Seagulls & Stripes

Following the birth of their first child, Jon and Sara decided they would like to return to England from Stockholm to begin a new life. Having always talked about starting their own business, the couple decided on Hastings to begin their new adventure - running a B&B together...

It was a dark-and-stormy night. Actually it wasn't but that's the way all the best ghost stories start. In fact, in Hastings Old Town that evening, it was sharp and clear - until a strange mist began to creep silently in from the sea. It slipped velvet through the narrow streets, curling about the houses and, one by one, extinguishing the winter stars.

At Number 23, perhaps the grandest house on the High Street, the head coachman, lantern in hand, watched it creep into the stable yard and felt a chill that had little to do with the season. He spoke to the driver who was about to take a party up to London and advised him against the trip. The passengers, however, insisted on leaving. The coach moved out of the high arched carriageway into the street and up the hill toward the London Road. It was never seen again.

It has, however, been heard. On similar nights at full moon, the occupants of Number 23 are woken by the clatter of iron shod wheels on cold cobbles as the phantom coach and its spectral passengers once again depart on the journey they are destined to travel through all eternity.

Strangely, the current occupants of the house - Sara and Jon Young and their two young children - have not heard so much as the rattle of a snaffle in the year since they moved in. And neither have their guests which may be just as well. The couple run part of this lovely Grade II list Georgian house as a B&B and not everyone is delighted to be woken in the small hours by the rumble of unearthly traffic.

Personally, however, I would be very happy to have a fleet of laden tumbrils crash past my window every night just for the pleasure of staying here. For a start - and it's only a start - there is the location. The Laindons stands at the upper and quieter end of the High Street, one of the most attractive and historic seaside thoroughfares in the country, nestling among not perhaps quite so august neighbours but still in excellent company.

The front elevation is classic Georgian. To the right of the porticoed door is an elegant arched shop window that mirrors the carriageway through to the yard behind to the left of the front door. The portion of the house to the right of the front door is the B&B and to the left is Sara and Jon's home. On entering you immediately get a hint of what's to come. Although a product designer by profession, Jon is also a photographer of no mean talent and the hallway is a mini-gallery of his Hastings work.

Beneath his pictures is an old promenade bench the couple found abandoned in the yard behind the house and painted white and now has been given a whole new lease of life helping set the subtle shoreline theme that runs through the property. So often in seaside properties owners start with the idea of a creative nod to their location and before they know it, the place is awash with what can only be described as ‘seaside stuff' of no intrinsic aesthetic value and they find themselves living in a coastal jumble sale.

Sara and Jon, however, began with a vision of the property as a bright, clean, clear haven where the stars of the show would be the lovely Georgian spaces and windows that allow the light, sky and townscape to become part of the guest experience. The front rooms look out over the High Street framing the 17th century cottages opposite and the rear rooms offer stunning views out over the rooftops to All Saints Church and East Hill beyond.

The shoreline theme is there but almost subliminal - one of Jon's Hastings pictures here, a little seagull made from reclaimed wood there, a heart made from driftwood on one bedroom wall, a pair of mackerel painted by Jon's aunt on the wall of another, rope ball doorstops throughout.

There is also a little something distinctly Scandinavian going on which is hardly surprising - the couple met in Stockholm where they were both living and working, he on product design, she as the Director of Sales & Marketing Scandinavia for Design Hotels. Following the birth of their first child, they decided they would like to return to England and begin a new life.

"We had always talked about starting our own business and running a B&B together was very attractive," says Sara. The couple met through their mothers who met at a party and exchanged phone numbers on their behalves. Jon has family in Hastings and holidayed here as a child, while Sara's grandparents lived in Bexhill. They decided on Hastings as the location for their new venture. Sara sold her flat in Stockholm and they moved in with her parents. Jon's parents were living on the Isle of Wight but moved to Fairlight so the whole family were within easy reach of one another.

"We really didn't look at that many properties, perhaps a couple of others, but when we saw The Laindons that was it and we set our heart on it," she says. The property was in good condition and had already been converted into a B&B with private space for the family. So all that was left to do was to redecorate and refurbish the house in a style that played to the house's strengths and which they felt guests would appreciate.

"We set out to find a balance between the property being warm and welcoming but, at the same time, bright and uncluttered," says Sara. And that is exactly the result they have achieved.

The colours that would flow through the public rooms and guestrooms would be those of sky and seascape - blues, whites and greys. "We set out to find a balance between the property being warm and welcoming but, at the same time, bright and uncluttered," says Sara. And that is exactly the result they have achieved.

They opened for business this February and, with the help of a complimentary review in The Independent, got off to a flying start. "It's been a fantastic first six months. Weekends have virtually sold themselves and we have had lots of mid-week bookings, too. We couldn't have hoped for a better first season," says Sara.

The B&B side of the property has four bedrooms - three with en suite bathrooms and another with a large corner bath - a drawing room and a breakfast room with three walls of windows which shares the rear bedrooms' great view out to East Hill. A fifth bedroom is a work-in-progress.

The drawing room - and it is a drawing room not a hotel lounge - is a gentle grey with a white chimney-piece inset with an art nouveau tulip motif fireplace below a brass hood. Above it sits a model yacht - a reminder of Jon's love of sailing. A white sofa flanks a chunky white-painted coffee table and gathering round are two Parker Knoll chairs which Sara found in Court House Mews and had upholstered by Sam Norris of Norris of Blackheath who also have a workshop in Pett.

A Swedish lamp stands next to the sofa and, opposite across the room, an honesty larder filled with soft drinks and snacks made from an old steel cheese larder. At a muscular white-painted pine table stand two Ercol chairs, cousins to another four out in the adjoining breakfast room. All were sourced from different places and patiently collected. Seating in the breakfast room is complemented with two steel-framed trestle tables pushed together with a supporting cast of smaller pine tables for guests hankering after a more intimate bacon-and-eggs experience.

Bedroom One is the largest of the bedrooms and offers not the East Hill view but its own sitting area complete with Norris upholstered Parker Knolls. The kingsize bed with its Egyptian linen was made - as were all the property's beds - by the Hastings & Bexhill Wood Recycling Project. Its en suite bathroom has both a large corner bath and a separate shower. In common with its sister rooms it also has smart TV, complimentary on demand movies and WiFi. "I didn't want TVs in the rooms but Jon pointed out that guests would expect it so I agreed - so long as they were white," says Sara.

Bedrooms Two and Three are similar although without the seating area. They, too, boast lovely period fireplaces and share the gentle grey and white theme. Bedroom Four, overlooking the High Street, has its own shower room and bold grey and white striped wallpaper. "The paper was here when we took over the property and went so well with our overall design plan that we decided to keep it," she says.

Guests' reaction to this plan and the experience of staying with the family has been universally positive with many remarking that they love the elegant, uncluttered feel of the place and warm, welcoming atmosphere. With the evenings now drawing in, the latter may prove to be especially popular. Particularly on dark and stormy nights...

Address Book:

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