Devon and Cornwall are the counties we all dream of, and living on the coast has never been more attractive. For architect Peter Sutton (below), this means that it has never been a better moment to be in practice in the counties. ‘People are coming south-west looking for houses and sites along the estuaries and coasts with the adrenalin shot of blue, shimmering sea. We’re doing a mix of affordable and luxury housing and contemporary work, as well as conversions.

‘In the past, people wanted to get away from the weather. These days, you want to open up walls and fold back windows. Space is at a premium, but if rooms can spill out into the garden, the cost is less.’

The practice he started with Anthony Harrison is now 15 strong and based in the attractive market town of Totnes. Its aim is to find a contemporary style that relates to the local vernacular. On a wooded bend of the Dart at Kingswear, they have designed a striking four-level house that steps down the hill (right). The brief called for a design that respected the contours, provided secure parking and took advantage of the views. A hall descending into a double-height living room with bedrooms and large balconies below provides drama.

Natural stone is used below with a long, sloping roof of natural slate masking the size of the house. Gables with bargeboards and exposed rafters play on a Devon theme. Powder-coated aluminium window frames and self-coloured render keep maintenance to a minimum. ‘Next door was a 1970s development supported on a massive retaining wall with nothing behind. We were determined to do it differently.’

At Trebetherick near Rock, they took a plain between the wars bungalow and transformed it with splayed ‘butterfly’ wings into a stylish house for a film producer. Harmony was created by repeating the one good feature, a roof of Delabole slates carefully laid in diminishing courses. The contractor found enough weathered slates that were a perfect match to hang them on the new gable ends as well. ‘In Cornwall, Delabole slates weather in the wind to a silvery grey. In Devon, where it’s wetter, they go a greeny blue.’

The construction team worked so well, that the owners found a site in the centre of Rock to give them another project, this time to build five houses for sale. The spreading roofs and timber-clad upper floors float over the white walls below, avoiding the boxiness that detracts from many new housing developments.

All their projects show a highly tuned sense of scale and mass. For the coastal village of Shaldon, they have run with the Poundbury ideal in a brilliantly unselfconscious way, building 50 cottages set in continuous rows, two and three windows wide, but quite substantial with two, three and four bedrooms. Variety comes with subtle variations in height and a pretty range of soft colours pale greys, blues, pinks and yellows. There are bay windows, porches and white front-garden walls inset with railings, but, overall, a minimum of fussiness.

‘The whole office walked round the village. An early scheme had been rejected after massive opposition, so we made a very detailed study of existing fishermen’s cottages, holding a series of exhibitions. A point we noted was that garages were some way from houses so people met on the way to their cars, creating a sense of community. By the time we submitted plans, we had overwhelming support.’

At Velwell, near Totnes, a barn converted into a house ‘is almost self-sufficient in heating, thanks to ground-source heat pumps. Every kilowatt of energy you put in produces 3.5 kilowatts of heat.’