Eclectic Collective

Rye is a delight any time of year but there's no denying the sheer spite of the icy wind that can slice down its pretty streets on a January morning, whipping up the Rother from an iron grey sea and leaving even the boldest gulls stamping their feet on the rooftops. All of which makes stepping into the warmth and welcome of Marcus and Gareth's front room a double pleasure. And one does literally step from the street into the sitting room in the time-honoured style of the Edwardian terraced house. No wasted time and space with anything as dull as a hallway - street to sublime in one easy stride. And immediately on crossing the threshold one realises that one has entered no traditional Rye house. This is largely because, from either side of the original tiled Victorian fireplace, one is fixed by the glassy eyes of a wildebeest and a water buffalo - on their stuffed heads, respectively, a top hat and bowler. And very big heads they are, too. Neither have names but they certainly have presence.

Just how they made their way from savannah and paddy to coastal East Sussex lies in the couple's desire to exchange the hustle of Hackney for the beauty of one of the South's most attractive watering holes. When they found their house some four years ago, it was all but derelict. "For two months, we couldn't even get in, there were all sorts of health and safety issues," says Marcus. Once in, it was a matter of stripping the house bare and starting again from scratch. The windows were all plastic and every one has now been replaced with the original sashes. Strangely, many other original features have survived and virtually every room features a grand or pretty fireplace. Marcus moved down to work on the house and Gareth continued working in London for a while. When they both finally made the break, however, they found they had a problem - there simply wasn't room for all their furniture and once-prized possessions. Their answer was simple - they rented a small shop in Rye and offered them for sale. The idea was a success - such a success it has become a business in its own right and they have now taken on a larger premises and opened Mccully & Crane in Cinque Ports Street. "It's not a traditional antique shop - some things are old, others are old items given a new lease of life, others are almost industrial items and others new work by artists and craftsmen we admire," says Marcus. The result is a fascinating cocktail that is reflected in their own home. The house has two front doors, one at street level that opens onto the largest space in the house, a drawing room/dining room, while steps lead up from the pavement to the sitting room door. "Having two front doors is great," says Marcus. "It means when the dogs come in soaking and muddy from a walk they don't trail through the sitting room and upper floor."

The dogs are not merely a couple of lazy labs but a boisterous pack of six rescue dogs many of whom Marcus and Gareth found at Hornchurch Pet Services, an animal rescue and rehoming centre in Essex. "Do mention them - they're a marvellous volunteer-based organisation," says Marcus. The room that is now the sitting room was the last to be renovated and is now very much the couple's winter sanctuary. The walls are Farrow & Ball's Hague Blue and the painted floorboards, Downpipe. Over the fireplace Tin Tin and Star Wars' 3CPO stand watch while above them is a papier-mâché sailor's head that, like so many interesting pieces in the couple's home comes from Rye's Lion Street Store. Above the sofa is a gallery of large paintings ranging from a lion to a vase of yellow flowers - flower paintings are a favourite of Gareth's and are another recurring theme through the house. Opposite in the bay window is an old leather-topped office desk which serves no other purpose than a vantage point from which Max - the senior rescue dog - is able to keep a watch on the street below. As we talk, he jumps onto the top, dexterously pulls up a length of heavy, long, velvet curtain, arranges it neatly as a day bed and settles down with a contented sigh to enjoy his private view of Rye life.

It is impossible to mention every absorbing item in each of the couple's rooms but two other particularly enjoyable pieces in the sitting room are a light by Rye artist Laura Oakes and a table lamp made from an old MoD voltmeter - quintessential Mccully and Crane. Downstairs, in the drawing room/dining room with its dog-proof floor of industrial strength grey porcelain tiles, are two imposing fireplaces, one neatly stacked with logs, the other sporting a fine fire basket from Eras of Style in Bexhill. The large white-painted dresser came from friends who had moved and opted for a new industrial look, the seriously distressed pine washstand was "stolen from the shop" and the dining table was an auction find at Watsons in Heathfield. Opposite the drawing room fireplace is the perfect solution to displaying a great number of pictures without actually hanging them. Two three-inch deep shelves with small lips have been built along a length of wall and then pictures simply propped in them so that the collection can be altered or added to at will. "That used to be a completely dead section of wall but it now means that we can display a whole range of Gareth's favourite pieces," says Marcus. Also in evidence - here and elsewhere around the house - is another of Gareth's passions: old silver sports trophies. In the window stands a beautiful model sloop from Rye's Cinque Ports Antiques. To the rear of the dining room is the kitchen, once a bakery. The ceiling has been taken up to the rafters providing a vaulted bright space which looks considerably larger than it is. The one small original window has been replaced by three running the length of one wall. Pride of place goes to a vast 'Danish Bacon' sign that Marcus found - and bought for a song - on eBay. "It was going to be for the shop and I have a rule that once something goes into the shop, it stays there," says Marcus. "But there was this perfect space and well...."

Upstairs, in the main bedroom is another eBay triumph - a pine double bed that Marcus has painted white, resulting in an altogether more elegant piece. Above the bed is a large schoolroom 1930s map of Europe. On a high shelf, well away from the dogs, is a stuffed Irish fox with a pheasant. Pride of place, however, goes to a massive picture of the young Queen Elizabeth taken originally from a postcard. "I love taking an old picture like this and blowing it up really big, it can be really effective," says Marcus. "The technology's now there to give you great quality and we're doing quite a lot of examples for sale in the shop." The bathroom is a superb white space complete with roll-top bath and original fireplace. Stars of the show, though, are the tiles. Brick-style in a pale but warm grey, they're around 21x10cm, considerably larger that the average brick tiles. Marcus saw them when The George Hotel was refurbishing its kitchen and tracked down the supplier - Ceramic Tile Distributors. Originally, the house was three floors with a tiny shallow loft, useless to man or beast other than very short bats. The answer was an elegant dormer suite - a bedroom and bathroom divided only by a small hip-high partition that runs half-way across the two. All white with an elegant roll-top slipper bath and floor to ceiling French windows that allow light to pour in across the rooftops, this guest suite is superb. A stuffed mallard and collar dove and a wallful of lovely paintings of vased flowers - the latter again Gareth's touch - add warmth as does the gentle grey tongue and groove. Marcus and Gareth's home is a triumph - not only in terms of the creative conversion of a near-derelict town house to a practical modern living space but in the way they have boldly added the unique Mccully and Crane touch that makes this house - summer or winter - truly a delight to step into.

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In addition to their shop at 27a Cinque Ports Street, Rye, Marcus and Gareth also offer an interior design and consultancy service and source for domestic and commercial spaces.

  • words John Graham-Hart
  • pictures David Merewether
  • styling Lucy Fleming