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Take a peek through the keyhole of this pretty family home

PUBLISHED: 13:57 20 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:57 20 February 2017

The light and welcoming kitchen has lots of space for everyone

The light and welcoming kitchen has lots of space for everyone

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Sue Gates believes in living in the moment and encourages her family to engage their senses and appreciate the beauty around them – starting at home. Words by: Rachael Hale. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

The light-filled conservatory at the dining end of the kitchenThe light-filled conservatory at the dining end of the kitchen

For Sue Gates, decorating a house is about far more than choosing paint colours and furnishings. It’s about creating a peaceful, beautiful retreat from everyday life where her family and friends can feel safe and secure.

She says she “gets pleasure from giving other people pleasure” and believes that by creating a beautiful home she can make other people happier.

Sue’s sense of style has been honed over “years of buying homes and gardens magazines. I used to tear pages out and it’s built up in my head images of everything I love. I’m not a cottage person, I’m more of a Versaille Palace but dubbed right down sort of person.”

The inspirational sitting room curtainsThe inspirational sitting room curtains

The quest to make a beautiful home has taken Sue and her husband David 24 years and they’ve had to make substantial changes along the way. As well as adding an extension and a conservatory, the couple have also altered chimney breasts to install the fireplaces they fell in love with.

Not everything has gone right first time, however. “David once repainted one room four times as it didn’t look right,” Sue admits. The house is filled with warm, neutral tones but it seems finding colours to tie in with Sue’s colour spirit can be a challenge; David has counted more than 100 tester pots in the garage.

Sue talks about the need to keep the ‘energy’ of the house alive and thinks this stems from her parents. “They always used to move the furniture around. We didn’t live in a flash house, we lived in a flat, but I liked the way they were so innovative and creative, even though they didn’t have a lot to be creative with.”

Sue and David's bedroom is a calm oasis of neutral shadesSue and David's bedroom is a calm oasis of neutral shades

Creative touches also fill Sue and David’s home, but it’s their attention to detail that’s remarkable. When the extension was being hung-tiled, for example, the couple didn’t like the selection delivered so they hired a van to return the tiles, then hand-picked the ones that would ‘make the outside sing’. The same attention was given to the tiles in kitchen and, in both instances, the couple laid them out in the pattern they wanted before installing.

It’s not possible to talk about Sue and David’s light and welcoming kitchen without mentioning coffee machines. David loves coffee and it’s a source of pride that friends and visitors always receive the best cup possible.

His love affair with coffee machines spans back some 20 years to a Pavoni machine that cost so much Sue ‘nearly killed him’.

A home cinema is cunningly concealed in the cosy sitting roomA home cinema is cunningly concealed in the cosy sitting room

It now serves as a talking point as, although no longer used, Sue calls it ‘David’s heirloom’ and keeps it on display. A Heston Blumenthal machine is now David’s ‘baby’ and despite Sue’s compulsion to have everything neat and tidy, she admits she doesn’t even dust it, let alone use it.

The light filling the conservatory at the dining end of the kitchen naturally draws you towards the intriguing displays of crystals, ornamental birds and everyday items. It’s where Sue and David spend most of their time and as Sue says: “It doesn’t matter whether you have a small flat or a big house, you can surround yourself with beautiful things.

“I’m all for displaying nice things rather than shutting them away. Anything that reminds you of someone, or something, or creates the look that you want, put it on display.”

Warm reds tone with the striking curtains in the sitting roomWarm reds tone with the striking curtains in the sitting room

And when Sue says this she doesn’t just mean the pieces you keep for best, but the small things too. A bowl on their bespoke dining table is filled with bracelets and crystals and pretty cups hang from a wrought-iron screen in the corner.

Sue says she’s even been known to display a pair of unworn shoes on a windowsill, for years, just because she liked looking at them. Unwrapped bars of Chanel No. 5 soap are also dotted around the house because she likes the smell of it. “We’re not on this earth for long so whatever you can do to lift your mood, do it,” is her advice.

One thing the family really enjoys doing is watching TV and Sue says the sitting room is perfect at night. It’s also one of the rooms where David’s creativity and ingenuity has been put to good use as, unbeknown to the casual visitor, a home cinema screen and projector have been cleverly hidden from sight. The screen is concealed beneath a decorative bed pelmet and the projector is housed in an adapted white-painted wardrobe.

Treasures should be displayed, not hiddenTreasures should be displayed, not hidden

Sue says that using things for alternative purposes, such as the small podium used to display a lantern in the hallway or the decorative urn used as a waste basket in the main bathroom, is one way of making an impact. Another is by choosing a single main feature to focus on and in the sitting room it’s the curtains that have led the scheme. A ‘shall we, shan’t we’ buy, once Sue had put the fabric around her “they glistened and looked so regal I knew we had to have them.”

The absence of clutter, anywhere, is noticeable and Sue reveals it hasn’t always been like quite like this. She’s always been a tidy person but when their now grown-up children were younger, their daughter Tamara’s room was “a tip, an absolute explosion and I used to go mad at her because I can’t live like that. I used to tidy it up but then she couldn’t find anything.” Fortunately their son Ollie proved not quite so untidy.

When asked whether the need to keep everything tidy is down to feeling in control Sue admits there’s more to it than that.

Great coffee is David's passionGreat coffee is David's passion

“I think, tidy house, tidy mind. If you’re organised and know exactly where everything is, then you feel secure. You have enough outside things that hit you, so if you keep on top of things at home, that helps you have the energy to deal with the unexpected. My parents’ home always felt comfortable and safe and I think that’s part of who I am.”

Sue’s ethos certainly works in her own home as it’s like stepping into a calming oasis. The light colours, gentle music playing in the background and the hint of lemongrass and ginger hanging in the air enable you to catch your breath and gather your thoughts.

But as perfect as it seems now, Sue says she continuously wants to improve. “I want to keep the spirit and the essence of the house but let it evolve. If you come back in five years’ time it will be different.”

Sue Gates with husband David in the backgroundSue Gates with husband David in the background

Get the look

Hoopers supplied the white-painted wardrobe in the sitting room and the furniture in the main bedroom, 2-12 Mount Pleasant Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1QT, 01892 530222, www.hoopersstores.com

The stone fireplace in the sitting room was bought at Victoria Stone, 79 St Johns Road, Tunbridge Wells TN4 9TU, 0800, www.victoriastone.co.uk

The white-painted cupboard beneath the TV was built by David with Jali cabinetry, Church Lane, Barham, Canterbury CT4 6QS, 01227 833333, www.jali.co.uk

The sofa is from DFS. There are two branches in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and further details can be found at www.dfs.co.uk

The home cinema system was created with items sourced through Sevenoaks Sound and Vision, who have branches in Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone, Bromley and Sevenoaks, www.sevenoakssoundandvision.co.uk

The curtains in the sitting room were sourced from Peter Hoare Interiors at 12 Goods Station Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 2BL, 01892 527202

The white-painted armoire in the conservatory was sourced from Laura Ashley, www.lauraashley.com

The kitchen units were supplied by Magnet, www.magnet.co.uk

Many of the ornamental touches in Sue and David’s home were found in Homesense and there is now a relatively new branch in Tunbridge Wells at The Fountains Retail Park, Dowding Way TN2 3FB, 01892 510451, www.homesense.com

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