With 20 years as owner and creative director of leading UK fashion textile studio KeelerGordon, designing concepts for the fashion world on a global scale, and having spent many years in the industry in New York, by 2020 Lucy Keeler decided she’d had enough of its demanding lifestyle and took her life in a new direction.

‘I had a fantastic time. But the homogenisation of fashion left me feeling disillusioned,’ she said.

When visiting her parents back in Norfolk, Lucy felt the tug of her childhood home and impulsively bought a plot of land on the River Wensum, in Ringland.

Great British Life: Lucy on the roof. Lucy on the roof. (Image: Sam Barker)

Lucy fell in love with it instantly and leapt at the chance to have a piece of extraordinary Norfolk landscape to do something, or indeed nothing, with.

The land and river are the inspiration behind the four-bedroom house and additional two-bedroom barn, collectively called Windings, which took two-and-a-half years to complete during the pandemic.

The name Windings is a reference to the Anglo-Saxon name for Wensum.

The ‘inside-out house’ was built it as a sympathetic guest to the surrounding landscape, rather than as an independent build.

The plot – and crucially, its story, came first.

Great British Life: Lucy sketching by the river. Lucy sketching by the river. (Image: Sam Barker)

‘I was looking for something and I didn’t want to be in the city,’ says Lucy.

‘I never set out to build a house, or even buy any land – it all just happened. It was synchronistic. It was about what kind of building would work here and be low enough to not intrude on the landscape.’

Most people might think of using the land as a blank canvas on which to build their imagined dream home, but Lucy took a more holistic, considered approach; listening to the wildlife and immersing herself in the landscape, before designing what is a stunning, spacious modern haven by the river.

Built on a floodplain, there were obvious restrictions in terms of where the house was positioned, and designing a house to work in response to the land is a challenge, but one that meant an organic architectural story could be told, and a meaningful connection created between land, materials and the river.

Great British Life: Windings, NorfolkWindings, Norfolk (Image: Jamie Reid)

Lucy explains. ‘The idea of placing a house on this incredible landscape felt intrusive. Imagine a Constable landscape, the River Wensum with low giant skies unique only to Norfolk edged by ancient oak trees and cattle grazing beyond the riverbank - now try placing your dream house in amongst that untouched picture.’

This natural respect for occupying the landscape led Lucy to camp out on the plot for the first summer, so she could see how the sun fell, how the light moved, swim in the river and hear the walnut, beech and ash trees whispering through the night.

‘It really helped me connect with the landscape, and I realised how much I loved sitting around a campfire.’

Lucy understands how diverse and important the area is and sees her relationship with the land as a sort of gifted guardianship for her lifetime and beyond.

‘It is a piece of untouched Norfolk that I feel entrusted with, and I feel a great responsibility to take care of.. I feel very strongly that things come into our lives for a while and then we pass them on. I don’t believe we really own anything when it comes down to it and that’s how I feel about this piece of land. The River Wensum is a rare and internationally important chalk river habitat, it is highly regarded by the local population, tourists, anglers and naturalists. The river attracts brown trout, otters, kingfishers. In the winter when the river floods swans, geese and ducks swim in the burst banks. In the summer the lemon-yellow lily heads poke their heads above the river and the dragon flies dance between them.’

Great British Life: The master bedroom. The master bedroom. (Image: Jamie Reid)

The design for the house happened quickly. Lucy had always loved the idea of building something, and channelling her creativity from garments to a house build felt like a natural progression. ‘The consideration of space was as if legs and arms becoming rooms and hallways. The flow and cut of a dress affect how we move through a space. I wanted my house to feel comfortable - very much like how I want my clothes to feel. There was a great emphasis on functionality, low maintenance, and a truth to materials and comfort.’

There’s a cleverly woven combination of practical and aesthetic elements from history and modern day to make this high-functioning easy family home with a generous American/Asian feel. The house faces north; sensible when there’s so much glass, and means the grass continues to grow and remains luscious, thriving in the UK’s now erratic temperatures.

The buff-coloured brickwork and slate roof echo the tone of the silver birch trees in the meadow below.

Great British Life: Lucy's design table.Lucy's design table. (Image: Jamie Reid)

Although the house is striking and spacious, it has a modest and considered feel and the emphasis is on families sharing the space.

The overhanging roof covers the balconies, purposely engineered by a structural engineer to protect from rain so one can sit outside, in any weather. Savings were made by finishing the manufactured kitchen with natural oak, glass and stone. Each piece of furniture is handpicked with a story, says Lucy.

‘The main living area has an old Victorian pine table that seats 12. It has a special significance for me as it was my design table used in my business in London for over a decade. It still has smudges of fabric dyes on the surface which I love. I always envisioned it in a place like this.’

Great British Life: The custom designed door.The custom designed door. (Image: Jamie Reid)

The front door is a real showstopper, with a spiritually inspired link to the landscape.

‘It was always going to be an important design feature for me as it’s like the cover of a book - a portal from the outside to the inside. Hand crafted by Jason Fox of local joinery firm Fox Joinery, the door is solid oak mixed with rippled glass to reflect the river. The inspiration for the doors stems from my love of Art Deco, the significance in the location and the symbolism of circles.’

A key part of the build was the journey of bringing in local tradespeople, too. One of Lucy’s skills, aside from her instinctive, creative confidence, is her ability to get a supporting group of talented people around her.

Great British Life: The master bedroom balcony. The master bedroom balcony. (Image: Supplied)

The builder was Nick Harvey of SV Harvey and Sons, Norwich and the wild meadow was realised by city-based Will Gates.

The plan is to extend the art throughout the house to pieces from local artists and photographers, that guests can purchase if they want to, including some of Lucy’s father, Tony’s work.

‘I’m really inspired by my dad, who is an uncompromising and powerful artist. We’ve just finished our first project together, creating a series of blinds for the downstairs windows and bifold doors. My father made a series of drawings of the river, and I married them against Japanese dye techniques and images of the moon set against the river. They provoke a feeling of calm and tranquillity.’

Great British Life: The kitchen/dining area. The kitchen/dining area. (Image: Supplied)

The bigger vision down the line will be using the house as a creative arts hub, for local groups or communities. For now, it’s a family celebration house for people to enjoy time together, and generations to connect with one another, like Lucy has with those in her life. ‘Perhaps the loveliest thing about the build was the journey it’s taken me on and the wealth of people that have being part of this journey. Seeking out local trades, materials and the discovery of the ancient history attached to this place. Time spent with my daughter Isabella making offerings to the house out of pinecones, twigs and ribbons. Rekindling old friendships round campfires. Collecting the fallen walnuts before the squirrel's feast on them and finding love.’

Windings sleeps 4-12 (guest house and main house) rent it on Airbnb.com/h/ruralretreatbytheriver

Great British Life: A living area. A living area. (Image: Supplied)