Words by Rebecca Hawkey
Values of family and community steer a Cornish business in its vision to uphold the highest standards in contemporary Cornish architecture.
When walking through the village of Porthleven, it is hard not to admire the properties that overlook the harbour and beyond. There are several exquisite gems nestled in between age-old cottages, the juxtaposition of modern and historic a metaphor for the journey architecture has taken over recent years. The creative eye behind some of these builds are Cornish Chartered Architectural Technologists RA Design, ran by owners and brothers-in-law, Chris Strike and Tom Russell. After taking over the firm in 2009 from previous owner and mentor Robert Allen, Chris and Tom have continued to grow the business from the inside out. With Chris’s wife running the office, Tom’s wife managing the social media and marketing, and employing their good friend as a trainee technician/surveyor, it really is a company that values family and community. Also sponsoring the local football team, to name just one of many organisations that have benefitted from their support over the years.
Originally based in the seaside town of St Ives, on Cornwall’s picturesque north coast, they designed several properties that elevated the architecture of the area and inspired other home owners to do the same, now it is hard to explore this town without seeing a hint of RA Design. St Ives is known for its cobbled lanes, delightful cafés and art culture, and the team really took this into consideration when creating properties in this area and beyond. ‘The Haven’, completed in 2013, is a striking example of this, and of considerate, innovative, artistic design that takes full advantage of its scenic location. Situated in Hawke’s Point, Carbis Bay, the view can be enjoyed from the floor-to-ceiling windows that make up the interesting hexagonal conservatory, allowing its inhabitants to take in the full expanse of the beach below and the glistening sea beyond, from the Hayle river mouth right out to Godrevy Lighthouse. Rightly so, this property also won the LABC Regional awards of the same year. To make this build even more impressive, ‘The Chalet’ was built in the gardens of ‘The Haven’, a true ‘wow’ property that the owners use as a holiday let. The design of this dwelling resembles the bow of a ship, which seems fitting given the ocean that is reflected in its grand glass front, and with the beautifully exposed oak beams that can be enjoyed from the inside this dwelling has character that is sophisticated, contemporary and undoubtedly timeless.
During the past two years many of us had to make changes to our routine, and with this came the realisation that perhaps the work-life balance of before was not quite as it should be. With Chris and Tom both welcoming new arrivals to their families in recent years it made sense to relocate their HQ and restore some equilibrium. “The hour-long round trip to St Ives each day seemed unnecessary and when the opportunity came up, we made the move,” says Chris. For RA Design, this meant their new home would be in Porthleven, and for Chris especially this meant being closer to his family business, F.E. Strike & Sons Funeral Services, which is based in the village and has been run by four generations of Strikes. They moved in 2021 to their new temporary office that overlooks the clocktower with envious sunset views, and have very recently had planning approved for a new build that will house their new offices, an exciting addition to the community and a strong step in the direction of an exciting future ahead.
With the company going from strength to strength, Tom and Chris decided to focus on things closer to home. Over the last few years, they have both designed and built their own family homes in the town of Helston, a short drive from their new office space. Speaking with Chris, he explains: “Both Tom and I really enjoyed the experience, it made that part of our work more exciting, talking it through with family and friends whilst watching the build was brilliant.” Envisaging what you want your dream home to look like, and being able to put that idea onto paper yourself is something not many have the opportunity to do. Luckily, both homes were built before the wave of Covid hit our shores, allowing the team to work from home in a space of their own creativity.
Chris and Tom have both been in the sector for over two decades, honing their skill and exploring new ways to bring their clients’ ideas to life. Thanks to their eclectic and extensive portfolio of work, and comprehensive industry experience, there is nigh a property that they will not be able to bring to fruition. Chris says: “We both have our own styles when it comes to designing properties, and working with our clients is of the utmost importance, as we try to incorporate their ideas as best, we can.” We speak about the mixture of classic Cornish cottages and the ever-present increase in more modern architecture dappling the horizon. “We believe it is important to have an architecture of our time,” says Chris, “rather than trying to match everything from the past. It’s important to bear in mind heritage and conservation, but this can be done well with modern architecture.”
The amalgamation of new and old coming together to create an entirely new era of architecture is something to marvel at, and appreciate as a step forward. As a family run business that constantly delivers quality, bespoke architecture and which creates houses and homes that are equally as aesthetic as they are captivating, it should come as no surprise that Chris, Tom, and the team at RA Design are as passionate now as they have ever been.