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In the main bedroom, once the post office staff room, bright green paint was scrubbed off to reveal the original tile. The parquet is also original. In the hallway, old radiators were painted black and copper pipes were left unpainted.

Rushing the decorating process mostly leads to impersonal panic buys and, with that, regret, returns, and more stuff in our landfills. As the pros advise time and time again, it’s best to decorate slowly. Meander your local flea market, scour eBay late into the night, keep your eyes open for garage sale signs. As British art director and designer Emily Henson argues in her new book, Create: Creativity Before Consumption, you’ll end up with both a truer reflection of who you are and a healthier planet.

“Consuming less and shopping more consciously may be a slower way of decorating, but it is thrilling when you succeed in achieving the look you love while often spending less in the process,” she writes. For the ultimate inspiration, look no further than Henson’s tour of a couple’s reimagined post office on England’s Kent coast, excerpted below.

Who: Karone Pack-Lum and Jon Agrippa

What: A post office and sorting depot dating from 1910; 1,895 square feet 

Where: Kent coast

In a prime example of basic building materials looking luxe, the walls throughout are finished in hard-wearing gypsum plaster, with the soft, textured gray bouncing light around the lower level of the home. The ceilings remain as found, and the stairs were added to connect the ground floor to the lower level. Light from the entrance hallway seeps through a cutout at the top of the stairs.

Buying three floors of a 1910 post office and sorting depot in need of redevelopment was not what Karone Pack-Lum and Jon Agrippa had in mind when they decided to leave London and move to the Kent coast. They originally had their sights set on a big old brick house, but the sale fell through. When they heard about this property through word of mouth—it wasn’t even listed—they immediately recognized an exciting opportunity: good bones, a unique building, a great location, and a creative challenge. 

This area was once a loading bay and had two van-size holes in the wall. One was filled in while the other was fitted with custom-made windows. Savings were made elsewhere—an old sofa was draped in linen instead of being replaced, and the lighting is secondhand.

Self-described die-hard Londoners, the couple previously lived in East London; Jon working in fashion and Karone in interiors. But they were tiring of city life and craved a more peaceful lifestyle that didn’t revolve around paying the mortgage. Their seaside life is a far cry from their fast-paced city days. Jon is now a personal trainer, and Karone designs jewelry while taking on the occasional interior design project.

The kitchen was built from green water–resistant MDF as a cheap, temporary solution, and the floors are screed. The high windows are at street level, which demonstrates the necessity for new windows to flood the space with light. Artwork is minimal, and the color palette is muted, with elements from nature adding a hint of green.

Once they’d found the property in this up-and-coming coastal town, they struggled to find builders who could carry out work within their budget. The section of the sorting depot they bought hadn’t been developed like the rest of the building—in fact it was nothing but a shell. There was no electric, gas supply, or even stairs connecting the three floors. The lower level—now the main living area—had been a loading bay and had two huge openings in the walls, as big as the Crittall-style windows that now fill that space. The upper floor, where the main bedroom now sits, was a warren of staff rooms and toilets, with a gaping hole in the floor where a chute dropped down to the basement level.

Upstairs in the guest bedroom, things are simple and calming, with natural linen bedding and a sisal rug. The original window frames are painted black and contrast well with the plaster walls.
The original tile was painted with a black band, and vintage coat hooks/hangers were added. 

At first sight the house looks luxe, and certainly money has been spent here. But much of the budget went into the structural changes necessary to convert the building from a mail sorting depot into a home. The couple moved in once the major structural changes were complete, but the decorative work is an ongoing process. Karone and Jon sought cost-effective ways of achieving the look they desired and worked with existing finishes and flooring wherever possible. Many of the walls are finished with bare plaster, a look they love and that has the added bonus of saving on a hefty painting bill. The kitchen was built from moisture-resistant MDF and left unpainted, which was intended as a temporary cost-effective solution to tide them over until they build their “real” kitchen. However, they have grown to love it and may simply update it with a green marble work surface in the future. 

In the main bathroom, a contractor was hired to apply dark gray micro-cement to all surfaces. The bathtub was found secondhand on eBay.
The vanity was designed by Karone, who topped a painted wood cabinet with a concrete sink. 

Most of the lighting and furnishings are secondhand, bought at house clearances, on eBay, or from salvage yards. Even the luxurious bathtub was found on eBay, and many other items that look like pricey designer pieces were discovered through diligent searching. Karone claims that it is possible to get deals on almost everything if you’re willing to look around: “It is truly amazing the amount of stuff that is ripped out and thrown away.”

Five Minutes With Karone and Jon

Do you have a decorating/design philosophy?
We like to work with the space using a limited color palette, then adding texture.

What’s the most important thing for you at home? 
Loving where you live is key.

Where do you shop for your home? 
We like scouring online auctions, e.g., eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and also salvage and house clearances.

Describe one of your favorite creative solutions to a challenge you faced with your home. 
The whole build was a creative solution. We had many people, such as the architect, builders, and numerous others, convinced that we could not achieve our goal on the budget we had—hey, what did they know!

Do you prefer to stay in one property for a long time, or do you like moving or even reinventing your home frequently? 
We tend to stay put.

Is there something you haven’t done to your home yet and would like to? 
There is definitely a list of both cosmetic and essential jobs that we are working our way through.

Create book cover of dining room
Create. Creativity Before Consumption by Emily Henson, Amazon ($35)

Reprinted with permission from Create: Creativity Before Consumption by Emily Henson. Photography by Catherine Gratwicke © Ryland Peters & Small 2022. Published by Ryland Peters & Small.

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