Softly, softly

Joanna Osborne and Orlando Gough's Brighton home is a classic late Regency gem. Icing sugar white with a wrought-iron and zinc fan-like canopy over its upper ground floor bow window and balcony, its decorative flourishes epitomise the early 19th century style of the resort so famous for the pursuit of pleasure. Orlando arrives home from walking the couple's whippet/lurcher, Nell, along the seafront, just as we are admiring the façade, and leads the way through the lushly planted front garden. We meet Joanna in the kitchen where she is going through the morning's correspondence at their long kitchen table. Joanna runs her mail order knitting business, Muir & Osborne from here and her partner, artist Sally Muir, is based in Bath, so much of the company's business is conducted by email or traditional Royal Mail and has to be attended to promptly. It's the kind of 'office' that many would envy. Huge French windows open onto a decked verandah and overlook a paved lower terrace that is stylishly planted with old-fashioned roses, lavender and neatly trimmed box and bay. "Actually, the garden is somewhat foreshortened as the further part of it now belongs to the house next door," says Joanna rather wistfully. "The garden was gambled away in the 1920s by the then owner of our house. Yes, really, it was!" she adds as she sees our surprised reaction. "Apparently he gambled away the bathroom at the top of the house too. It's an amazing story isn't it. But a typically Brighton one. At least our neighbour has made the most of it though. She loves gardening and she's created something quite remarkable that we can admire without having to do any of the work, so we can't be too envious.

"We moved here because our son was at Brighton College and we originally planned to move back to London when he'd finished school, but that was more than six years ago and the house suits us. Orlando is a composer and has a studio in the basement, while I have a workroom on this floor, so we can both work from home." The kitchen has wooden cupboards on two sides, painted in Fired Earth's Carbon Blue, an almost charcoal-like dark blue/grey, but with its high ceiling and enormous windows, the stormy intensity of the colour doesn't detract from the airy feel that prevails. The alcove in which the black range cooker stands is backed with zinc and above it there is a long photograph of brightly painted beach huts on Hove seafront. The parquet floor is made up of blocks of pale wood in the classic herringbone design and further hints at the fact that this room was originally one of the smart reception spaces. Although it is now used as the kitchen, it is more than a simply functional space and is a clever mix of both old and contemporary styles. An IKEA Sirlig metal candle chandelier hangs above the simple wooden dining table that is surrounded by an eclectic mix of chairs, including a Philippe Starck Louis XVI Ghost chair and on the counter behind, stands a Starck Perspex lamp. "We didn't do much to the kitchen really, just painted the cupboards which had a very '80s paint effect finish and changed the handles to the brushed steel ones."

On the wall opposite the cooker is a scrubbed pine dresser and a beautiful French sofa upholstered with a smart chartreuse and black stripe. "We rested that sofa there when we first brought it into the house, meaning to put it in another room, but it's never moved and I think it's actually rather nice to have an elegant place to sit in a kitchen." Above it, there is a watercolour by Orlando's mother of some sculptures created by her husband. Amongst other pictures and photographs, including an oil portrait of Nell, some dainty twigs have been fixed, on which brightly coloured papier-mâché and feathered birds perch. "The birds are from Mexico and I got them at Blackout, a little shop in the North Laine that stocks all kinds of kitsch and colourful stuff. The portrait of Nell was painted by my business partner Sally and dogs have become a pretty big part of our lives in the last couple of years. Collins & Brown published our book Best in Show last year, which features 25 knitting patterns for different breeds of dogs. They're great fun, and we got lots of press coverage for it. People really loved them and so we've been working on a Best in Show: Cats. It's a bit like recipe testing for a cookery book though, there's a lot of trial and error involved in creating the patterns and some breeds just work better than others. Anyway, the new book should be out in September, I think, so that people can knit them in time for Christmas. We're bringing out a second dog book in 2013 and we also sell complete kits for the dogs from our website. You just choose your breed and the kit includes everything you need."

Joanna opens the door to her 'workroom' where she designs not just the toy animals but also the cashmere knitwear that is the core of the business. "I used to work at Granada television and in between takes I taught myself to knit. I met Sally, who worked in publishing and we both rather impulsively decided to start a knitwear company. Sally gave up her job to do it and we created lots of handknits. We had a great stroke of luck when Princess Diana was photographed at a polo match in one of our jumpers. It was red with white sheep on it and suddenly it was in every newspaper and magazine. It was an exciting time, but gradually the fashion for them waned so now we create really good quality cashmere machine knits." This room is at the front of the house and the bow window allows plenty of natural light. The walls are lined with shelves and dressers that are almost overflowing with design and sample books and cones of yarn in varying shades and textures. "The yarn is oiled when we get it on the cones to make it easier to put through the machines, then the finished garments are washed and you get that incredible softness." There is a wooden desk in front of the window and another slate-topped one against a wall. The slate-topped desk is made from an old snooker table which has had its enormously chunky legs cut down, but it's ideal for supporting quite heavy machinery like the wool-winding machine that sits on top of it. An original Thonet bentwood chair with a delicate scallop shell motif in its seatback fits neatly underneath. Down the stairs to the basement, we peep around the door into Orlando's music studio. Painted in Farrow & Ball's rich, Gervase Yellow, it is warm and inviting, but we don't want to disturb his work. "Orlando writes classical orchestral and choral pieces and at the moment is working on pieces for the Cultural Olympiad that will complement the Olympics next year," says Joanna. "And an opera for Glyndebourne in 2013, aimed at teenagers, a sort of Community Opera I think it's called." "Oh dear," groans Orlando, "that makes it sound horribly worthy, but it is meant to give young people who might not normally listen to opera, a chance to get involved and find out how exciting it can be."

Up the stairs again to the first floor, we look first at the guest bedroom with its unusual curved wall. The wallpaper featuring a tiny spot pattern with a border print suits the rather Victorian atmosphere of the room with its iron bed, oriental rug and bamboo dressing table. An alcove is filled with painted wooden bookshelves that are neatly finished off with a carved wooden star at the very top. Next to this bedroom is the 'baroque' bathroom. Its walls are painted in a true British red and there are black and white chequered tiles around the washbasin and bath. A wrought-iron chair stands against the wall and there is an ornate gilded mirror that reflects the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. A piece of delicately patterned trellis has been used across the window and gives just enough privacy without spoiling the view of the garden below. Outside the door on the landing, there is a large painted French armoire with chicken wire panels in the doors. "We've bought quite a lot of French furniture for the house from Three Angels Interiors on Montefiore Road in Brighton. I know that armoires are usually used for storing linen, but this is really good for all our oversized artbooks."

The drawing room is painted in a gentle blue-green. "The colour was dictated by the rust red of the fireplace," says Joanna. "It's called liver and bacon marble, apparently, and it's not an easy thing to complement." There are several sofas and chairs in the room, including a rather ornate French wooden one that has only been upholstered on its seat, leaving the wooden structure at the back completely open like vertebrae of a skeleton. The effect is that it doesn't 'block' the view from the entrance of the room to the fireplace and so despite being a substantial piece of furniture, it has a lightness and quirkiness. "Some of my son's friends are appalled that we've never covered it, and can't understand it, but I like it that way," grins Joanna. An extravagantly styled Rococo console table with a marbled paper top stands against the wall opposite the fireplace but above it and to the side there are bold, contemporary paintings. Similarly, in front of an Edwardian bergère cane back sofa stands a startlingly realistic dog sculpture made by Dominic Gubb called 'milkdog' as it's made from recycled plastic milk cartons. On the top landing, a floor-to-ceiling cupboard faces the visitor and has been painted with a seascape by a previous occupant of the house. A small sailing boat is pictured accompanied by a biplane in the sky above it and, perhaps in tribute to the Brighton coast, the artist has painted "The sea is the only uncluttered horizon we enjoy in this little island."

The bathroom on this floor is presumably the one that was once lost as part of the gambling debt. The wallpaper is a duck egg blue and charcoal grey damask style pattern from Laura Ashley and sets the tone for the space. A gilded oval mirror hangs between a pair of delicately wrought Rococo style wall sconces that echo the pattern on the walls. Beneath them a washbasin in the style of those at the Savoy has scallop shell insets to hold the soap. Joanna has painted a chequered design on the wooden floor in grey and off white and a scrubbed pine table stands against one wall beneath a mirror with a carved scallop shell design at the top. "This firescreen is terribly old and in need of repair," says Joanna pointing to a dainty gilded and painted screen, "but I'm rather worried that it might just crumble if I'm not careful, so it survives like this at present." There is a Lloyd loom laundry basket and a pistachio green Lloyd loom chair scattered with cushions covered in vintage fabric featuring pale pink cabbage roses. In all, it seems like the kind of room where one could comfortably take time over the business of washing and dressing, more like the powder room of a rather old-fashioned hotel than a domestic bathroom. Joanna and Orlando's bedroom features similarly restful tones. This time the walls are painted a pale lavender and the thick carpet is light green. The iron and brass bed is simply dressed with blue and white striped cotton and plain white linen. Across the windows are canvas blinds that were painted by Joanna's mother-in-law in the 1940s. With its birdcage, fruit and blowsy roses, it looks rather like the backdrop from a ballet production or a particularly stylish Powell and Pressburger film.

Opposite the bed is another fine white marble fireplace and in front of it stand a pair of shell pink fauteuil chairs on an abstract patterned rug by Jane Willingale. A white armoire occupies most of one wall but next to it there is a delicate, wooden, inlaid 'ballroom' chair that looks Napoleonic in style. In the far corner of the room a circular wooden table supports a fantastically ornate dressing mirror that is decorated with swags of carved ribbons and roses and flanked by a pair of cherubs. On the wall behind there is a collection of framed oil paintings, watercolours, pastels and photographs and above them, a pair of brass wall sconces have been given scallop shell shades that Joanna made herself. Then to one side there is a circular artwork that at first glance looks like a representation of one of the planets, but on closer examination it turns out to be a series of shelves with tiny dogs on each one made out of gold foil. This little corner is almost a microcosm of the house, with beloved family treasures, theatrical and dramatic flourishes and then an unexpected touch of humour. It's not easy to furnish a period house with both antiques and contemporary pieces, but Joanna and Orlando have knitted together the past and present with great skill.

  • words Claire Tennant-Scull
  • pictures David Merewether
  • styling Lucy Fleming