Home sweet home: a peek inside baker Emma Dodi's Sussex beach house
- Credit: Jim Holden
Luxury macaron maker Emma Dodi found her perfect recipe for an inspirational environmentally-friendly seaside retreat at Camber Sands
PHOTOS: Jim Holden
An impromptu break beside the East Sussex seaside led to Italian-born Emma Dodi changing her mind about the British coastline and discovering a beachside bolthole.
Tucked away on a lane next to Camber Sands, the light-filled eco-house provides Emma, her husband and their four children with the chance to close the door on their busy London lives and unwind with a literal breath of fresh air.
‘My idea of beaches was based on the Mediterranean where you get a lounger and an umbrella, you have a bar and it’s very hot,’ explains Emma. ‘When my neighbour, who is one of my closest friends, suggested we go for a weekend to Camber Sands I didn’t understand why we would go to the beach when it's cold. Anyway, we did go down and stayed in a little lane just perpendicular to the lane where we ended up buying the house.’
Despite her initial reservations, the visit ten years ago was such a success they kept going back to the long stretch of beach that is home to the only sand dune system in East Sussex. It wasn’t long before the couple starting planning something altogether more permanent.
‘We rented different properties and fell in love with the area,’ says Emma. ‘One October half term there was the most beautiful sunset. We had been to the fishmonger and we were cooking dinner and the light was just amazing. We had beautiful food and a bottle of wine and I just said to my husband that I’d love to come here more often rather than buying somewhere in Italy, which is something we had been toying with.
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‘But the children were really young at the time and to get six of us on a plane would have taken a lot of planning and organisation. We realised this was somewhere where we could pick up the children from school, drive down in two hours and be here before dinner. My husband immediately got out his laptop to see what was available and the next morning we arranged to go and see the property, which was on the next lane, and that day we put in an offer.’
The couple - Emma, a former banker and her husband who continues to work in the industry as an analyst - saw the four-bedroom house as a lifestyle investment and total contrast to their London home.
‘Previously the plot had an off-grid house but nobody had ever lived in it until we bought it, so it was a blank canvas.
'The most important thing was to make it minimalist. I wanted it to be a beach house, but not one with seagulls on the wallpaper. It’s evolved over the years as the children have got older and our needs have changed. The front room just used to have beanbags and large cushions for everyone to sit on but now we have a sofa.’
Emma, 48, has undertaken all the interior design and her post-banking career creating luxury cakes and macarons has given her an eye for detail. Originally from Rome, Emma moved to the UK to attend university and after gaining a master’s degree in finance pursued a career in equities in the City, which culminated in her working at Goldman Sachs.
‘When I was young the job was super fun and I loved the buzz,’ she says. ‘Then we had the children and I decided I didn’t want to have a nanny looking after them so I looked for something else to do.’
A friend recommended a cake course that she had been on and it gave Emma the taste for doing something completely different. ‘I decided to drop a letter from banker and become a baker,’ she laughs.
In 2016 she opened the Emma Dodi Cakes studio in Battersea where she creates sweet treats, including macarons with intricate hand-painted designs. She recently put the finishing touches to a limited edition macaron collection to commemorate the Queen’s platinum jubilee which include images of corgis, guardsmen and bunting, with flavours such as strawberries and cream and dark chocolate Earl Grey ganache.
While Emma reserves colour for her exquisite jewel-like cake creations, the furnishings and décor in the house complement the interior and exterior walls, window frames and roof which are predominantly white and grey, which is followed through with neutral floors, light wood features, floor to ceiling windows and a large outdoor deck.
‘The white and grey are very much like beach pebbles and the house has a very natural feel,’ she says. ‘In the winter it can be very stark down here but it’s also beautiful and that is the ambience I want to have for the house.
'During the winter we put down sheepskin rugs which are white or cream but very warm. A home develops as you live in it and enjoy it so we have a beautiful painting of Dungeness which is just around the corner and things like a telescope because the sky at night here is fantastic as there is no light pollution.’
Upstairs there are four bedrooms, two of them with balconies, and two bathrooms. These are divided up between the couple, their three sons and a daughter, aged eight to 13, and visiting friends and family.
‘The master bedroom is en suite and at the front of the house but we have chosen the smaller room at the back so we can look out across fields when we wake up in the morning,’ says Emma. ‘Our children are in the other smaller bedrooms and the biggest bedroom is for our guests. It works out perfectly as they have their own bathroom so can do their own thing.
‘Downstairs is the entrance hall, a room that looks out onto the lane which we call our telly room and where we all pile onto the sofa, and then there’s the kitchen and back living room which has the dining table and looks over the large decking area, which is fabulous in the summer. We live out there.’
This room also has a stove which helps to keep the house cosy in winter. There is no oil or gas supply and the well-insulated home is equipped with an air source heat pump, which uses renewable energy technology to draw in outside air to heat a liquid refrigerant and then use electricity to increase the temperature and release stored heat for radiators and hot water. ‘It is like a back to front fridge,’ explains Emma.
‘Even when it’s not warm one of my favourite places is sitting on one of the two benches out the front of the house. That's where the sun hits at five o’clock. You can be sitting out there in your hat, scarf and gloves with a glass of rosé and the sun on your face.’
The house has provided Emma with additional creativity for her cake making talents, and she is frequently inspired by the nuances of the surroundings through the different seasons. One such collection is called seagulls, where birds are silhouetted against the sky and the macarons are decorated with glistening touches of 24 carat silver leaf.
‘I often get ideas when I am down here because I get a moment to relax and I have time to think,’ she says. ‘I get ideas because the scenery is so beautiful and the skies are magical with huge grey and white clouds. I love all the grasses that grow down here and the little flowers that grow out of the pebbles. They are beautiful.
‘I’m not very good with big woods and trees and I love the flatness down here and how the marsh is just next door the beach and they can live in harmony. The beach is five minutes away from us, at the bottom of our lane, across the road and over the very large sand dunes. When you come from London, where there are no real open large spaces, you drive down to the house and everything opens out and you can breathe.’
Find out more about Emma’s cakes, macarons and private classes at emmadodicakes.com