As a six-year-old child, I had just one ambition. Not to be a train driver or super-hero, not to slay dragons and rescue damsels in distress, not to ride into the western sunset with the Lone Ranger. My ambition was to own a sweet shop and there was an establishment in my grandparents' village that I coveted more than any other, a magical place of row upon row of vast, gleaming glass jars brimming with joy beyond telling. Which is why my envy of Diana Segal knows no bounds. Diana Segal owns a sweet shop.
Actually she doesn't. I made that up. But she owns the equivalent if you are a grown-up with a passion for homes and gardens. Diana Segal owns a garden and homeware shop - and not any old homeware shop. Diana owns Gardener & Cook in the Pantiles, an Aladdin's Cave from which there is no escape without some treasure, ancient or modern, tucked beneath one's arm.
Diana lives in a traditional Victorian terraced house in Tunbridge Wells. Well, traditional from the outside, its unassuming exterior giving no indication of what lies within. And neither does Diana, fibbing to us on the doorstep. "Come in, come in," she says. "This is all very kind of you - it's nothing special, just an ordinary family home."
The only ordinary thing about this house is that it has walls and a roof. Everywhere you look, there is something you want to touch, ask about, pick up and slip under your coat. My ex-wife had two wardrobes that I labelled 'had-to-have' and 'nothing-to-wear' - this house is one big 'had-to-have'.
Diana moved to Tunbridge Wells from London 14 years ago and has had Gardener & Cook for 10 years, seven of them in the Pantiles. "We started with contemporary products first but also now include vintage items both for the home and the garden," she says. "We began with unique Scandinavian ranges which you wouldn't find anywhere else but vintage is a lot of fun because you never know what you'll find."
When it came to remodelling and decorating her Tunbridge Wells house she had only one priority and that was to create a real, individual family home for her three children - teenagers Hannah and Phoebe, and son Alex. "It has all been done very much on a budget and I was determined that I would never be precious about anything - some of the things here I really like but, at the end of the day, they are just things. I just wanted to have a comfortable and welcoming home."
Inevitably, Diana finds it impossible, as I would in my fantasy, to keep her fingers out of the gobstopper jar. "I'm always bringing pieces home," she says. "Some go back and some stay. The problem is that when the girls like something they give it a name and then it becomes part of the family."
For instance, in the sitting room is Roderick. Rod is a repro gilt distressed stag who reclines comfortably on a table by the door. As long as the girls share the family home so will Rod. The good news is that he isn't unique - Diana has a squad of Rods for sale in the shop and any one of them would look stunning under a Christmas tree.
Also in the sitting room, occupying a sofa that he clearly laid claim to from the beginning, is the family dog Mr Dogsby. The other sofa, white and equally clearly out of bounds for Dogsby, is from The Coach House and between them is a Lloyd Loom ottoman from the shop. Over the chimney-piece is an enlarged and framed copy of the cover of the first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Hiding too modestly in a corner by the fireplace is an unusual and very pretty Lloyd Loom folding table on which stands one of a pair of elegant matching Gardener & Cook table lights.
When Diana first saw the kitchen "it looked like a Mexican restaurant" but she removed a wall and has created a bright and welcoming kitchen/dining room with the oak Ikea dining table and its mix 'n' match chairs positioned at the garden end with a view out through the French windows. Above the table are some of the most attractive industrial lights I've seen - metal dishes within a glass enclosure sourced for the shop in Belgium.
Next to the windows and providing a nice counterpoint to the exterior greenery is a magnificent chrome floor-to-ceiling radiator which, as Diana points out, not only saves space and does a great job but is almost like a piece of modern sculpture. The curtains are 1960s-inspired John Lewis and the elegant upright piano beside them a legacy from a time when - and don't we all remember it - she thought her children might learn to play. It stays both because she's fond if it and hopes one day to take it up herself. Next to it is a Shaker-style dresser and, on the opposite wall, a groaning bookcase supporting tomes ranging from arbours to art deco.
The work surfaces are oak over Shaker units as is a central island surrounded by Ikea bar stools that could, for all the world, be Conran. Both units and island are from Neptune Classics. The floor is white-painted bare boards. "Very impractical at first," she says, "but it looks better now that it's been bashed about a bit."
Against one wall is an old metal folding French café table and a Lloyd Loom chair - both from the shop - and scattered around, some lovely old signage and wooden boxes - corned beef, Schweppes. One rusting sign is from a goods elevator but, being Danish, it reads "Gods elevator."
In the hallway, pride of place goes to the long-passed Baldo the Beautiful, immortalised in a large Victorian portrait. Sharing his domain is the 18th century bust of a beautiful woman that Diana found in London where she still sources many of her pieces, a Duncan Grant, a collection of etchings from Chichester and a wartime 'Shelter' sign.
The master bedroom is an eloquent testimonial to Diana's talent as a 'finder'. Entering, one is met by a superb period chest of drawers in glowing oak that Diana picked up for £75 at Lots Road auction. Behind it in the window is a Victorian tailor's dummy hung with a silk scarf and a blizzard of beads. At the foot of the bed is a pine chest and an old steel deed box. But the pièce de résistance has to be, next to two metal hat boxes, a wonderfully delicate period French iron and marble dressing table picked up in a London auction.
The study was, says Diana, lots of fun to pull together and is painted in Farrow & Ball dark charcoal 'Downpipe'. It's Diana's own little haven. On the white trestle table, made by Diana herself, are a terrific old Remington typewriter, another deed box and a penguin, the latter having started life as a garden water-feature and found, looking for a drier home, in Lewes Antiques Centre. On the wall is an oil of a superbly be-wiskered Victorian gentleman of uncertain ancestry.
The girls' bedrooms are very much a reflection of their personalities. Hannah's room in the eaves is a breath of fresh pink and white air with a pink floral cover on a wrought-iron Ikea day bed and an elegant white dressing table, originally stripped pine, given to Diana by her mother. Phoebe's is an altogether more edgy affair with much evident homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Pride of place on an old leather trunk has been given to a classic 1960s Princess 300 portable typewriter made by Keller and Knappich that she specifically asked for as a Christmas present. A bowler hangs jauntily on the end of her bed and behind it, on her dressing table, is a skull in a fez.
Alex is away at uni so his bedroom has been commandeered and is now an elegant guest room and features a delicate white wrought-iron bedstead from M&S. Dulux sage green walls are complemented with a dash of warmth from a wicker picnic hamper on the cool white chest of drawers.
This is a house that could by no stretch of the imagination be called 'nothing special' or 'just ordinary'. However, it could very much be called a family home and that to Diana is the most important of all.