Glamour is not a word usually associated with the country cottage, but Andrew Fionda's home is rather different. Andrew is one half of the fashion duo Pearce Fionda. Having met in the mid-1980s, and established their partnership in the mid-1990s, the designers won a slew of international awards and became famous for their luxurious Hollywood-style gowns. In 1997 the partners took their business into the mainstream when they created an exclusive collection for Designers at Debenhams under the signature of Pearce II Fionda. The association with the high street store is thriving and Debenhams have now asked them to create a new homeware range, so it is interesting to have a preview of Andrew's style at home.
Andrew greets us at his newly painted picket fence along with his two chocolate Labradors, the very bouncy, enthusiastic Holly, and the more sedate, senior Parker, whose back is as broad as a table. Before we enter the house we follow Andrew to the terrace at the rear of the property. "This is what sold the place to me," he says, gesturing towards what is an incredible view across the Ashdown Forest. "I saw this and knew I'd found my house." The decked terrace encircles an ancient yew tree and sweeps around the weatherboarded house that is perched at the summit of a high ridge. The sheer scale of the mixed forest that stretches as far as the eye can see seems more typical of North America than southern England, but the house itself is very much of the Sussex vernacular. "I think it dates from about 1750," says Andrew. "I moved here from Brighton and it is quite a dramatic change. I loved Brighton but I got increasingly frustrated with the daily realities of city life – the lack of parking, shortage of green space and so on. This location is great because I am in a friendly village, but only a short drive away from major towns. I've even got the Land Rover now! I had a little Mini Cooper that was great for bombing around town, but when I moved in here last November, we had all that heavy snow and being on these country roads was a rather different experience."
Andrew heads through the back door to the kitchen and on the way points out the larder that he created out of a cupboard. A simple marble slab keeps food cool and drawers underneath are made from industrial-style metal baskets. It's a spare and rather modern treatment, but Andrew points out the little scrap of colourful lining paper from Amsterdam that backs a small set of wooden shelves to one side. "I like quaint, country style, but I think it needs to be used in moderation, so this little room is very functional, but I like the small addition of some pattern."
A huge Aga warms the kitchen. "I love it. I'd never used one before so I went on an Aga cookery course – I was the only man! It's fantastic for roasts and I cooked for ten people at Christmas. I couldn't cope with what were rather orange pine cupboards though, so I stripped and painted them a much cooler grey." At the far end of the kitchen, Parker has stretched his considerable frame out onto a cowhide rug in front of a velvet-covered wingback armchair. The room then opens out into a larger, L-shaped space, the first part of which features a pair of linen-covered sofas that are arranged, facing each other, either side of the fireplace with an enormous, buttoned ottoman in-between. "My house in Brighton was very different, so I had to buy new pieces to suit this place which included interesting vintage and antique market finds."
A fabulously glamorous black and white photograph of Andrew and Ren walking down the catwalk to their models' applause stands on a mirrored chest, a glossy testament to a strong and enduring business partnership. Although both designers studied for their first degrees in Nottingham, they took slightly different directions for their MAs. "Ren went to St. Martin's which was very avant-garde at the time, whereas I studied at the Royal College of Art where the teaching is much more geared to the commercial world. I then went on to work in Hong Kong and New York, which, of course, sounds terribly glamorous, and in many ways it was, but it was also shockingly hard work. We were always working through the night and frantically trying to meet ridiculous deadlines. Eventually I got tired of it and decided that I wanted to set up independently. Ren just happened to call me when I got back to England and we went into partnership."
Hanging on the wall in the dining room is a vintage 1950s gown made of pale, shell pink silk with layers of pearl grey tulle and a cascade of appliquéd blossom on the bodice. "I love vintage style. I like the elegance of the dresses of the 40s and 50s and find them really inspiring. And I suppose I just love really beautiful fabrics, especially really intricate, antique lace, so I was lucky to find this huge piece that I use on the dining table."
To the side, a little room overlooking the garden serves as Andrew's office. "I design the collections from here. I suppose you could say that, although I work in fashion, what Ren and I design is more about timeless style. Although, of course, we keep up with new trends, we aim for elegance. It's interesting now to be designing for interiors. Recently I won the Homes & Gardens competition to design a room. I was in the "talented amateur" category and I really enjoyed creating the mood board and then seeing how the magazine put my ideas into practice."
Back through the dining room we pass into what Andrew calls the "snug". Furnished with more French-style fauteuil chairs and sofas, this cosy sitting room is also where Parker and Holly retire to bed at seven o'clock promptly every evening. There is a large wood-burning stove and a basket stacked with logs ready for the cooler evenings. Opening a door to the side of the chimney-breast, Andrew reveals the stairs to the first floor. Above our heads an extravagantly gilded mirror and French Empire-style chandelier set the tone. The landing is a surprisingly large space and Andrew has cleverly added an element of drama by keeping the wooden floor uncluttered apart from a flamboyantly carved table placed in the centre of the room. A wall of built-in wardrobes enables the area to function as Andrew's dressing room, but to the visitor it is almost like the reception area of a smart atelier. Scented candles stand on the table along with a pot of delicate white phalaenopsis orchids. "It's great when I go travelling. I've just returned from judging the Smirnoff new designers competition. Every year we fly all over the world looking at new collections. So when I pack, I just put my suitcases on the table here and everything can go straight in from the wardrobes. It's rather indulgent in some ways I know, but then it also means that I can free up more space in the bedrooms."
The main bedroom is both simply furnished and extravagantly embellished. The furniture is painted or limed and texture and pattern is added in the form of piqué bedcovers, silk throws and embroidered and appliquéd cushions. A chest at the bottom of the bed was stripped back to its pale, unvarnished wood. Andrew then added glass handles and upholstered the top of it in a jacquard fabric that he also used behind chicken wire in the armoire. The second bedroom shares the same cool palette of colours but again there are plenty of decorative flourishes. Ornate gilded and mirrored sconces hang above an exuberantly carved console table. Embroidered shawls cover the radiators and a vintage cutwork wedding dress is displayed on one wall. "I used that gown as inspiration for a dress we created for Debenhams," explains Andrew, "and this bow and veil on the mannequin was made by milliner Pip Hackett for one of our catwalk shows. I love the drama of it, so I couldn't bear to pack it away somewhere."
The last, smallest bedroom is packed with more vintage finds – a set of old, monogrammed suitcases complete with hatbox, a leather-covered desk and a Rococo-style bedside table. "I used to have a shop in Brighton that sold vintage treasures like these, so I've collected quite a few pieces over the years. When I bought the house, this room was painted pink and the beams had been stained black, which I found really oppressive, so I changed it to white and then put all these rose prints from an old book on the wall. When friends with children come to stay, the little girl always loves to sleep in this room – I think the flowers are lovely to wake up to. I must show you the treehouse in the garden too. I didn't even know it was here when I moved in – it was so well hidden – but rather like the summerhouse, I thought that instead of keeping it brown and rather utilitarian it should be a bit more fun."
Outside, the dogs, hopeful of a game of fetch, show us the way down a set of vertiginous steps to the first lawned area. The summerhouse that Andrew mentioned has been painted a pale Dior grey and beside it a pair of deckchairs, newly covered with grey and white striped canvas, face the autumn sunshine. Down another set of steps and there, among the boughs of a fine oak tree is the treehouse, now painted white, with nautical blue and white striped curtains. Inside, Andrew has wallpapered it and added just one, throne-like chair.
"This is a great place to observe the changing seasons," says Andrew, "and after all, working to the seasons is what the fashion business is about."