House of Linen

Many of the houses we feature are English thoroughbreds, their lineage proudly evident and easily discernible – Medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian. They may have moved with time and fashion – an addition here, an alteration there – but the essential integrity of the building remains. The Linen Shed near Faversham, however, is unique, eluding all attempts at comfortable classification, which, perhaps, isn't surprising in that it began life not as a house at all – not even as familiar a building as an oast or barn. The Linen Shed started out as a Great War army drill hall where, on still summer evenings, the deadly rumble of the Flanders guns across the Channel could clearly be heard. Over the years it became a dance and social hall for soldiers and locals alike and later even served as a cinema – the Lucarno.

Ultimately, part of the building was demolished to make way for a garden and the property was converted into a private house. After a period of serious neglect, it was bought by Joe and Susan Wilde and took on the elegant form that now nestles between the neighbouring 17th century tile and weatherboard – a form perhaps more reminiscent of Cape Cod than Kent village.

The exterior of the building is soft grey weatherboard but what really lend The Linen Shed its echo of New England are the elegant, white columned verandas at both the front and looking out over the garden at the rear. One can almost see sandy footprints on the natural wood.

However, The Linen Shed is not done with surprises. Stroll into the cool hallway and upstairs beneath a stained-glass skylight – the house is built on a steep incline so the main living space is on the first floor – and you're no longer in America nor England but France.

The Wildes began the French theme, installing floor-to-ceiling French windows that flood the dining room, kitchen and drawing room with light. The walls of the drawing room and the open kitchen beyond are half tongue-and-groove, above which are artful trompe-l'œil panels. Louvred shutters frame the windows.

The Wildes, however, are not the current owners. The Linen Shed was bought in 2007 by Vickie and Graham Hassan and they have continued and developed the French theme with careful redecoration and an inspired choice and treatment of furnishings and furniture.

"Finding the right furniture to complement the lovely spaces the house offers has been both exciting and a challenge," says Vickie. "We were working on a budget but weren't willing to compromise. This meant we really had to look hard and recognise the potential of something that was perhaps in pretty rough condition but, with a little imagination, could be given a new lease of life and complement both the dιcor and the pieces we had already collected ."

In the drawing room Vickie restored a pair of elegant Bergere armchairs that used to belong to her grandmother, and found the green velvet sofa on eBay, winning it for the princely sum of £12.50.

Walk through into the kitchen and one's presented with another of Vickie's eBay triumphs, an old French drinks cabinet which may have been a little heavy in its original state but which she bought for £200, repainted and distressed, and which now makes a perfect focal point for this light and airy room. An almond Smeg fridge adds another unexpected touch of New England.

The dining-room table, meanwhile, isn't so much distressed as deeply traumatised. But when Vickie saw it in a local antiques dealer's she knew it belonged in the room. And it did – it had lived there with Joe and Susan and they had sold it to the dealer when they moved.

"It was lovely to bring it home again and I thought about smartening it up just a little but I grew fond of its battle scars," she says, and one can't disagree; it comfortably complements the rough walls and plays its role well in partnering the other lovely piece in the room – a vast mirrored French armoire distressed in French grey. French windows open out onto the garden veranda and in winter the heat is provided, as elsewhere in the house, by a chunky Victorian radiator.

Floor-to-ceiling double French antique doors open from the drawing room into the master bedroom where Vicky has forsaken France for a terracotta-walled Italian feel. Next door is one of two period bathrooms complete with roll-top baths, wonderful old basins and all the original tap fittings. "The taps are a little temperamental but getting washers to fit them is always tricky," she says.

There are two further 'guest' rooms and here The Linen Shed has a final surprise – Vickie now runs it as a B&B combining her talents as welcoming hostess and Swiss-trained professional chef. She once travelled the world cooking for Tiny Rowland aboard his private jet.

"We used to live in a loft in London but we decided we'd finally had enough of city life," she says. "Graham knew this area well and we decided to begin a new life running a B&B," she says. "I love looking after people and I love cooking so it seemed an obvious choice.

"I suppose you could call my cooking style English fusion," she says. "I love all the traditional old recipes and always work with the freshest and most local ingredients," she says, noting that a continual inspiration is Agnes Jekyll's 1922 classic Kitchen Essays (now reprinted by Persephone Books). The author was sister-in-law to the great garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, whose biographer wrote that if Gertude was an artist-gardener, then Agnes was an artist-housekeeper. Agnes' first dinner party included the poet Robert Browning and Pre-Raphaelite painters John Ruskin and Edward Burne-Jones.

Agnes felt that cooking should fit the occasion and temperament of the guests and stated that "a large crayfish or lobster rearing itself menacingly on its tail seems quite at home on a sideboard of a Brighton hotel-de-luxe, but will intimidate a shy guest at a small dinner-party." And that "a hardy sportsman should not be fed in the same way as a depressed financier." Excellent advice, perhaps, in these days of the Credit Lunch.

It was from Kitchen Essays that Vickie also drew the idea for another Linen Shed venture, Vintage Lunches – private lunch parties for groups of friends.

"I work together with clients choosing the menu and then prepare and serve the meal," she says. "It's perfect for friends who want, perhaps, to celebrate a birthday or special occasion and want something a little more personal than a normal restaurant." Three-course lunches cost from £15.

Some of the produce for these lunches and for the meals Vickie prepares for her B&B guests couldn't be more local – it comes from Vickie's own garden. The garden of The Linen Shed is not quite as grand and planned as a Gertrude Jekyll creation but its tumbling roses and jostling foxgloves and hollyhocks provide a lovely setting for an afternoon Pimm's or morning coffee. Hiding in the greenery are a miniature gypsy caravan and a Hobbit-sized castle built by the previous owners for their children. In the dappled shade of the anarchic border laze a pair of contented tabbies.

Like the cats, The Linen Shed may not boast a perfect pedigree but its unlikely lineage ­ – combined with the creativity of its owners – have given it a charm all its own.

For further information about staying at The Linen Shed go to www.sawdays.co.uk or call Vickie on 01227 752271.

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