A quintessential 19th century English country estate majestically surveys the gently rolling scenery that surrounds it. The vast red brick house has recently been restored and converted into large apartments, with new buildings constructed in similar style to the west of the main house. On arrival, the architectural cues given by the buildings might lead one to expect the interior of Mike and Jean Parrott's home to be furnished in traditional style, especially as it is the place they've chosen to retire to, so it's rather refreshing to find that it has both a contemporary and exotic air. Just inside the front door, a pair of verdigris and glass shelving towers house a collection of Thai and Oriental ginger jars, vases, tiffin boxes and tea sets that gives the first hint of a well-travelled life. Jean and her husband Mike have lived in Amsterdam, Australia and most recently Thailand (where they stayed for ten years).
Mike shows me into the kitchen where shelves of blue and white Thai china dominate one wall."We won quite a few of these pieces at bridge games in Thailand," he says,"and as we had so many of them, they rather dictated the colour scheme in this room." Jauntily striped cobalt blue and grey Roman blinds reinforce the colour scheme and complement the grey-beige tones of the sleek Italian kitchen units. Jean joins us and serves coffee and pastries, tearing dark blue fabric napkins off a roll."Aren't these super?" she says,"Trevor Mottram sells them at his cookware shop in Tunbridge Wells. They're so smart, but apparently they're washable too. Actually, the Thai pieces were part of the inspiration for the scheme in here, but it was also the colours in the black and blue John Piper print that we already owned. Ginny Peace helped me to pull everything together and had these blinds made. She was marvellous because we didn't have long to find all the soft furnishings for this apartment. So she organised everything, the blinds, cushions, bedspreads, curtains and even curtain rails. We had a house in Tunbridge Wells at Dunorlan Park and it sold within just three weeks, so we had to make some very quick decisions. Ginny came here with me, bringing all sorts of samples with her and I chose everything within an hour."
So had Jean and Mike already owned all the contemporary furniture too?"No, no, before the house in Tunbridge Wells, we had an old oast house in Hadlow that we furnished in traditional style. The children went to school at King's and I worked for the Kent education committee, so after all our travels abroad we've really come back to our roots. We had lots of family furniture and some lovely antiques that we'd collected over the years, especially my Georgian and Queen Anne pieces, but the new residence called for a new, more contemporary approach. I gave a lot of things to our children and then the British Heart Foundation and the hospice got the rest. It was very hard to part with it all – it had so many lovely associations, but once I had finished weeping I really rather enjoyed hunting down new and exciting items and made terrific use of the internet. You can buy things from all over the world now," she says excitedly."I love it and I was absolutely astonished at what I could find."
As we sit in the living room, I can see something of the apartment's fabulous views across the parkland."We have three terraces here so we can change our perspective, or we can walk to the village pub when we have guests, visit Penshurst gardens, or just stroll around the grounds. We have a world famous Edwardian rockery here that's practically the size of the Swiss Alps! Apparently Queen Mary used to come to visit. There's a cricket pavilion and the other residents have formed a gardening club and are in the process of organising a cricket team – to make use of the cricket pitch and romantic stone pavilion which is already there. Everyone is so friendly and there's a good mix of ages and backgrounds. The Garrick Homes builders are still on site as they were when we moved in. You know, they were so kind, they even tramped up here specially when we had all that snow and offered to do shopping for us!"
Mimi, a chinchilla-grey cat is luxuriating on the thick pile rug beneath the coffee table."She's a rescue cat and she used to cry a lot, so we named her after the beautiful heroine of La bohème as it seemed rather apt," says Jean, pulling one of the overlapping glass squares that make up the very unusual table towards me so that my cup is within easy reach."Isn't this table clever? You can move the pieces of glass towards or away from you, which of course also changes the shape of the table. I found it on the internet and had it shipped over from Germany. The glass dining table and the linen-covered chairs came from Italy and were ordered in the same way," she says triumphantly."I wanted to maximise the feeling of light and space in the apartment so using so much glass and white furnishings has worked well I think." In front of one set of French windows a pair of original Arne Jacobsen ‘Swan' chairs have been recovered in a pale green, woollen fabric. Bought in the 1960s, they have become pleasingly fashionable again and complement the new Robin Day ‘Forum' white leather sofas perfectly.
In the drawing room, more pale sofas are grouped around bleached teak Thai tables and in the centre of the largest one, an elegant Burmese wood carving is surrounded by Thai silver trinket boxes. Delicate phalaenopsis orchids are set against plain, ivory painted walls and along one wall snap-together white cuboid shelving units from Italy house some of the couple's books."We'll have more bookshelves in Mike's den too," says Jean, leading the way along the hallway past"Uncle Sid's French chairs" that survived the antiques cull and sit either side of a curved glass console table. Mike's den is still being furnished, and the bookshelves have not yet been installed, but it's strikingly masculine in tone, with black leather Charles Eames chair and stool, a goat's skin rug from Hooper's in Tunbridge Wells and a flat screen television that although generous in size, does not dominate the room.
The guest bedroom has again been inspired by pieces of Thai china that the couple brought back to England with them. Its sea green and pale peach tones have been picked up in the silk coverlet that Ginny Peace had made for them and the soft aqua coloured wallpaper has silver stripes in broad horizontal bands. One wall is comprised of built-in wardrobes with sliding mirrored doors that Jean says were built for them"in record time" by Sliderobes of Aylesford. Sheer curtains have been decorated with crystal drops and heavier, silk curtains either side are embroidered with oriental peach blossom.
But while the guest room is undoubtedly luxurious, the principal bedroom is pure Hollywood-style glamour. On the way to it, we pass through a small anteroom where Jean keeps her workspace and the laptop of which she has made such good use. The desk is a simple mirrored table with a chrome set of drawers from Furniture Village teamed with a Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chair, while Perspex accessories keep her papers and pens in order. The same feathery floral wallpaper used here is also featured on one wall in Jean and Mike's extravagant bedroom."Steve Brown did all the wallpapering and he did such a good job.
Ginny helped me to find this pale gold embossed paper to keep the feeling of light." More Ghost chairs are used here and a mirrored dressing table and a pair of chests of drawers seem to shimmer like a mirage while a large gilt mirror above the dressing table magnifies the myriad reflections. On the dressing table, glass perfume bottles are grouped either side of a green and pearl-white glass Victorian epergne. Intended as a table centrepiece and usually filled with flowers, its graceful form resembles a group of longiflorum lilies and really needs no further adornment. Either side of the silk-covered bed, mirrored tables support a pair of Chinese style lamps and the symmetry reinforces the sense of serenity that the pale colours and liquid-like surfaces create. It is this delightfully indulgent bedroom that captures the spirit of Jean and Mike's home best I think. In most homes, the kitchen seems to be at the heart of things and while theirs is certainly smart and well designed, it is the unashamed luxury of the principal bedroom that is most striking. After a life of so much travel and adventure it seems rather fitting that they should have somewhere really fabulous in which to reflect.
Furniture Village Tunbridge Wells 01892 534499 www.furniturevillage.co.uk
Ginny Peace Interiors 01580 712212 www.ginnypeace.co.uk
Hoopers Tunbridge Wells 01892 530222 www.hoopers.ltd.uk
Sliderobes Aylesford 01622 718987 www.sliderobes.com
Steve Brown 01233 628130
Trevor Mottram The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells 01892 538915