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As interior stylist Jennifer Haslam embarked on her own renovation, she thought long and hard about the types of materials she wanted to bring into her home. More important, she mulled over the materials that she didn’t want to introduce to her space. Could she avoid the harsh cycle of consumption and destruction? It didn’t take her long to discover other designers, owners, and architects who sought to minimize their impact on the environment while creating beautiful spaces—whether that be through low-VOC paint or upcycled tin from an old stable. Haslam’s just-released book, The New Naturals, offers a look inside 19 homes that prove making sustainable choices can look really, really good. Ahead, in this excerpt, we get a peek inside one of them.

Natural materials, handcrafted pieces, and British designs are at the forefront of the interiors of Sebastian and Brogan Cox’s Margate home. The couple, both established furniture-makers, are pioneers in a nature-first approach to furniture that focuses on carbon-neutral design. With a growing family, Sebastian and Brogan decided to move from their one-bedroom flat in London to a larger home by the sea in 2020. The proximity to both town and countryside is what drew them to Margate, since it satisfies their different outlooks; Brogan sweetly describes herself as the town mouse and Sebastian as the country mouse. “Every day I count myself lucky,” she says as she describes the location of their house, a short walk from transport links to London (where their business and workshop are) and a stone’s throw from the sea. “It allows us the perfect balance between work and home life, and we start each day on the beach, either walking Willow, our dog, stopping off when taking the girls to nursery, or getting a quick coffee.”

The property, a Victorian terraced house, had been decorated for a quick sale, “filled with nasty velour carpets, a cheap ply kitchen, and harsh, glossy paint on the woodwork and walls,” Brogan recalls. “You could instantly feel the plasticity of the place. We wanted to take it back to its original features, uncover its bones, and open it up so that it worked for our family.” It wasn’t about ripping everything out, but rather about taking out the things that would not last—low-quality carpets, a kitchen with faulty drawer runners—and replacing them with simple, honest materials that will stand the test of time. “We tried hard to not follow fashions and thought instead about what materials are great, what looks and feels good, and what will last,” says Brogan. “We wanted to design the house for the future, so that even if one day it isn’t our home, it won’t require the next owners to fill another skip full of waste.”

During the sensitive renovation, there were two questions at the heart of each decision: “What would the Victorians do?” (reflecting the era of the property) and “What will last?” The couple set about rediscovering the house’s features by revealing boarded-up fireplaces, uncovering original floors, and stripping back the “slapped-on finishes of recent years.” They dispensed with items predominantly made in the last 70 years, following mass production and consumption, and kept those that were hundreds of years old and have proved their longevity.

One of the first things Brogan and Sebastian did was to rewild the solid concrete yard. “By digging it up and sowing a wildflower meadow of seeds and grasses,” says Brogan, “we established a daily connection to nature.” Butterflies, bees, and a plethora of other insects have taken up residence in the garden, joining the family’s chickens. “It can be the small things that make a huge difference in terms of how you feel,” explains Brogan. “Stepping out into a green garden, even a modest-size one, feeding the chickens, and spending time outdoors instantly make you feel better.” 

This connection to nature is prevalent throughout the home in Sebastian’s focus on natural materials, with locally sourced timber from the couple’s sawmill, grown mycelium lights (a rootlike fungus structure that creates a delicate, spongy material that can be used for construction, packaging, clothing, and decorative pieces), and crafted stone, and Brogan’s use of color, inspired by sea, sky, and summer meadows.

But it’s not only the paints and materials used to decorate the house that are important; it’s also the pieces that go inside it. “If you take the time to source natural paints, for example, but fill your house with cheaply made plastic furniture, there is an uncomfortable juxtaposition,” says Brogan. Champions of British craft and makers, the couple has chosen furniture and fittings with a low carbon footprint in terms of sourcing. Where possible, they have used pieces that are “homegrown,” meaning they are designed and made in the United Kingdom, which of course includes a selection of their own designs. Sebastian and Brogan’s vision and careful layering of all these elements combine to create an effortlessly stylish, tactile family home.

English tiger oak cupboards designed and made by Sebastian and Brogan are paired with a beautiful stone worktop by expert mason James Elliot, quarried in Swaledale, Yorkshire. “We spoke to James and asked him what he had in offcuts, and this was what was available. We wanted to use something that existed already, and we’re really happy with the outcome. There is so much detail in fossil stone like this,” they explain. 

Mycelium lights hang above the bespoke English sycamore dining table, also made for the space by the couple. The yellow Barker cupboard, one of Brogan’s designs, doubles as a larder and adds a pop of subtle color to the otherwise neutrally toned space. On taking out the existing kitchen, they discovered a stone floor slab, so they chipped away to find an original brick chimney at the back of the kitchen. It now houses a multifunctional stove from Esse, which not only heats the house but also can be cooked on. “We light the stove when we wake in the morning,” says Brogan, “and keep it ticking over throughout winter with offcuts from our sawmill. We cook everything from porridge to fresh fish on it. It means we have very little need for extra heating, too.”

In the yellow living space, the armchair, which was made by Sebastian and Brogan, is covered in a Tori Murphy Woodhouse check fabric. Sebastian crafted the oak bookshelves, which house the couple’s extensive library and record collection. The artwork above the fireplace has been collected over the years and includes a hand-drawn sketch by Sir Terence Conran, a print by Polly Fern, original sheet music from the 1920s, and a linoprint by Sebastian’s aunt, Charlotte Molesworth.

Brogan refers to the living spaces joyfully as the Battenberg rooms, and the phrase is apt for her color choices. The pink (Cuisse de Nymphe Emue) and yellow (Ochre) are by Edward Bulmer Natural Paint. They adorn the walls, woodwork, doors, and fabrics, drenching the space in color. “The soft shades of these colors, which have the same intensity, allow you to move between the rooms without encountering a harsh visual separation,” Brogan explains. A simple, rounded English ash trim was put in place where the couple opened up the two rooms to form an acknowledgment of a new era in the house’s design. 

The combination of a chalky matte green ceiling and coving, stone colored walls, and a wall of handcrafted woven ash creates a haven in the main bedroom. The armchair fabric and curtains are all by the classic British textile company Morris & Co. The four-poster bed is another of the couple’s designs. More artwork adorns the walls including pregnancy portraits by Laxmi Hussain and Ruby Donachy, The Conversation by Vanessa Bell, and works by Charlotte Molesworth and Camilla Lee.

“I wanted to capture the feeling of the sea and sky in [daughter] Damson’s room, a nod to our new landscape,” explains Brogan. The walls are painted in Pale Wedgwood by Little Greene. “I had my heart set on a specific shade for her,” says Brogan, “and boldly contrasted it with skirtings in Little Greene’s Theatre Red.” They also opened up the fireplace, and now their daughter uses it as a dollhouse: “It wasn’t about putting everything back as it should historically have been; it was also about tailoring it to the current needs of our family.”

“We wanted out daughter Sorrel’s room to feel like an English meadow,” says Brogan. “Before we moved out of London, we spent some time with family in Lincolnshire, and seeing Sorrel run wild in the countryside made us realize she is, like all children, wild at heart and we need to protect and nurture that.” The couple took that inspiration and brought it to Margate. The hand-printed daisy wallpaper is by Morris & Co., and the walls are painted in Florence and the skirtings in Invisible Green, both by Edward Bulmer Natural Paint, creating a cohesive palette.

The handwoven bath panel and vanity unit are made from thermally modified timber (TMT), where wood is baked to burn off all the sugars and turns it into a water-repellent material suitable for a bathroom. “The amazing, rich color makes it look like a tropical hardwood, but it is made from local sycamore,” says Brogan. The extreme temperatures required to make it might suggest a high carbon footprint, but not in this case, as Sebastian and Brogan use a solar-powered kiln for the process. “Sycamore is generally regarded as a weed tree in the furniture world,” explains Brogan, “but the grain is shimmery and rippled, and the TMT process turns something underacknowledged into something luxurious. It is then woven with ash, which has a very straight grain that makes it perfect for weaving.”

“The New Naturals: Inspired Interiors for Sustainable Living”

book cover
“The New Naturals: Inspired Interiors for Sustainable Living”

Excerpted with permission from “The New Naturals” by Jennifer Haslam. Published by Hardie Grant, October 2023, RRP $50 Hardcover.