Promenade Paradise

There are things in this world that go effortlessly together. Things that seem made for each other. Bagels and cream cheese, Bogey & Bacall, Champagne and caviar, Farrow & Ball - and it's the same when we walk into one of the lovely Wealden homes we feature each month. Everywhere sublime combinations of form and colour leave you in awe of an eye that saw instinctively that certain partnerships were made, if not in heaven, then certainly in the World of Interiors.

This, however, is not the case when it comes to a certain Victorian flat on a particularly attractive stretch of St Leonards' seafront. Here absolutely nothing goes with anything else. Indeed, much of the dècor barely goes with itself. It's as if the God of Design has shaken a couple of dozen eras and styles together, thrown them high into the air and let them fall where they would. It should be a decorative disaster - and yet the result is stunning.

For although virtually nothing in this flat 'goes' with anything else, everything goes with the whole. No two pieces of furniture, no two paintings complement each other but put them all together and the result achieves creative critical mass. The reason is, of course, that the eras and styles cast so casually into the air didn't fall randomly but into the hands of Vicky Wetherill and Jason Skriniar.

Vicky is one step ahead of most of us when it comes to interior dècor in that she owns her own St Leonards furniture and furnishings business, Sideshow Interiors, a treasure trove of vintage and 20th century design. Both Vicky and Jason also have a visual arts background - she is a photographer and he a film editor.

The couple first lived in East London but 11 years ago decided to realise their dream to be beside the sea. They chose St Leonards and first opted for a smallish flat and then, four years ago, moved to their current home - a ground floor flat on the front in a seriously grand Decimus Burton edifice that was once the seaside escape for Italian Embassy staff.

The temptation with anything Burton is, of course, to furnish it true to period and as we saw with a previous Burton house that we featured in our last issue the results can be impressive. Vicky and Jason, however, had no trouble in resisting and instead have used the huge Burton spaces to create a dazzling contemporary home furnished with a truly eclectic collection of furniture, furnishings and simply objects of fascination. "There are pieces of furniture and objects which you might not consider for your home," says Vicky, "but the key is context - things that don't work on their own can work brilliantly when they come together."

The couple wanted a period place with original features and were lucky enough to get a tip from a friend and were able to make an offer before the flat came onto the market. "The building itself was in a bit of a state but we knew there were general renovations planned and it was just what we were looking for - a spacious home just a step from the sea," she says.

At the time, the flat wasn't a flat at all but a collection of spaces that had been attached to the flat above. There was no bathroom and it was clear that a considerable amount of remodelling would have to be done but what it did have was the original soaring main Burton reception room, a vast space that the couple decided to convert into a sitting room and kitchen/dining room.

The kitchen gathers around a superb American Brutalist dining table in tiger oak made by US designer Lane above which hangs a tubular and ornate gilt light...

The kitchen gathers around a superb American Brutalist dining table in tiger oak make by US designer Lane above which hangs a tubular and ornate gilt light, the sister unit to the drawing room light. Along one side of the kitchen are the main units in glowing aluminium reclaimed from aircraft and made in the 1950s by English Rose. They all match but came from different sources and were lovingly stripped down to the bare metal by Vicky and Jason and the interiors were sprayed yellow by a car body shop. Interestingly, a version of these units is now being made by John Lewis of Hungerford.

On the opposite side of the room is a steel, glass-fronted medical cabinet the couple bought at auction in the UK. "We do find pieces in the UK but more often it's France or Belgium - this goes for both the flat and the shop," says Jason. Indeed pieces bought for the shop can spend time at the flat. "We don't buy anything for the shop that we don't like ourselves so often we ring the changes bringing pieces home for a while and taking home pieces to the shop."

On top of the cabinet is a light box of photographs of contestants at a Miss Universe body builders contest in Las Vegas taken by Vicky. Other images from the same trip adorn the drawing room. At the end of the kitchen is a vast three-sash Burton window 12 feet high and five wide and, in the corner beside it, the kitchen bin - a chunky vintage Belgian roast coffee bean bin.

Over the door to the hallway is a large gilt eagle, like the lights from a US supplier. "I love that American Mad Men 1950s bling," says Vicky. It also picks up on Burton's Victorian bling - the gilding on the plasterwork around the edge of the ceiling and on the top of the marbled Corinthian columns that divide kitchen from drawing room.

Walking into the sitting room it isn't actually any of the couple's fascinating pieces that hit you but Burton's vast double sash window and the wonderful view out over the lawn and flowerbed of the promenade to the sea and sky beyond. "It's great just to sit here and watch the sea," says Jason. "It's constantly changing, two days are never the same."

The focus of the room is still the original impressive fireplace although a previous owner has stripped it back to the bare wood and the couple have decided not to re-marble it. On the mantelpiece are a stuffed seagull, three pigeons and a 1950s Belgian trucker's mascot, half duck half truck.

Running the length of the opposite wall is a theatrical 'day at the races' backdrop of painted figures from the waist down and, beneath it, a vast nine-foot-long Italian sideboard in American walnut with panels of etched glass depicting dancing cranes and sweeping curved legs. On it stand two brass palm lamps, one French the other from Harrods and a Damian Hirst-lookalike diamond skull telephone. Next to it is an absorbing painting by local artist Michael Tierney.

By the window stands a glass-fronted Edwardian shop case that once, according to its gilded legend, held liberty bodices and now holds CDs. Next to it stands a 1970s brass standard lamp, a fluted basket of light and beneath that a wonderful tiger from a 1920/30s fair ground ride made by Orton & Spooner, one of the leading designers and fairground suppliers of the day. Beneath the window itself is an old trunk, a present from Vicky's mother, bearing the nostalgic labels of the Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line, an apt resting place with the channel just yards away. Beside it stands an early Eames shell chair.

In front of the fireplace stands an ethereal 1970s Lucite coffee table, on which crouches a brass crab ashtray, and a truly huge sofa that was once the property of Engelbert Humperdinck. Beside the sofa is a French cabriole armchair reupholstered in black goatskin. Vicky now offers these chairs through her shop.

And so beneath the gilt eagle into the faux crocodile skin papered hallway and into the bathroom that the couple fashioned from a former utility room. The first thing you notice is the floor - lovely Burton Victorian tiles. This space was once part of the house's main hallway and has the same tiles that still run from the front door and which are echoed by small brown Moroccan tiles on the walls. "When we first started looking for these tiles we almost discounted them because they seemed to cost a fortune," says Vicky. "Finally we found exactly what we wanted and at a very reasonable price from Habibi Interiors."

Over the elegant Pozzi-Ginori basin, are three bathroom cabinets - one metal, one distressed and the other stripped - all from Belgian flea markets. On top of one of them is - a little surreally - a jar of pickled sea mice picked up by Jason after one of the local colleges disbanded its science department. Giving the room depth is a large Ikea over-mantle mirror that Vicky has painted black which ages it nicely.

An old glass pub door with 'Private' etched on it, found on eBay, leads into the bedroom that the couple remodelled from two smaller rooms. The elegant 1950s gilded bed is Italian and the dramatic orange feathered headdress on the wall above it from the Cameroon via a French flea market. The fabric for the 1930s gold lamè curtains came from St Leonards Wayward Fabrics who specialise in vintage fabrics from French factories.

In place of a conventional chest of drawers is a large set of haberdasher's glass-fronted drawers. "I found this one in Yorkshire," says Vicky. "They used to be pretty commonplace but they're getting increasingly difficult to find." The wardrobe is superb - Deco-style in aluminium. "It was painted but we stripped it back to the base metal and polished it." Surveying all from above it is a toy dog made from an army blanket by Jason's grandfather during the war.

A 1960s conical French laundry basket stands next to an elegant green 1950s armchair. In the corner stands an ecclesiastic bookcase now groaning with a secular and eclectic library. Above it all is a 1970s Italian 'cactus' light.

Vicky and Jason have exploited both their small and large spaces to the maximum and created a seriously interesting and beautiful home. It is, however, a home that never takes itself too seriously. It's a fun home and everywhere your eye rests there is something to bring a smile to your lips which, if you live here, is not a bad way to pass your days.

It's also a masterclass in how things that don't go together do. "Often people play it safe because they are worried about mixing eras and styles but they shouldn't be," says Vicky. "It can really work." Yes, it can but only if you have courage and the eye for the right combination. Vicky and Jason have both in spades.

Address Book:

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