Beach Huts for the garden: ‘Bathing Beauties’

garden design

As a designer I have my own inspirations, and I happen to love all things English – cricket on the village green, Pimms on a summer’s day, and the smell of fresh cut grass – so it comes as no surprise that the humble beach hut for the garden catches my eye. As for launderettes… well just ask Matt. I have a thing about their timeless, urban, bland interiors.

In the nineteenth century, no trip to the seaside was complete without a dip in the sea from a bathing machine. These vehicles looked like beach huts on wheels and they could be hired for half hour periods. Patrons would get in at the top of the beach, change out of their normal clothes as a horse pulled them towards the seas, then step directly into the water from the front of the machine. For more than 150 years this was how most bathers experienced the sea. Queen Victoria even had her own personal bathing machine built at Osbourne on the Isle of Wight.

But bathing machines were not invented by the Victorians. By the time Victoria came to the throne in 1837, bathing machines had already become an established feature of any would-be seaside resort. A whole century earlier, mobile changing rooms were in use at Scarborough, the world’s first seaside resort located on the east Yorkshire coast. These simple vehicles, designed for the use of the wealthy but infirm, were evidence of a radical new fascination with the sea. Before this, no one but fishermen and smugglers used the beach. Then doctors began to prescribe the cold sea bath as the latest ‘cure-all’ remedy, the sick went to the coast to be treated and took their families with them. These people needed accommodation and entertainments so the modern concept of the seaside was born.

Anybody who is anybody now owns a beach hut and with huts fetching over £40,00 in more desirable areas, they have become a modern style statement. There is even a web-site for buying a beach hut if you fancy one:

The Festival of Bathing Beauties caught my eye last year as a winning combination of British eccentricism, inspired design and masterly craftmanship. Here’s what the organisers of this celebration of a quintessentially English institution have to say about it:

The fourth annual Festival of Bathing Beauties will take place from 17– 19 Sept 2010 between Mablethorpe and Sutton-On-Sea, Lincolnshire coast, UK.

A sixteen kilometre stretch of blue-flag award-winning beaches on the Lincolnshire coast is the setting for the third Festival of Bathing Beauties: The UK’s only Beach Hut Festival. It’s fun and free for all the family. Along the promenade, hundreds of public and privately owned beach huts will be on special display from 17 – 19 Sept 2010; many featuring a range of spectacular, bizarre, incredible and beautiful events and performances inside. Up to 50 ‘Beautiful Beach Hut’ competition entries – huts specially decorated inside and out by their proud owners hoping to win one of several cash prizes – will also be on public display. There are bold new Bathing Beauties and planned events on the beach and seafront including music, food, storytelling, puppet shows and temporary art installations plus fireworks and fire sculptures in the evening. Over 10,000 new visitors attended the Festival of Bathing Beauties® in September 2007, it was the busiest Mablethorpe had been in 30 years and the local paper headline reported ‘Hut Festival Wows World’ with many international visitors coming to the Lincolnshire coast for the first time.

Last year saw some truly amazing creations (see below) and I am sure this year will make just as much of a splash…

Mablethorpe Camera Obscura
Designed by Willett and Patteson, Lewes, UK.
An amazing new Bathing Beauty based on the popular Victorian attraction; a darkened chamber with a moveable lens and mirror through which live images of the coast are projected onto a viewing surface.  Ideal for photographic enthusiasts, or just the plain curious.  An octagonal painted timber structure located on Mablethorpe Central Promenade, (South side).

Come Up and See Me
Designed by Michael Trainor, Manchester, UK.
Inspired by a gin and tonic, perfect for cocktail sipping at sunset and situated on Mablethorpe Central Promenade, (South side). This Bathing Beauty original is made of vitrified tiles, mirror, laminated ply-wood and galvanised steel.

Eyes Wide sHut
Designed by Feix and Merlin, London, UK.
A glamorous ‘picture frame’ hut designed to frame the landscape when open and give privacy to occupants when closed by way of a special one-way viewing mirror. An original Bathing Beauty made from GRP, timber and polycarbonate and located at 37 Mablethorpe South Promenade.

Halcyon Hut
Designed by Atelier NU, Montreal, Canada.
Paying homage to the traditional beach hut form, this original Bathing Beauty is expertly crafted from western red cedar and uses acrylic panels to allow shafts of light to travel through the walls and roof.  Light dances through the interior during the day and when night falls, light from inside travels out creating an abstract glowing beacon.  Located at 68 Sutton South Promenade, Sutton on Sea.

Designed by i-am associates, London, UK.
The world’s first contemporary cave, located in an idyllic spot in the Sand Dunes by the Sea View Car Park at North Mablethorpe.  This original Bathing Beauty is perfect for families but has limited access due to unique location in the dunes on the beach.  It is made from laminated ply-wood, paint and acrylic.