This month for our Stay series, we’re transporting you to the windswept coastline of England’s North Norfolk Coast, to a contemporary woodland cabin on the edge of West Runton village.
It’s here that Sarah and Dan Morton have created Blackwood Norfolk, an inspiring three-bedroom retreat set on private grounds and nestled amidst National Trust woodland and heath. The cabin is as cosy as they come, with luxurious amenities and a palette of warm neutrals throughout. On the cabin’s grounds, mature oak, beech, birch and sweet chestnut trees provide a stunning canopy – it’s hard to believe that this haven is also just moments from the beach.
We spoke with Sarah to find out what inspired this one-of-a-kind project and learn all that North Norfolk has to offer.
The North Norfolk Coast looks like such a stunning part of the world. Excuse our ignorance, but we didn’t realise the UK had such beautiful beaches. Are you from the area, or were you drawn there with a specific vision of Blackwood Norfolk in mind?
It’s funny because I think that whilst we have a thriving international tourism industry here in the UK, because of our (ahem) temperate weather people tend to travel here to visit London or the countryside and don’t tend to head to our beaches. We do have some gorgeous beaches here in the UK; North Norfolk itself has over 45 miles of coastline ranging from the pine tree-backed white sandy beach at Holkham to the marshes, creeks and seal colonies of Morton and Blakeney and the grand red and white striped cliffs at Hunstanton. My husband and I grew up in the county next door. The Norfolk coastline was only just over an hour away, so we would often find ourselves packing the car up with a picnic and bucket and spade and heading over on a sunny day in the school holidays. Later, as adults living and working in London, we would drive up for the weekend bringing along friends that had never been to Norfolk and introducing them to the joys of eating fresh local mussels, crab and lobster over long pub lunches after a windswept walk on the beach. Eventually, we found ourselves heading back for holidays with our own children and introducing them to all the places we loved so much, so when the opportunity came to move here full-time three years ago, we jumped at the chance! We still find that so many friends have yet to discover the beautiful North Norfolk coastline, and the whole scene here is still quite under the radar compared with other popular coastal hotspots in the UK (such as Cornwall). We are torn between wanting to tell the world about it and keeping it all to ourselves.
Everything about the stay is so beautifully curated and intentional. What is the story behind Blackwood Norfolk?
Thank you! An awful lot of thought went into creating what you now see as Blackwood. The building itself started as an ugly, yellow-rendered and tiled block that previously functioned as a garage and workshop on the grounds of our property. Initially, I wanted to convert it as a place for friends and family to stay while we renovate our own house, but as the project grew, I quickly realised that to do it to the standard I wanted to, it would need to work for its keep and so the concept of Blackwood was born. We started stripping down the original building in February 2020 (terrible timing), but I think the lockdowns we had through 2020 and the early part of this year and the delays they caused to the renovation and build of the cabin itself did allow me the time and space to indulge in some serious design research that I just wouldn’t have had time for with normal life going on around me. Almost everything you see in Blackwood was researched, designed, planned and bought during lockdown when there were no shops open, so I couldn’t go and see anything first. I met some incredible small business owners, artisans and creatives from around the world through Instagram and Pinterest, where a lot of my research started, and incredibly I managed to only make one or two minor dud purchases. Since we opened for stays earlier this year, I have realised that creating and running a luxury retreat like this really is a full-time job and whilst I would never have imagined five years ago that I would be doing this, I absolutely love it. It has opened up a whole new creative side I didn’t realise I had until now. I’m also really enjoying the brand-building element, discovering the interesting ways other brands are using Blackwood (as a shoot location) to showcase their products and also meeting lots of other talented creative people along the way.
The Stay is nestled in woodland but only a stone’s throw from the beach. How did this impact your style and design choices?
I was adamant right from the beginning that the exterior of Blackwood would have the look of a Scandinavian cabin in the woods, as the location was just perfect for that beautiful black cladding. Secondly, that I wouldn’t be going anywhere near the chintzy, cheesy traditional British seaside interiors you see so much of in coastal properties here. However, I find a lot of Nordic/Scandi interiors a bit cool and minimal for my tastes, so I instead found myself really drawn to using lots of earthy tones and textures. I follow a lot of interiors accounts and businesses based in the desert in California and coastal Australia, and whilst we don’t quite have the same weather here in the UK, I knew this style would work really well, with a few cosy adjustments to account for the cooler climate.
If you had to describe the experience of staying at Blackwood Norfolk, which three words would you use?
Slow. Forest. Coast.
What attracted you to choose Pampa pieces for your space, and do you have a favourite piece?
I had followed Pampa for quite a while by the time the concept of Blackwood formed, and as soon as I had decided on the style of the interiors, I knew that I would never be truly happy with the result unless I gave in to my obsession with your cushions and rugs! As it happens, Pampa made it such a smooth process to order for the delivery to the UK that I ended up with more than just a few pieces, all of which are my favourites. Blackwood is now bursting with Pampa goodies, and I am also happily wandering around town here with my Porteno bag and Poncho slung over my shoulders. I’ve basically created a little slice of Byron Bay in the East of England!
What is your favourite season to experience Blackwood Norfolk? We imagine each one is quite unique.
We’ve only been open since June, but I can already tell you that I have been obsessed with Autumn this year. The beaches are quiet, and we have seen the most vivid colours on the trees here in the woods. The weather has been stunning and I just don’t think there is any better combination than charred wood, blue skies and bright yellow leaves on the trees. Just don’t talk to me about how long it takes to clear the leaves up when they fall!
What would an ideal 24 hours in Norfolk/West Runton look like for a first-time visitor?
After breakfast at Blackwood, I’d wander through the woods down into the village, maybe stopping at the Corner House for a coffee on the green before heading down to the beach for a walk and swim. For lunch, I would walk to Rocky Bottoms, a great little seafood restaurant just up off the beach that serves lobster and crab caught that morning by the owners. The view from the deck over the coast on a clear day is beautiful. After lunch, you could walk or jump on the Coast Hopper bus from West Runton a couple of miles down the road to Cromer, where I would have a walk along the top of the cliffs, before taking in the traditional Victorian Pier and maybe catch the sunset if I timed it right. If I still had the energy and space to eat more, I would finish the evening with dinner at The Gunton Arms, a traditional pub with a modern art twist set within the 1000-acre Deer Park.