Rose Tinted

Keen to embark on a new challenge, Dawn Rose has capitalized on her experience as former head of Home Buying for both Selfridges and House of Fraser to launch her own homeware and soft furnishings business, Ragged Rose, which she runs from her vibrant Georgian home...

Pick up any book on English architecture and you'll find acres of type devoted to the great architectural legacy of the Georgians. You'll be told about the strict symmetry, the immaculate proportions, the mathematical ratios used to determine the height of a window in relation to its width or the shape of a room as a double cube. What you'll rarely find a mention of is the glorious confidence of Georgians and their time.

Never before had England brimmed with such confidence, such self-belief. The East India Company and the voyages of Captain Cook laid the foundations of the greatest empire the world had ever seen and the spoils of this empire poured into Britain's great cities. There was continual warfare but we won every one but the American Revolution.

It was a time, too, of a new freedom of speech and expression and the arts flourished. The Georgians gave us the words of Jane Austen, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Blake and Byron, the paintings of Turner, Constable, Gainsborough and Reynolds. And, of course, they gave us Robert Adam, John Nash and James Wyatt.

Their neoclassical style drew on the decorative vocabulary of the ancient world and its underlying message was clear. Britain was natural inheritor. Britain was the new Rome. How can we not fail to be impressed when we walk into a Georgian home?

Dawn Rose's home was once the dower house to the earlier nearby pile built for a former Lord Mayor of London. Although now divided into two, it still speaks eloquently for its period. As a mere 21st century Briton one is immediately - and literally - dwarfed the moment one steps through the door. A hallway wide enough to drive a Mini through and high enough to park a Routemaster.

When Dawn and her then husband moved down to Kent from London in 1997 they bought a wing of an old manor house and when the couple parted company she began looking for a period house with improvement possibilities - and certainly when she found her present home it certainly needed improvements. "It was a complete wreck but I immediately fell in love with it," she says. "We exchanged and completed in three weeks."

Wreck or not, she decided to move in and do up the house around herself and her sons Dominic and Linus. The former servants' quarters on the top floor would become a two-bedroom attic flat and the remainder would be completely renovated with, in some cases, rooms being restored to their original proportions following earlier dubious remodelling. The property also needed reroofing - all nine of them. "I knew it was going to be a major project," she says, "but I also knew it would be worth it."

It took two years to develop the concept, product and brand but finally Ragged Rose bloomed and a range of fabrics and homewares quite unlike any other was born. "I suppose it's really Cath Kidston on acid meets Agent Provocateur," says Dawn. "It’s very girly and a bit like Marmite - you either absolutely love it or hate it."

Having completed this considerable undertaking one might have forgiven Dawn for taking a moment or two to relax and enjoy the place. On the contrary. A former head of Home Buying for both Selfridges and House of Fraser, she had taken a couple of years out and was now bored. However, rather than cast herself back into the corporate fray, she decided to go it alone and start her own business. It took two years to develop the concept, product and brand but finally Ragged Rose bloomed and a range of fabrics and homewares quite unlike any other was born.

"I suppose it's really Cath Kidston on acid meets Agent Provocateur," says Dawn. "It's very girly and a bit like Marmite - you either absolutely love it or hate it." More officially her website - says it was ‘born out of Dawn's desire to create a signature collection of pretty and practical, affordable gifts and soft furnishings, based around her passion for beautiful flowers on a hot summer's day and her love for strong, vibrant colour.'

Ragged Rose has been a huge success. Led by bold, colourful floral designs by Dawn herself and backed by India's huge depth of expertise when it comes to high quality fabric production, the company has gone from strength to strength. Dawn's cobbled cellar now serves as a great sample room, and an ideal space to develop her designs. "I simply could not live without this cellar," she says.

Another thing she could not live without is her vast kitchen - a triumph of style and creativity over budget. It was all 1970s orange panelling and a sea of lino. The theme now is shaker with a touch of black magic. All the units - which could easily have cost a fortune - were from B&Q and the work surfaces are an acre or two of Diapol black granite.

In stripping off the old panelling, Dawn made a very pleasing discovery - a huge and stunning fireplace which now vies with the granite central island for star billing. The butler sink was from eBay and the cream marble tiles - which also run the length of the hallway - from Natural Image in Staplehurst.

The drawing room is, to say the least, dramatic. The original Georgian room has been extended and where once a wall supported the masonry and bedroom terrace above are two soaring Doric columns. One third of the room, beyond the columns, now serves as a dining area, the table overhung by a truly massive Florentine chandelier. "Getting it up was a real Only Fools and Horses job," remembers Dawn.

At the other end, gathered around the superb fireplace, are three large sofas. They were originally all upholstered in red velvet, but one became a Ribena casualty and so Dawn decided to cover it and its neighbour in cream loose covers. The fireplace itself isn't Georgian but Victorian and is now home to a woodburner.

The huge poles that support the black flock blinds were made from old banister rails given a coat or two of black lacquer and gilt ends. The blinds and the muslin windings which cascade down their sides were made by the Sewing Room in West Malling, as were many of the other curtains around the house. Two large black cabinets stand sentinel to the French doors to the garden and off duty service as props when Dawn goes travelling with her collection.

The room has a distinctly nautical theme. On one wall is a superb oil of a naval battle and on an ebony half table stands a beautifully carved and rigged ship in a bottle from Mauritius. Star of the show, though, must be a beautiful and delicate Georgian mahogany sideboard.

Dawn's favourite room is, however, her lovely double-aspect bedroom. The sage headboard was upholstered by the Sewing Room as was the black velvet chaise longue. Across the bed is a Ragged Rose bedspread and beside it hangs a terrific skyscape by Terry Watts that Dawn bought at the Francis Iles Gallery in Rochester. "The green marble hearth of the Edwardian fireplace really dictated the overall colour scheme of the room," says Dawn pointing out the Cole & Son Wisteria wallpaper. In the en suite bathroom the white marble walls are courtesy of Topps Tiles and the bath fittings that so efficiently raise the profile of the inexpensive bath are from Phoenix Bathrooms in West Malling.

When Dawn took over the property the room that was to belong to her younger son had been converted into a small room and a corridor. She wanted to return the room to its original size, ideally factoring in a shower room, too, but space was limited. The answer is as elegant as it is clever. Behind what would appear to be a wardrobe door is now a secret shower room.

This bedroom has become a serious football room even down to the dark blue, light blue and white stripes that adorn one wall. Everywhere are footballing motifs, many of which reveal the unfortunate fact that he is a Millwall fan. However, this is forgiven because, in pride of place over the reinstated fireplace, he has hung a signed photograph of Pelé with Bobby Moore.

Dawn's eldest son is away at uni, something any parent could have told you given a two-second glance at his room. Here the theme is lime green and purple and across the bed is another great cover from Ragged Rose. "Needless to say, so much around the house is Ragged Rose," says Dawn. "I just love our stuff."

What exactly the original old Georgian dowager would have thought of Cath Kidston on acid is anyone's guess, but it certainly warms the cooler classical lines of the architecture. Despite all its symmetry, its ratios and perfect proportions, this is, in the final analysis, no mere architectural gem, no mere tribute to the confidence of an era but a wonderful, living, family home.

Address Book:

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