Life Design

When talking about the enduring popularity of Georgian architecture one can bang on endlessly about its classical heritage, its proportion and balance and the strict mathematical rules that govern every detail but the truth is that when we see a Georgian home none of this is of the slightest relevance - we just want to live there.

Which is why so many architects today have returned to the Georgian as their starting point, the shell of the building, and then moved more freely through the interior, designing the living spaces to accommodate the lifestyles of modern, 21st century families. True, not all neo-Georgian homes are always a total success but when they get it right our reaction is very similar - we know instinctively that this is somewhere we could be very happy. And so it is with Loerie House, interior designer Adele Cleaver's home in one of the Weald's most attractive towns. From the outside it is beautifully proportioned and echoes the essential Georgian values. Inside, it is spacious, elegant and thoughtfully designed to provide practical and versatile living space. Adele, husband Bruce and their teenage children arrived from South Africa in 2006, rented in London and started looking for a commutable home in Kent. "We did consider a period home but, coming from Africa, we were used to light and lots of it - the period houses we saw were lovely but they just didn't have the feeling of light and space we wanted," she says. However, the minute the family walked through Loerie's front door they knew they were home. "It was the light - we bought the light," she says simply. And it's not hard to understand their reaction - walking into Loerie is not like entering a house at all, it's more like walking out of a house. Light from a vast kitchen-breakfast-room-conservatory pours in, flooding the ground floor and drawing one through to the lawn and soaring pines of the garden.

"The house itself was a real blank canvas," she says. "which meant we could really make it our own." So Adele set about applying her own key principles of interior design which could be summed up as "spend wisely and thoughtfully and personalise your space as much as possible." "People are nervous of interior designers because they automatically assume that everything they recommend is going to cost a fortune," she says. "I believe in listening to what people want to achieve, looking at the way they live and working, as far as possible, with what they already have. It's all about looking at a house and its potential with a fresh eye. "Interiors shouldn't be precious," she adds. "They're to be lived in by real people. I like to look for solutions that are true to the character and style of a property and the people who live there. Objects, like the people we chose to share our lives with, should enhance the spaces we inhabit and not simply fill them." So in her own home she wanted to create an elegant but unprecious environment where not only her family would be happy but visitors would immediately feel welcome. She also wanted easy to live in and maintain. The only room that needed a major rethink when the couple moved in was the kitchen. "What we wanted was a traditional kitchen that could be styled in a contemporary way," she says.

They also wanted a warm kitchen. "With one side a full-length conservatory, and very little in the way of heating, the place was absolutely freezing," she says. The answer was a full makeover from the ground up and the first step was to engage architect Wyatt Glass and building firm Weald Builders (Sevenoaks) Ltd. They installed underfloor heating, followed by large charcoal ceramic tiles from Rovic Tiles. The new units were made by Kent company Rencraft and the cool black and chrome chairs, every inch Conran, came from Ikea. Finally, walls and units got the full Farrow & Ball treatment in Wimborne White. "I wanted the white on white look and do love the chalky softness of Farrow & Ball," says Adele. The latest project has been a large central island topped with honed rather than polished Carrara. "People tried to dissuade me from going for marble, particularly honed marble, but I'm so pleased we did," she says. "It's a lot more practical than a polished dark surface would be - you just have to be careful you don't leave spilt red wine or curry on it."

Step out into the conservatory and one is met by a wonderful dining table, made from old African railway sleepers, which once graced the couple's veranda in South Africa. The place mats are animals photographed by a friend when on safari. (If the idea appeals, go to www.snapfish.co.uk). Their veranda also provided the two Adirondack chairs for the conservatory and she has added a white Nguni cow hide as floor covering. The children's den is the most elegant children's room I've ever seen. I have teenagers of my own and the closest I'd allow them to a room like this would be out in the snow with noses against the window pane. Sofas - one stone, the other black - lounge around a huge TV. On the wall opposite is a pair of antlers and a great wildlife print by one of the couple's favourite artists, South African John Moore. One complete wall is a sliding window to the garden and the remainder are painted Farrow & Ball Dauphin. Everything else is white - bookcases, shelves, curtains, even the computer is a white iMac. Around the dark brown carpet glow the smoked oak floorboards that extend through the ground floor of the house. In the hallway sprawls a zebra print rug and on the wall a mixed media work by another RSA artist Debra Bell bought by the couple many years ago in South Africa.

There is also more mixed media work by acclaimed South African artist, Arlene Amaler-Raviv, in the nearby guest loo. Like many of this home's paintings and prints they are cleverly and very effectively presented by framing them between two pieces of glass so that they seem to float above the surface of the wall. They are also a prime example of Adele's maxim that your home should be decorated with objects of meaning to you and your family - in this case, beautiful pieces from the family's life in Africa. On the way to the drawing room is a grown-ups' snug. Again, an Nguni hide on the smoked oak boards. In front of the large TV is a John Sankey sofa from the Mitford range. The sofa is flanked by two superb tables with brushed aluminium legs in the shape of kudu horns. The elephant grey armchairs are Bluebell from sofa.com and the wall F&B Off-Black. "I often think darker colours are more neutral than white," says Adele. "They frequently make spaces look larger rather than smaller and add depth and warmth."

The drawing room is at once spacious and intimate with, again, echoes everywhere of the family's South African roots. All the furniture came from their RSA home as did the vegetable-dyed oriental carpet. Beside a very effective gas woodburner is a massive red Chinese wedding cabinet. A bay tree stands in a large metal dolly tub from Blooms Furniture in Southborough and Adele has cleverly converted another dolly tub by the fireplace into a lamp. On the F&B Light Grey walls are more favourite paintings and prints including another John Moore. Instead of fully carpeting the stairs to the first floor, the treads have been stained to match the smoked oak floor and the risers have been painted white. On the top floor landing is a chandelier that, at Christmas, the family decorated with twigs gathered on a country walk. "When we came to take the decorations down, I thought they actually looked nice where they were and I've left them," says Adele. F&B Light Grey has again been chosen for the master bedroom. On the floor is a Shiraz rug and, in the windows, white linen triple-pleat curtains. "They're an example of what you can do with relatively cheap fabric when you use it generously," says Adele.

The colonial style four-poster bed is mahogany but stained ebony from J.U. Furniture. In the elegant en suite is spread another oriental rug. "Oriental rugs are very practical wherever you put them," she says. "They add warmth and don't show dirt." Her daughter's room is a blizzard of white with warmth provided by the raspberry étoile curtains and F&B London Stone walls. The bed's cast-iron headpiece came with them from South Africa. In her en suite, the frame of a large ornate mirror from Blooms has been very effectively painted the same F&B as the walls. Next door in Adele's white-on-white office, colour comes in the shape of a Picasso silk scarf set in a chunky gilt frame. The furniture is either Ikea or made by Coppendale Joinery in Tonbridge who have provided virtually all the house's built-in features. Her son's room is red and white and a pleasing juxtaposition of old and new. The ceiling spots are industrial/theatrical and the Ikea red metal cabinet at the foot of the bed could have come from the office of a trendy ad agency but across the room stands a red leather topped period desk providing style as well as warmth.

On the walls are his favourite Tintin posters. In the first of two guest rooms one's eye is immediately drawn to a large red Zulu headdress that Adele's husband had to bring to the UK in his hand luggage. "He wasn't pleased but seeing it there I think it was worth the hassle," says Adele. On one of the F&B Dauphin walls are flower drawings by Bruce's mother and an attractive quirky touch is provided by an old wooden farm ladder. The bright second guest bedroom is in F&B French grey and the twin beds sport delicate wrought-iron headpieces which are actually the matching head and foot of a single bed found in a Tunbridge Wells antique shop. Above them, their delicacy is accentuated by framed pressed flowers. In a period house, existing features provide the owner with at least a suggestion of direction. In a modern house, however, one is presented with a completely blank canvas with all the opportunities and challenges this represents.

Creating a chic, elegant environment is not, of course, difficult. Hotels do it every day. But a home is not a hotel. A home is a very personal living space that must meet the myriad demands of the individuals who inhabit it. What Adele has done is to take her blank canvas and give it not only huge style and a life of its own but transform it into a warm and welcoming family home brimming with character and full of beautiful things that have meaning to herself and her family. She has created, in fact, everything a 21st century home should be.

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For further information on how Adele may be able to contribute to your latest project, visit www.adelecleaverinteriors.co.uk.

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