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When Francesca Reed bought a Grade II listed cottage back in August 2020 she was faced with a dilemma. The age of the property was unmistakable – it has a giant brickwork 1647 covering most of one side – but it had been through so much it was hard to know what kind of renovation and style would do it justice.
At first Francesca thought it would be a case of a bit of paint and an updated floor plan, but in the end so many issues arose she ended up with just four walls and a few recoverable floor joists. The cottage had been a student residence, with a boiler behind the front door, and before that England’s premier naturist hotel, and sits on the estate where the main house is by architect Sir John Soane.
‘Imagine all the families that have passed through this cottage’s doors,’ says interior designer Francesca. ‘The house has been around for so long that it could have lent itself to lots of different styles.
‘My starting point for inspiration was in considering its historical use as a working family home. It is more of a cottage than a formal house for entertaining so I wanted the interiors to reflect that.’
The house is located just outside of Deal, in Kent, and has expansive country views and a peacefulness that can only be found in the countryside but is only two miles from the beach. After much deliberation Francesca settled upon a modern Victorian design for the interiors, with warm-hued honey-coloured walls and framed butterflies, delicate blue flowers on pink backgrounds, but without the finicalness of too many details or laden materials.
‘The idea of modern Victorian came from looking at Victorian silhouettes, turned wooden legs and deep low sofas etc but without wanting the fussiness of Victorian dark woods and oppressive heavy fabrics. The house is a box and the sun moves around and changes the colours all day long. The ceilings are relatively low so I wanted to keep the colour scheme light and uplifting. Modern Victorian to my mind is the shapes and solidity of Victorian interiors but with a modern take on fabrics and paint finishes.’
The living room, with its low ceiling, could have been stuffy but instead it is airy and minimalistic, with pieces of furniture deftly arranged to accentuate the space. Details like brass wall lightings are picked out against subtle Little Greene Chemise paint. Velvet coverings of the furniture mean that the colours don’t overpower the room, instead the hues intermingle and create a harmonious living space.
‘My advice for doing up a living room is to be true to yourself, you’re creating a room for you to luxuriate in and unwind at the end of the day rather than an uncomfortable show space,’ she says. ‘If I go to someone else’s house I love to see their things – there’s nothing worse than a sterile home.’
Having bought the house as part of the larger estate Francesca is now working on the rest of the property as well as the walled gardens behind the John Soane’s main house. For now the cottage is done – and Francesca feels that the renovation has done such a historic building justice.
‘I am so happy with our house, I’m sure we will want to change things in the future but not any time soon. The first thing that I saw of the house that I fell in love with and still am, is the brickwork “1647” on the outside of the back wall. The year the house was built, it was such a fabulous detail and a real reminder of the age of the building and how much it has seen in its lifetime.’
Sofa and tub chairs
‘I always go for the super-intelligent velvets as I have three kids.’
Pooky light fittings
Brass wall light fittings and marbled shades are from Pooky.
Paint is Little Greene Chemise. ‘It has a slightly blue hue to it that really makes other colours pop against it.’
Fornasetti wall prints
‘I love Fornasetti, the imagery is a really great way to introduce a little humour while still “traditional” in style.’
‘The best quality of all the faux plants by far.’
‘They have a brilliant collection of unusual things,’ says Francesca.
Tim Walker coffee table book
Coffee table books are by Tim Walker and David Hockney. ‘Tim Walker is my favourite photographer. I love stepping into his world.’
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