Cool Blue


When Geoff and Annie Waring decided to leave the city in search of a greener way of living, they found that the challenge of renovating an Arts & Crafts house in Tunbridge Wells ticked all the boxes

Geoff and Annie Waring had pondered for some time the idea of upping sticks in Islington and finding a greener life for themselves and their two young children. They wanted a bigger garden and easy access to the countryside and with his work as the art director for a glossy fashion magazine Geoff needed a train line that would go into Charing Cross. Annie had a successful business hand painting bone china pieces for sale through shops like Liberty and Thomas Goode so she could work anywhere.

As is often the case, it was while in Greece, sitting in a taverna with time to muse, that they decided to make the dream a reality and on their return the wheels were put in motion. Tunbridge Wells seemed like a good base from which to search for properties and the brief was fairly straightforward - a biggish garden, not a busy road, easy access to the station and preferably Victorian.

Needless to say, that's not exactly what they ended up with. Smitten by the idea of half an acre of garden and easy walking distance from the station they went to view a property in a rather unusual road where all the houses on one side had been constructed in the 1920s by one builder, Mr Bates. He was evidently a man of some stature - all the manhole covers in the road bear his name - and, having bought a plot from the Abergavenny Estate, he set about building a street of houses where each one represented a different vernacular style. So wander down the road past the Georgian rectory, the Victorian villa and the rustic country cottage until you come to the Arts and Crafts house and that is where the Warings now live.

The previous owners had been in the house for over thirty years and, having evidently done a lot at the start, but very little since, it was a temple to 1970s design - avocado bathrooms, swirly carpets, floral wallpaper and depressingly dark woodwork. But Geoff and Annie had a history of taking on major projects and with their combined artistic talent they have created an incredibly stylish, light and contemporary family home but one that still pays a respectful nod to the original Arts and Crafts vision.

Entering the house you come into a spacious and unusually shaped hall that has a multitude of doors, stairs, cupboards and even a fireplace - not an easy space to work with. Originally, it was all dark brown woodwork but in common with the rest of the house the Warings have gone for a light and bright Scandi style, painting the walls in a neutral tone and the woodwork white. More light is thrown into the room by a mirror atop the painted base of an old sideboard - found in the basement of their very first home which has travelled with them ever since. But what really catches the eye is a truly beautiful and eyecatching decorative radiator - one of the four that are original to the house and all have been carefully renovated.

The kitchen leads off the hall. Once a network of tiny rooms - scullery, pantry, outside loo etc., the internal walls were all taken away and, with the addition of a single storey extension, the Warings have created a fabulous big room that really does feel like the heart of the home. At one end a picture window looks out over the rambling garden and beyond to Tunbridge Wells, and rather cleverly it has been framed by painting the surrounding wall a very dark grey - Mercury by Fired Earth. By painting the imposing fireplace at the other end of the kitchen in the same colour, Annie ties the big space together. She also explains that it's a very simple and quick way of completely changing the look of the room. In recent years these feature walls have been white ("too cold"), dark maroon ("great") and green ("hideous")!

At one end of the kitchen a picture window looks out over the rambling garden and beyond to Tunbridge Wells. A long table created from an old GPO desk bought for £1 at an office clearance sale is surrounded by some funky colourful chairs all of which have travelled with the Warings from home to home

The garden end has a long table created from an old GPO desk bought for £1 at an office clearance sale. It's surrounded by some funky colourful chairs all of which have travelled with the Warings from home to home. They both have an aversion to creating a "look" and feel passionate about living in a home filled with an eclectic collection of pieces that tell their own story and reflect the history of the family. A strategy that works especially well when coupled with the stunning and mostly original artwork that is evident everywhere, much of which is Annie's own work.

The kitchen end of the space is dominated by a free-standing unit painted in Farrow & Ball Slipper White. Featuring big and bold is a magnificent set of scales, which despite the pounds and ounces calibration is still in frequent use. On a weekend away in Aldeburgh, Geoff spotted them in a junk shop but sadly it was closed. However, on his next visit they were still there and so he had to buy them - apparently they had come from the next door butcher's shop. The lights over the unit are also very striking. They are a Swedish design, suspended by fishing line and cleverly counterweighted so they can be raised and lowered as required.

A very stylish and very light sitting room stands at the other end of the house, the light thanks to the original Crittall leaded windows on three sides. The previous owners had covered these iconic windows with secondary glazing but despite the inevitable heat loss the Warings felt duty bound to return them to their original splendour and beautiful heavy-duty velvet and linen curtains keep in the warm on cold nights. Because it's a north-facing room the walls are painted in Fired Earth's Ambergris, a warm earthy tone, which sets off the cool marble fireplace. Annie loves the fact that there are really deep windowsills throughout the house, a great opportunity to display her prized collection of jugs, plates and assorted ceramics. These vary from one-off unique treasures, through pocket money purchased presents from her children and a few of her own pieces.

One end of the room looks a little different. With shelves filled with books and vinyl and a funky Philippe Starck Perspex chair and desk, this is definitely Geoff's space. On the walls are some striking black and white photos - a small part of his large collection amassed over the years.

Annie has her space, too. Having switched her creative energy from ceramics to oil painting when the children were young, she now spends a great deal of time in a north-facing studio - a fairly recent addition - just off the sitting room. This is where she creates the still life oil paintings in mainly earthy tones for which she has become justifiably acclaimed.

The parquet flooring hasn't happened yet but the panelled room most definitely has. Being a creative duo the Warings went to B&Q and bought panels of MDF which they got cut into strips. Using "No More Nails" they then glued them to the walls - which, being brick, were absolutely true - and painted them off white

However, for cosy winter evenings they are more likely to be found in the family room, originally the dining room, at the other end of the house - always toasty warm thanks to a newly installed wood burner. When they moved in there were two things Annie wanted in their new home: parquet flooring in the hall and a panelled room. The parquet flooring hasn't happened yet but the panelled room most definitely has. Being a creative duo the Warings went to B&Q and bought panels of MDF which they got cut into strips. Using "No More Nails" they then glued them to the walls - which, being brick, were absolutely true - and painted them off white. Thanks to the shadows cast by these 6mm thick strips, believe me you really wouldn't know it wasn't original work.

It being a sunny room they wanted to make the most of the light so they also painted over the dark wood of the original fireplace and built in a window seat to match. On the walls there are more of Geoff's pictures collected from his time working on magazines like Vogue, Elle, Red and Glamour. And set against the back wall is a 1950s dresser from Annie's parents upon which is a wonderful collection of white ceramics, from hand thrown precious items to Ikea. It works.

Upstairs, thanks to triple aspect windows the master bedroom is wonderfully light. With off white walls on three sides and a lovely shade of indigo patterned wallpaper on the fourth - which picks up the blue tiles of the fireplace - it is a very calm room. A wonderful feature is the light fitting, which apart from new shades is completely original. It is somewhat of a mystery as to why all the light fittings in the bedrooms are by the windows rather than in the centre of the ceiling but the most likely explanation is that it was a modesty thing. By placing the lights in the windows, the Edwardians living in these houses could move around inside their bedroom when the lights were on without casting a shadow on the curtains.

The Warings knocked through one of the five bedrooms of the original house to make a sunny en suite bathroom decorated in neutral tones, with pale woodwork shutters. Cleverly they made sure that all the basins, baths, taps etc. were of the Edwardian period so you really wouldn't know this was a modern addition.

Following along the landing there are lots of good size bedrooms with lovely tiled fireplaces and a second family bathroom. At the end is a really pretty guest room. Three of the walls are painted in neutral tones but behind the bed there is an Andrew Martin willow pattern plate design wallpaper, in heavenly blues which have then been picked up in curtains, throws and cushions.

This really is a wonderful sunny home and, while decorated in a contemporary and fun style, the Warings have cleverly managed to hold on to its Arts and Crafts roots. Mr Bates would definitely approve.

Address Book:

  • Annie’s paintings are available through West End House Gallery in Smarden west-end-house-gallery.co.uk 01233 770261. Open Thurs to Mon 10am-5pm. Her paintings can be seen on her website anniewaring.com along with info. on up-coming shows.
  • Fired Earth firedearth.com
  • Farrow & Ball farrow-ball.com