Nesting Instinct


After moving closer to her family in Whitstable, Francine Raymond has now spent 5 years in her new 'chalet home', which is a true credit to the fashion illustrator and stylist-turned writer...

Those who believe that the Arts and Crafts movement came to an end in the early 20th century have obviously not been to Francine Raymond's house on Joy Lane in Whitstable. An appropriate address for such a joyous home, this 'chalet house', built in 1906 by a Swedish sea captain, epitomises the movement's principle that designer and maker should be one and the same. At least it does now, thanks to Francine.

Originally an unremarkable suburban house, built in the ubiquitous Arts and Crafts style it has - over five years - been transformed into a unique, stylish and inspiring family home. Francine bought the house from the sea captain's granddaughter, and the house had remained relatively unchanged since the day it was built.

"I was looking for a smaller house than this, with a large garden, but in the end I had to make a decision," says Francine who moved from a much-loved family home in Troston, Suffolk, to be nearer to her sons Jacques and Max. "I'd helped Jacques and his wife Saskia look for a home in Whitstable, and thought that it looked like a nice place to live. I lived in the middle of nowhere in Suffolk - whereas here you can walk everywhere."

Francine didn't find what she was looking for but was able to see the potential in her current home. "My son Max couldn't see what I saw in the place - but he loves it now." Max, who lives in London, is a regular visitor and Jacques and his young family live walking distance away. Jacques, who is project manager at Moosejaw Woodworks, also played a major part in rebuilding the house, creating a bespoke 'unfitted kitchen' for his mother and many other carpentry features.

The first thing Francine did when she bought the house was to reconfigure the rooms, turning the gloomy downstairs, made up of several small rooms and a long corridor to the back garden, into two large open-plan areas: an office-cum-living room, and a kitchen / living area with French doors leading out on to an equally considered garden. There is also a scullery area, reached via a corridor with built-in larder cupboard. Conversely, upstairs, she divided two large rooms into three bedrooms, a shower room and added a large dormer to house a new, light-filled bathroom.

This light-filled bathroom holds a clue to Francine's approach to refurbishment: a stripped-down 'upcycled' wooden door serving as a rustic side panel to the bath. "I love to reuse things." Other examples of Francine's ingenuity and clever re-use of materials include the brick paths in her garden, made using bricks from the knocked down internal walls and a garden table topped with left over Fired Earth tiles from the shower room.

It's clear that she is both practical as well as having great visual sense. After gaining a degree in Fashion and Textiles she worked for many years as a fashion illustrator and stylist in Milan, before working as a buyer for a stylish country store in Suffolk and then setting up a shop of her own. More recently she has become known for her writing: a weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph as well as regular articles for Country Living and Gardens Illustrated. And let's not forget her hens.

Dotted around Francine's home are paintings, sculptures and images of hens, primarily Buff Orpingtons. The Hen Keepers' Association, her series of books on keeping poultry and the popular 'hen parties' she ran in Suffolk are all testament to her enthusiasm and expertise. "One downside to living in the town is that I can't keep a cockerel any more, as it would be too antisocial," she says.

Dotted around Francine's home are various paintings, sculptures and images of hens, primarily Buff Orpingtons. The Hen Keepers' Association - which now has more than 10,000 members - her series of books on keeping poultry and the popular 'hen parties' she ran in Suffolk are all testament to her enthusiasm and expertise. "One downside to living in the town is that I can't keep a cockerel any more, as it would be too antisocial," she says. Normally she would have about six-eight Buff Orpington hens but, sadly, she lost her last flock to the fox.

While living in Suffolk, Francine wrote her popular book, All My Eggs in One Basket, a journal of village and family life, from season to season. The sequel, Flying the Coop, covers her decision to leave after more than 30 years, her move to Joy Lane in Whitstable, Kent and the process of creating a new home and life.

In her 'new' garden, a pretty, colour co-ordinated hen house is crying out for a fresh flock of apricot-coloured Orpingtons. "I like to stick to a limited palette," says Francine, who has dotted the golden colour of her home's London stock bricks - and the hens - around the house and garden. She has also repeated the dark bluey-grey of the slate roof on woodwork and window frames.

Indoors, the palette is limited and considered too: Francine's office-cum-living room is painted with Dulux's Steel Symphony, a strong bluey-grey, which sets off her collection of family paintings to perfection, as well as matching the huge wooden shelving unit she brought with her from Suffolk.

Francine's office doubles-up as a shop when she opens her home to the public, at Christmas time and each year as part of the National Gardens Scheme in June. This open-plan space, with enormous Arts and Crafts-style windows, was formerly a downstairs bedroom and living room looking out on to Joy Lane

Her office doubles-up as a shop on the occasions when she open her home to the public, at Christmas time and each year as part of the National Gardens Scheme in June. This open-plan space, with enormous Arts and Crafts-style windows, was formerly a downstairs bedroom and living room looking out on to Joy Lane. "If you work from home, you don't want to be stuck upstairs, you want to be where the action is," she says.

"The front windows are original, so we built new windows in the house to match," says Francine. Her son Jacques has built a window seat in the living room, creating the perfect spot from which to enjoy the morning sunshine and paintings by Francine's late husband Jean-Francois Raymond, and her father-in-law Maurice.

Jacques' masterpiece, if there is one, has to be the striking unfitted kitchen to the rear of the house, facing the garden. "I really didn't want a fitted kitchen, and his design reflects this," she says. As well as a large reclaimed sink, which doubles-up as a chopping board, the kitchen has open shelves displaying pretty but functional ceramics and a stripped farmhouse-style table.

On the kitchen table sits a blue-glazed vase that belonged to Francine's grandmother and which, at this time of year, is filled with artichoke heads from her garden and cardoons from nearby Macknade's farm shop. In the window is a wreath of autumnal leaves which Francine made by pressing and drying the leaves, between newspaper, under a doormat.

You can't escape these hand-made touches - nor would you want to - and upstairs in the main bedroom, Francine has embroidered the bedstead, armchair and pelmet of the window. "I used to do lots of tapestry and needlepoint," she says. "It's very quick." Balanced along the top of the bedstead are curvy pieces of salvaged leadwork, bought at the Wincheap boot fair in Canterbury.

Francine goes to the boot fair most weeks, but somehow manages to edit her purchases, so that her home never feels cluttered. "I do chuck things out," she says, "or sell them in the pop-up shop. I'm certainly not a hoarder!" Her local shops in Whitstable, such as Valentine's, also offer a rich seam of tasteful, interesting finds.

In the dining area, across from the kitchen, is a large model sailing boat bought by Francine in Peckham, as a present to her husband when they got married. She also collects children's wooden chairs - there are three on display - and an out-sized sculptor's plinth makes a handy display stand in the corner. The entire space is painted in the warm, yet muted 'Sandstone' by Dulux.

Despite a magic ability to style a room -- "I'm an interior designer manquée" - this is a house full of life, and nothing feels static. Under the bench topped by the model boat is a crate full of the grandchildren's toys with a large plastic dinosaur nearby. Upstairs, one of the two spare rooms is a child's paradise, known as 'the Lego room', complete with a tree made from driftwood, by the woodworker Martin Pammant.

So, I ask, how does her 'new' home compare to her home in Suffolk? "I like this house now. It's much more comfortable and warmer than my old house. I do miss the Suffolk countryside - there's something about Suffolk - although I love Kent too." It sounds as if Francine had little trouble settling in and making friends: "There's lots going on here, and lots of different sorts of people. I have friends of all different ages.

"Because of my old business [in Suffolk] I knew hundreds of people, a person in each village. When you're the new girl, it can knock your confidence. But, writing my column for the Sunday Telegraph has got me out, meeting people. Each time you write about a garden, it's a different world, with different people."

She's a great proponent of community gardens, and speaks warmly of the Stream Walk Community Garden, as well as the Friends of the Westbrook stream in Faversham. "These days many people can't afford a house with a large garden. Community gardens are the way it's going, and it's a great way to make friends."

The NGS is also something Francine is involved in, and which she hopes to extend in Whitstable. "We have seven gardens already, and we are hoping to attract people with smaller gardens, who can be involved in a more informal way - marking their garden with a yellow balloon during open garden week." Francine's garden will be open on June 12, 2016.

Although she was initially looking for a smaller home, with a larger garden, it seems that Francine has ended up with the perfect plot. "My old garden was an acre, and I had 100 ducks. I didn't want this garden to be labour intensive." Instead, much of the area close to the house is taken up with containers, in all shapes and sizes, from agricultural watering troughs, to more elegant 'brocante' - around a deck made from scaffolding boards.

"I try and grow a few, special veg - not everything I eat. It's the seasonality I like. To grow a few nice things is important to me." Morning and evening watering is something she finds relaxing. Further away from the house is a grass area, dotted with fruit trees, and to the side there is a metal swing chair that Francine brought with her from her old garden. "You get the nicest view from here, of just plants, trees and sky and I've planted roses around it, for the scent."

Following on from her knack of re-using materials, or using materials in clever ways, the garden fences - or dividers - which shield the compost area and cobnut glade - are made from roofing batten nailed at intervals to vertical stakes: "it's windy here, so you need something that will let the wind through. Otherwise it would just get blown down." Ingenuity and adaptability are just two of Francine's talents, and her home and garden show both off to perfection.

Address Book:

  • words Jennifer Stuart-Smith
  • pictures David Merewether
  • styling Helen Barton