For This 200-Year-Old House Refresh, It Was Important to Not Lose the Romance
Cue the strategic color usage and carousel horse.
Published Sep 25, 2021 11:09 AM
When textile designer Jessie Cutts first toured this late-1800s Georgian home in Kent, England, in 2018, she didn’t want it. Wall trim was falling down, plus a cliffside fixer-upper wasn’t even in the budget. But when her partner encouraged her to take another look, the DIYer in her couldn’t resist the challenge. Three years later, structural renovations are still ongoing (painting the exterior and installing new windows are the current priorities), but that hasn’t discouraged Cutts from making the interiors inviting (and functional) for her and her two sons.
In the five-story house, each room is larger than the last—which meant the furniture from their previous three-bedroom London residence looked like it belonged in a doll’s house. “It’s clear a really fancy family once lived here,” says Cutts, laughing. Even the perfectly normal three-seater sofa she loved was dwarfed by the towering ceilings.
Her strategy for nailing the scale had little to do with the size of the new purchases and more to do with the texture. Ceiling-height velvet curtains and a jute rug warm up the lounge, while an art gallery the length of the entry breaks up an otherwise overwhelming blank slate. Almost everything, save for a few storage bins from IKEA in the playroom, is an antiques market find; Cutts and her partner visit the markets practically every weekend. Even the family’s electronics are refurbished. It felt right to fill an aged home with aged pieces—new would have been too jarring and out of place.
Hunting for accessories to fill the in-between spots in the cavernous rooms became a bit of a game for Cutts. “That’s part of the fun of having a big house—seeing how much random stuff you can fill it up with. It makes us happy,” she says. It’s not stuff for the sake of having stuff, even though it makes filling every room’s shelving easier. Matching ceramic dogs on the dining room mantel, a vintage carousel horse in the entryway (its name is Tony the Pony, in case you were curious)—antique doesn’t have to be stuffy.
Lighting was also on the shopping list. The previous owners didn’t believe in overhead fixtures, and that combined with the sheer depth of the rooms made the Victorian gloomy. However, with a few well-placed globe pendant lamps (they help keep the spaces from feeling too period drama–esque)—and open shutters at all times for a view of the sea—the rooms are now always awash in a soft glow.
Despite all the color and collectibles throughout the house, Cutts doesn’t consider herself a maximalist. The use of both is highly strategic. A red bed frame in the guest room, and pale green walls (arguably a neutral) with color-blocked quilts of Cutts’s design in the kids’ space inject a bit of youth into the old bones. In the dining room, mismatched chairs are a playful contrast to the ornate carved fireplace and keep it from feeling too formal—plus, Cutts notes, it’s very difficult to find a full set of 12 seats secondhand. But that’s not to say some formality can’t be good; just look at the intricate built-ins and original window shutters she left alone.
Early in the design process, one of Cutts’s friends cautioned her to be conscious of losing the romance of the historic structure. She recalls, “It’s easy to just go and make everything look brand-new, but that’s not me. She was really right to say, ‘You can paint over stuff later.’ You’re allowed to leave something as is.”
Go-to local vintage resource: We spend a lot of time on Facebook Marketplace and Ebay. I’m always prepared to wait to find the perfect pieces. I also love going to boot fairs and antiques fairs, especially to buy artwork.
Favorite source for plants and gardening supplies: I’ve had great success with beautiful seeds from Grace Alexander Flowers.
Object in my home that gets the most use: The coffee machine.
Biggest splurge: Probably getting the original French doors refurbished and fitted, along with matching toplight windows remade.
Biggest save: Curtains for said doors. I spent six months on eBay searching for two matching vintage velvet pairs big enough. The pairs I found were very wide but not long enough, so I pulled them all apart and resewed them to fit. It saved us thousands of pounds and keeps the cold out in winter.
This pattern is so me: Stripes! I’d have them everywhere if possible.