Pale and interesting


When Victoria and David left London for Surrey they had no idea that such a wonderful home was just around the corner, down a pretty leafy lane. An expansive Arts & Crafts house, with more than a touch of Betjeman about it, it just needed their personal touch to turn it into something truly special...

When six years ago, Victoria and David decided to move from Clapham, a relatively leafy part of London, they looked at several charming country houses around Surrey, but none of them really captured their imagination, "Until," Victoria says, "the day in late summer that we drove along this particular lane and through the tunnel of trees. I got butterflies in my stomach, and when I saw the house, I just 'knew' it was the right one."

It's not surprising that the first glimpse of this 1915 house had such a strong effect on Victoria. Set amidst typical Surrey woodland, and framed by spreading copper beech trees, the long, handsome Arts & Crafts style house looks just as if it was intended for the perfect country house weekend.

This long, handsome Arts & Crafts style house looks just as if it was intended for the perfect country house weekend

Since that day, when the couple determined to buy it, the house has undergone tremendous changes, but has retained its special character. "Of course, it was already a very lovely house when we saw it," explains Victoria, "but certain spaces just didn't work, especially for a family. I think I could see the potential almost immediately, but it was a big project."

Victoria trained and worked as a chartered surveyor in London (albeit on the commercial side) and this obviously enabled her to tackle such a huge undertaking with confidence and great skill. "I suppose I knew how to analyse and compare quotes and, although we used Jeremy Sparrow as our architect, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted. I must admit that we didn't anticipate doing quite so much work at first, but once you start taking down walls and ceilings and redoing wiring and plumbing, there are certain economies of scale, so actually it makes sense to do a thorough refurbishment. "We used a very good local firm, Kavbro, who have some really good tradespeople."

Aware of the tremendous amount of clutter generated by a young family, Victoria identified the necessity of having a place to store coats, bags and even a dog basket. Having a boot room means the hall is immaculate

Aware of the tremendous amount of clutter generated by a young family, Victoria identified too, the necessity of having a practical place to store coats, bags, boots and even a dog basket, so she cleverly incorporated a 'boot room' area that is neatly hidden from sight as you enter the kitchen, but is efficiently served by a range of cupboards and baskets that keep the inevitable jumble in order.

The smartly appointed kitchen inhabits a vast space that was once the garage. The rear wall is almost completely taken up by windows that overlook the garden and there is a long sweep of cupboards painted in Little Greene's Portland Stone. A huge cream AGA sits within a tiled alcove topped by an elegant overmantel and, along with the underfloor heating, keeps the room wonderfully warm.

Victoria planned the whole area very carefully, not only so that it would maximise the views across the rear garden and to the front, and for the numerous cupboards and drawers to be pleasing to the eye, but also to be a highly efficient workspace.

The floor is covered in square tiles from Barge Tiles in Lingfield that at first look like limestone, but are in fact made of hard-wearing porcelain. Chosen, says Victoria, because with two young children and Molly, the miniature goldendoodle in the house, it's important that they can be cleaned easily.

"Essentially, the kitchen comprises several different and distinct work stations, so we have three sinks, with different types of Perrin & Rowe taps, two dishwashers and two refrigerators. For instance, the smaller fridge is under the countertop, and sited in the 'breakfast station' where I keep the kettle, the toaster and coffee-maker etcetera. It means that everything we need to make drinks and breakfast can be found in one place, then other areas of the kitchen are designed for different tasks. I designed the overall configuration and then I got Robert, a very talented carpenter, to make all the cupboards and drawers. "It took a long time to plan everything. Just getting the size of the island unit right was quite a task, because every section of the kitchen had to work independently, but also within the whole. The granite we used for the island worktop is one enormous slab and it was so heavy, it took all 20 of the workmen we had on site to carry it in. By the time they put it down their faces were absolutely puce. I made them all bacon sandwiches to revive them!"

Although the room is huge, it's cleverly divided into distinct areas; a pair of linen-covered sofas provide a sociable spot for family and friends to lounge and chat while food is being prepared

Although the room is huge, it's cleverly divided up into distinct areas, so that beyond the working part, a pair of linen-covered sofas provide a sociable spot for family and friends to lounge and chat while food is being prepared. Behind the larger sofa, an elegant dining table and chairs from Neptune in Tunbridge Wells are set in front of a handsome fireplace with an overmantel mirror above that reflects back even more light.

The colours throughout are muted, but the Roman blinds feature a provençal style print of pale grey and lime green Linwood linen, the colours of which are echoed in the striped and paisley patterned Ulster Weavers cushions of assorted sizes that sit in plumped symmetry on the sofas. Glass and ceramic urns filled with white roses and orchids are dotted about on the surfaces, and lanterns and candle sconces sourced from The Vintage Home Co. in Westerham and Papillon Living in Brighton further add to the atmosphere.

On a sideboard stands a pair of Corinthian-columned lamps and an unusual French antique lantern. "They're from Annie, an antiques dealer at Dorking House Antiques, an antiques centre that's owned by David's mother." says Victoria.

"When we entertain, we light all the candles, and at Christmas time, my father brings a huge piece of timber that we fit over the top of the table, so we can accommodate up to 16 people to eat."

To the right of the sideboard, a discreet door leads into a small, but perfectly formed Butler's pantry, where Victoria has designed a wall of drawers of varying sizes and depths that house everything from tealights to cookie cutters. All those items in a house that normally have no obvious home are kept here, so there are also shelves for vases of all shapes and sizes, hooks to keep toasting forks safely out of children's reach, and even plastic tubes hung on the inside of cupboard doors to neatly house rolls of wrapping paper. There is even a mirror, thoughtfully hung at face height: "I put it there so I can do a quick check when holding dinner parties - just in case I have spinach in my teeth or something!" laughs Victoria.

Walking through the opening from the dining area, we pass through the snug, where the original kitchen and scullery was once housed. A large OKA armoire keeps all the children's toys, games and craft materials out of sight and a pair of sofas from OKA offer a comfortable, quiet place to sit.

It's the original flooring, laid when the house was built. We didn't even know it was here until we discovered the architect's plans from 1915 that showed oak floors throughout

As I follow Victoria along the hallway, I notice the polished oak floor stretching ahead. "Yes, it's the original flooring, laid when the house was built. We didn't even know it was here until we discovered the architect's plans from 1915 that showed oak floors throughout."

We pause at the sitting room. "When we bought the house, almost every room was papered and every ceiling too. It had been beautifully done, but it wasn't really our taste. We kept this one as it was though," explains Victoria, "It's covered in green and gold spotted silk and in the evening, when the fire is lit, and the silk curtains are also drawn, it creates a wonderfully cosy atmosphere. In fact, in future, I would always have a room with a dark ceiling because it gives such a lovely feeling of warmth and enclosure."

On either side of the fireplace, the alcoves are papered with Andrew Martin's faux books and over the mantel, Victoria has hung a gilt mirror from a heavy antique chain that tilts the looking glass in a downward direction so that it reflects more of the room. It's a style that is sometimes used in restaurants to create a greater feeling of intimacy and here, it has exactly this effect.

The combination of Sanderson silk drapes and crushed velvet cushions from The Danish Collection in Sevenoaks creates a sense of luxurious comfort, while black lacquered tables and an Andrew Martin spotted velvet chair add to the glamorous, club-like atmosphere.

"This room is probably most similar to the way that we decorated our house in Clapham", Victoria says. "We use it often for entertaining and it's perfect for having drinks. We recently went to the London Gin Club, where all kinds of botanical gins are served in huge goblets with long shavings of cucumber and plenty of ice. It's absolutely delicious, so now I always serve it like that."

Further along the hallway is the drawing room, which features another handsome Andrew Martin sofa flanked by a pair of French Provencal-style sofas from OKA with a huge buttoned OKA ottoman between them. At the other end of the room, a traditional billiard table, commissioned by the couple from Brunswick & Co has proved a useful addition for David and popular among visiting friends. A pair of French tub chairs that once belonged to Victoria's grandfather sit either side of the window overlooking the garden, and on a mercury glass and metal console table from OKA, a collection of silver and glass objets are carefully grouped.

On the wall above, a fine arrangement of framed prints of speckled bird's eggs from King's Court Galleries complement the group of botanical illustrations that frame the fireplace on the opposite wall.

The choice of Sanderson green fern fabric was inspired by the ferns that naturally grow and fill the front garden

Up the main stairs, the dominant feature is a huge, early 19th century map of Surrey bought at Ardingly Antiques Fair that includes the area where David and Victoria's house is sited. Further up on the landing, a pair of carved French chairs upholstered with a fresh Sanderson green fern fabric were inspired by the ferns that naturally grow and fill the front garden.

An antique crystal chandelier with unusual damson-coloured drops was a present from David to Victoria and provides a delicate contrast to the dominant green theme of the map and fern prints on the walls and upholstery.

The children's bedrooms are remarkably tidy, but like all the rooms in the house, have been designed to function well, so even the young inhabitants have little excuse not to keep things in an orderly fashion

The children's bedrooms are remarkably tidy, but like all the rooms in the house, have been designed to function well, so even the young inhabitants have little excuse not to keep things in an orderly fashion. Victoria and David's daughter's room is furnished with a carved Laura Ashley bed, dressing table and an antique armoire, and accessorised with Cath Kidston rosebud bedlinen, a Kate Forman floral print fabric for the blinds and vintage painted tables and chairs.

The couple's son's room is themed with his current favourites, racing cars and sailing boats and Victoria says her three year old is very proud of having tidied it himself for the visitors.

In the children's Jack & Jill bathroom, sliding doors enable the room to be comfortably spacious. Pale travertine tiles cover the floor and walls and the whole room was properly tanked to cope with splashes from the huge bath and walk-in shower, sourced from Burge & Gunson in South London. Again, Robert, the carpenter made the unit for the wide ceramic basin which is served by a simple but solid curving tap inset into the wall.

A little further along the corridor, the master suite, painted in Little Greene's French Grey is comprised of three rooms that feel wonderfully luxurious. The trio begins with a generously proportioned dressing room that features a wall of bespoke wardrobes with mirrored and lattice-work doors beautifully crafted by Robert's team. Shagreen boxes from OKA stand on an elegant, marble-topped dressing table and there is a dainty, antique cane bergàre chair upholstered in a fine grey satin velvet.

"It's a simple trick really, but adding a marble top to a piece of furniture immediately places it in a more luxurious bracket," says Victoria.

"It's a simple trick really, but adding a marble top to a piece of furniture immediately places it in a more luxurious bracket," says Victoria. In the bedroom itself, she has also used this device to great effect by placing more marble slabs on top of the bedside tables and chest of drawers. At the far end of the room, a classic white marble mantel hosts Victoria's collection of glass and silver perfume bottles.

On the bed, a sumptuously padded grey velvet headboard tops the mountain of pure white bedlinen and the air is scented with lemongrass to remind the couple of happy holidays spent on islands in the Indian Ocean.

Another opening leads into the bathroom, where a volcanic limestone double-ended bath is large enough to accommodate Victoria and both children for relaxing chats that can be gently illuminated by a floor mounted light, the beams of which are filtered through the leaves of the faux orchids that sprout from the stone urn in the corner of the room. The walk-in shower with its enormous rose drencher is lined with more white marble and twin Lefroy Brooks La Chapelle washbasins sit beneath mirror cabinets cleverly recessed into the wall, so that there is plenty of hidden storage.

Neatly folded towels are kept in an elegant, glass-fronted linen press just outside the room on the landing, and around the corner, by the second staircase, folding doors reveal an ingenious laundry 'room' - a supersized cupboard that accommodates a double Belfast sink and washing machine and dryer beneath a long worksurface, perfect for folding and pressing linens. Hanging rails above mean that clothes can be dried and aired, and as Victoria explains, in the case of the children's school uniform, rarely have to be put away, because the children can simply collect what they need each morning.

"It makes so much more sense to have the laundry facilities upstairs too," she points out, "because of course, everyone dresses upstairs, and sheets and bedclothes can be shaken out over the stairwell and folded ready for ironing, so the whole process is so much quicker and easier.

"We had this second staircase taken out and re-built," adds Victoria. "It took ages to work out exactly how to redo it, and we added an extra quarter landing, so that we could maximise the space in the kitchen and have the seating area there, but it also made the space up here work so much better too, and we now have the two guest bedrooms and bathroom in this wing of the house."

The first bedroom has furniture from The Coach House and a pale duck egg blue and taupe toile is used for the blinds and cushions. A looking-glass hangs on the wall between the windows and has a deep, chalk-painted frame, delicately done by Victoria after she'd taken an Annie Sloan furniture-painting course.

In the second guest room, a Savoy-style bed has a velvet covered headboard that was bought from Lots Road in London and a huge, painted armoire came from Mark Maynard antiques in Tunbridge Wells, while a carved, painted table accommodates more of Victoria's favourite shagreen accessories from OKA that feature throughout the house.

Even the guest bathroom has been thoughtfully planned and is lined with tiles from Mandarin Stone that are comprised of fossilised shells. An antique, ornately carved pedestal table provides a decorative flourish, and on the other wall there is a collection of exquisitely delicate seashell prints.

We descend the stairs and enter the garden through the French windows from the kitchen, then stand for a moment on the balustraded terrace overlooking the sweeping lawns and box-edged beds. Molly the dog follows us along the gravel path to the beautifully rebuilt swimming pool.

Stone steps around the pool form a kind of amphitheatre and there are all-weather rattan recliners from OKA for family and friends to soak up the spring and summer sunshine. The pool was rebuilt from its former Roman style into a simpler, rectangle and specially lined with a grey, rather than white or blue surface to ensure that the water appears as a softer blue to better suit the English light. At the far end of the pool stands a rather grand summerhouse from HSP in Suffolk, which with its elegantly curving glazing bars and oriental style lead roof strongly resembles a delicate, but enormous lantern. Inside, rattan sofas have lime green cushions scattered across them and offer the ideal spot from which to look back across the rose and lavender beds at the very lovely, wisteria-covered house.

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