Tea and DIY are considered by many to be two very British obsessions - and, it's true, the two do go very well together, perhaps with the addition of some decent biscuits. At least, biscuits are what some of us need to muster the strength and enthusiasm for home improvement. Unless, that is, you are the wallpaper and fabric designer Louise Body and her husband Jonny, whose Hastings home is testament to ten years of 'doing it themselves' and to Louise's incredible creative talent. They wouldn't have it any other way.
"Most things, we have done ourselves," says Louise. "We're both pretty practical and, if this doesn't sound big-headed, I always think no-one will do as good a job as I can do!" When it comes to design and decor, it would be hard to disagree, and Louise's work, as we are to find out, is dotted around every room. "Jonny can do a bit of plumbing, a bit of electrics, most things really, so we've hardly had to employ anyone."
Returning to the talk of tea and DIY, it's perhaps worth explaining that Louise's career in wallpaper design and manufacture began with a wallpaper design called: 'More Tea Vicar'. After a fine art degree and time spent living in India, Louise moved to Brighton, became part of the Maze studio group, and put on an exhibition called 'Housebound' - where her screen-printed design of teacups and hands went down a storm.
"Soon after the Housebound exhibition, I was involved in a show called 100% Design - a big interiors trade show in London. At the time there were very few doing wallpaper - perhaps me and a couple of other girls. That was it." Though she is unlikely to say it herself, Louise was a major player in the 'wallpaper revival'. "A few of us were starting to do exciting things with wallpaper which hadn't been done before," says Louise, whose innovative and fresh approach continues to this day.
As we walk through to the kitchen of this large, Victorian semi, we are met with a delicious display of Louise's designs. The wall next to the kitchen table features 'Midnight' from her Forest wallpaper range, while those with an eye for Louise's designs will also notice the 'Old Blue' Tile wallpaper behind the cooker and on the teatowels hanging on its rail.
"The kitchen chairs were my bargain of the century," says Louise, who cleverly mixes a few budget brands with her own high-end designs and gorgeous family heirlooms. "I got them from Dunelm Mill for £5 each - and they've since been discontinued." The chairs are a simple, classic design which fits nicely with 1950s and 60s items dotted around the room, including a wooden 1960s star-shaped clock which Louise found in a junk shop.
The white kitchen units are wonderfully retro, with pale blue crackle-glaze Formica® laminate tops tying in with the pale blue walls and grey-painted floorboards. It is a far cry from what the couple discovered when they first saw the house: "It was in a complete state when we bought it," says Louise. "There was no real kitchen - just a sink hanging off the wall and all the woodwork was orange pine. Every single thing... skirting boards, door frames, walls, everything. It was hideous!" Thank goodness for the house that it was bought by a couple with such good taste... generations of good taste, in fact.
"I'm slightly embarrassed," says Louise, "because so much of our stuff is either from family or from junks shops." The fact that her relatives had more than their fair share of creative flair and that Louise lives in Hastings - a hotbed of 'junk shops' and architectural reclamation - all adds up to a lot of potential.
"Both my grandmothers were artists," says Louise, before pointing to a pretty drawing on the opposite wall. "Granny Jean did that pencil drawing and watercolour of Bumper, our old cat." Such personal touches add an immeasurable sense of homeliness to the place. I'm dying to look around the rest of the house...
Out into the lofty hallway and stairwell we go, and are instantly reminded of the generous proportions of Victorian homes. Space was one of the main attractions for Louise and Jonny: "We were living in a three-bedroom cottage on West Hill in Hastings, but quickly outgrew it," says Louise, who now shares the house, not only with her husband Jonny but also with their two children, Isaac, 10, and Marney, 7.
Louise grew up with her two siblings in a huge Victorian house in Surrey (the house was split between five families) so feels very at home with high ceilings and big windows. But it does make for a very large blank canvas. "We've worked on it gradually, over ten years," says Louise, as we head into the open-plan living room-cum-dining room.
The couple knocked through to create one huge room, as opposed to two, with complementary decor linking the two areas. A large dining table occupies the rear of the room, next to a modest fireplace and overlooking the garden. "The wallpaper is from my new Murals collection and is called 'Still Lake'," says Louise, when prompted, "and the walls are painted in Pale Powder by Farrow & Ball." Beautifully arranged, select items, dot the surfaces. What looks like a cylindrical copper vase is in fact a shell case, saved and polished by her grandfather Peter after the war.
And this is not the only copper-coloured decoration; elsewhere there is a large copper vase, a partially coppered vase... and in the living area next door, the entire fireplace has been gilded, with the same warm metallic hue. I was unaware that you could buy copper leaf, I remark. "Yup, you can buy copper leaf, just like gold leaf," says Louise. "It's really easy to use - but then you just want to copper leaf everything!" she adds. Louise was clearly ahead of the trend for copper homewares.
On the wall, gilded sconces add a classical, rather than retro tone and tie in with the original plasterwork on the ceiling: "The sconces were from Butler's Emporium on George Street, then my friend Philip Oakley re-wired them for me," says Louise. Beside the dining-room table are two simple, 1950s style chairs including an Ercol chair which Louise bought on eBay and had covered with her own fabric.
Looking through to the living room area, at the front of the house, I catch a glimpse of the copper-painted fireplace. That, and the smell of scented candles, is enough to tempt me through, to sit on the plush, shag-pile rug and admire the room. It's hard not to immediately start looking for Louise's handiwork, although it's not always immediately obvious what is her work and what has been created by talented friends and family.
By the fireplace is a huge standard lamp and next to it, a lower table-style lamp. The latter's shade features a design with echoes of Aubrey Beardsley... but is in fact a design that Louise sold at Liberty, called 'Erotica'. Perhaps Aubrey did have some influence? The other, a pretty design featuring ferns, leaves and flowers, is more modestly titled 'Autumn Leaves'. "The ferns and flowers were ones I found in a sketchbook of my grandmother's about 15 years after she died. So I literally just put them on to a silk screen and exposed the screen."
Opposite the fireplace, and overlooking a huge sofa scattered with plump cushions covered in vintage fabric, is another of Louise's murals, this time called 'Poppy Tree'. It's a suitably dramatic backdrop for a 1960s Scandinavian Troeds sideboard, bought on eBay by Louise and topped with a space-age lamp from Snooper's Paradise in Brighton. A spindly, spiky Dracaena plant, which stands where the dividing wall used to be, adds a touch of 70s kitsch to this light and airy living area. The 70s flavour is repeated as we continue the tour upstairs, passing a print of a Swiss Cheese plant, with Louise's signature in the corner... before arriving on the landing.
The landing not only links the upstairs bedrooms, but also works as an uncluttered gallery space for Louise's art works, her grandmothers' pictures and a recent picture of a fox, created by Isaac: "It's a dry point etching, which he made on a lovely course in Hastings," says Louise, with justifiable pride. It's clear he's got the family talent. Opposite, on the stairwell which leads to the attic rooms, I notice a rather different style of wallpaper. Could this be by someone else? "No, that's one of mine too," Louise chuckles, "called 'Traily Plant'."
It's clear that being a wallpaper and fabric designer comes in handy when doing up your own home, but the proliferation of Louise's work also has a lot to do with the fact that she uses her home as a testing ground and also for photoshoots. "They always give me a push. The other day a friend needed to do a shoot for a new interiors book, called Creative Country, and that gave me a push to get a few more things finished. So, every time I have to do a photoshoot, something else gets done in the house!"
A perfect example of this can be seen in the master bedroom, which features one of Louise's latest designs behind the bedstead: seemingly misaligned rolls of wallpaper featuring colourful splodges of paint. "It was meant to be a mural, and then I thought 'actually, I quite like not hanging it in sequential order', so you get those mismatched panels. They don't join up, but I prefer it." The wallpaper is going to be a new line, which Louise is working on at the moment: "It's called 'Miss Match' and I'm going to hand-finish it with metallic leaf." Seeing it in-situ, in this high-ceilinged, period room brings it to life.
Tranquil tones proliferate in the main bedroom, starting with the 'Miss Match' wall. Cushions covered in Louise's and vintage fabrics adorn the bed and she has worked her magic on the little rendered fireplace at the foot of the bed, lining it with her Buttercup Blue Tile wallpaper. On the wall beside the bed hangs an ornate, gilded picture frame, decorated with fairy lights but lacking a picture within: "It had one of my ancestors in it," says Louise. "It's an amazing picture, a pastel, I just don't really like it. She's in the junk room now." In such a beautifully decorated house it's easy to see how an unattractive relative might not make the cut!
Last but not least, we take a peek into Marney's bedroom, which occupies a prime spot at the back of the house, looking out over a long garden, the gardens of neighbouring houses - and the sea. This little room is full of thoughtful touches and family pieces, including a rag doll made by Louise for Marney when she was just a year old, and pretty watercolours by both grandmothers, above the bed. I miss the 'invisible table' by the bed, which apparently is a design classic, before my eyes settle on a woodblock of letters, spelling out Marney's name. "It's usually spelt with an 'ie' but I wanted her to have a 'y' in her name as it's much more fun to sign your name with a 'y' at the end, isn't it? And a sweeping 'y' looks pretty cool, I reckon." It's no wonder, given such an acute visual sense, that Louise's house is as pretty as a picture.