Psychologists sometimes say that children strive to give their family's life-story a happy ending and interior designer Diana Harvey has certainly done that with her family house, which was an ideal refurbishment project when she happily took it on when her parents died. "So it's lovely for me to have been able to set it right again," explains Diana. "Strangway House was given to my parents as a wedding present by my grandparents in 1936. We're a Folkestone family and owned a department store called Upton & Sons. I spent my childhood in this house and though I love the rural village where my husband and I live, I yearn for the sea, so I'm lucky to have this place too."
From the front, the house is typical of Kentish seaside architecture of the 1700s. Its bevelled weatherboard walls are painted light grey with the sash windows picked out in a darker shade. Steps lead to a dainty wooden porch and one might expect a conventional arrangement of rooms within, but instead, as the door opens, the eye travels all the way through the house to the sea. "To draw you in, I painted the front a definite grey," Diana explains, with 29 years' experience in design, she knows how to use colour. "I've only used two paint colours inside the house: Farrow and Ball's ‘Clunch' and a light blue-grey that I mix myself, from Zoffany paints." The use of a restricted palette works exceptionally well here as the changing light means that the colours take on a different character with every ebb and flow of the tide.
"It took me a little while to know what to do with the structure," recalls Diana, "but then Andrew Clague of Clague architectural practice in Canterbury came over and while we talked Andrew doodled a wave shape. As soon as I saw it I knew that it would work. We built a new extension with decking on the ground floor and a big balcony above. I also wanted to reopen the basement. It often flooded when I was a child, but the sea never comes up that far now, so it's no longer a risk."
"We did put a damp course in though," she continues, "and that's when we discovered that the house had been built on shingle. We had to remove over 100 sacks of it and then fix proper foundations. The building and decorating took over two years and more than 100 skips, but I had a great team. Justin Roberts is a builder from London whom I use on all my projects in the capital and then Brian Coleman, a local Sandgate builder, works with me in Kent. Justin did the demolition and Brian built the rest."
One of the first priorities was to relocate the main kitchen from the front of the house, to the rear. "I was determined to put it at the heart of what was going on. We pulled down the wall that divided the kitchen from the hallway and instantly opened up the house." It also gave the handsome panelled Georgian staircase the starring role that it deserves. A fine example of 18th century simplicity, it sets the tone for the elegant floors above and below ground level. In the entrance hall/winter dining room, one wall has been stripped of its plaster to reveal bleached bricks and timbers that add just enough warmth to offset the cool, blue grey marble of the mantelpiece that Brian Coleman, her builder, sourced from a French château. Above it is an antique looking-glass from northern France. "I was sent to study there as an adolescent and later worked in Paris so it had a big influence on my taste and sense of colour."
The room has just a few key pieces of furniture including a huge painted dresser. "This is the bottom half of a piece that lives in the basement kitchen," explains Diana as I follow her downstairs. To do the groundwork, most of the original kitchen had to be pulled out. "It was a perfect 1700s kitchen with all the maid's drawers and cupboards intact. Our house is joined to the building next door that has now been divided into apartments. This room and the two behind served as kitchens and sculleries. I kept the top part of the dresser and managed to find this ‘Appleby' kitchen at Magnet that went with it perfectly and Louise, the designer at the Folkestone branch, worked closely with me to get the details right. The sink is original to the house, and so is the iron range, made by H.E. Poole of Folkestone, though my mother never knew it was there. There was a board across this chimney breast and when I pulled it away there was a huge cascade of sand that had perfectly preserved the stove. Another treasure is the kitchen table. When the basement flooded, my brother and I would turn it upside down and use it as a raft." Diana then shows me the lightwell where the seawater used to pour in, now transformed into a glass-sided wine store that resembles a giant fish tank. There are also several generous walk-in cupboards, all original to the house but fitted out in 21st century style. One houses an integrated vacuuming system. "You have sockets all over the house and the dirt just gets sucked into this central container. It's made by DuoVac, in Ashford, so it's nice to be able to support local business too."
Outside, steps lead to the ground-floor decking and then to the first-floor balcony. "I wanted an outside staircase so that I could come out of the sea and go up to shower without having to drip through the house." The view from the principal bedroom is breathtaking. "I call this my infinity bedroom as I can lie in bed and see only the sea." Blinds made from a textured French stripe by Casamance can be lowered or raised like sails. White painted bedside tables were bought from Old English Pine in Sandgate High Street. "I buy lots of things from there. Mrs Martin has so many
Further along the landing is one of the guest bedrooms. "I pinched a bit of space from the principal bedroom to make a bathroom as I wanted every room to have its own en suite." In contrast to the master one that was all aqua coloured glass tiles and chrome, this has been tiled with pale biscuit coloured marble. "I used Shepway Ceramics for all the tiles and the Bath Store for all the fittings. It was great fun choosing different styles for each one. They're all quite modern, except for one on the top floor as it still had the original roll-top bath on the original lead tray." The rooms at the top were used by Diana and her brother when they were children and have commanding views of the sea. On a clear day, you can see France and when French friends visited, Diana would look out for the arrival of the ferry before she ran along the promenade to meet them. I remark that it sounds a wonderfully outdoor childhood and Diana points to a painting of an open window and seaside sky. "I bought that before I ever inherited this house. It's by local artist Kate Beaugié and the feeling of fresh air just seems to sum up this place."
Back on the ground floor, we pass through the drawing room, which with its smart sofas has the atmosphere of a nautical club. I pause to admire the open-plan kitchen designed for sociable cooking. It is in this part of the house that the wave motif is most pronounced and the building seems to stretch towards the sea. Floor-to-ceiling French windows form a sweeping curve and fold back in a concertina to bring the outside in. In the centre of the space a glass and steel table from Tom Faulkner is surrounded by Lloyd Loom chairs. Reminiscent of 1930s cruise ship glamour, the dramatic arrangement seems fitting as Diana's parents moved here when Art Deco was at its peak. This house almost seems like a ship – a quaint, timber one at the front perhaps, but a big, bold, shiny ocean liner at the rear, just ready to set sail.
Diana Harvey has made Strangway House available for photographic location work and short lets. She can be contacted at Inside Out Interiors through firstname.lastname@example.org.
AEG: available from Wrights Warehouse tel 01622 690246 www.wrightswarehouse.co.uk
Clague Canterbury: 01227 762060
Colefax & Fowler, Vanessa Arbuthnot, Casamance and Zoffany paints: stocked by both Evernden Interiors (01580 713778 www.everndeninteriors.co.uk) and Skinners of Tunbridge Wells (01892 510030 www.skinnersoftunbridgewells.co.uk)
Brian Coleman: 07779 010882
DuoVac: 01233 664244 www.duovac.co.uk
Farrow & Ball: available from Bell House Fabrics, 01580 712555 www.bellhousefabrics.co.uk
Old English Pine: 01303 248560
Shepway Ceramics: 01303 279818