

Why did you choose Corston for your project?
I love the Bronze finish because the more you use it, the patina develops in relation to their use, like a great pair of selvedge denim jeans - and I love that. You can't buy time - people tend to want to have everything now, but the best things in life come to those who wait. A well-made product will only get better with age, so I view their purchase as an investment instead of a cost.