Through the keyhole: in Broad Oak
PUBLISHED: 18:58 11 July 2014 | UPDATED: 18:58 11 July 2014
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
How a rented Kentish farmhouse cottage has been made into a real home with a mix of inherited family pieces and a keen eye for display and colour
Visitors always comment on how well Karen Isaac has done up her rented cottage in Broad Oak, so when this member of the Kent Life reader panel spotted our new Through the Keyhole feature, she got in touch.
“It’s not a palace,” she tells me over a cuppa in the homely lounge. “Squatters used to live here and when I moved here in 1996 it was in a bit of a state.
“But I’ve lived here 17 years now and in that time this house has been all the colours under the sun. I love display, and I’ve always loved colour too.”
While this single mum of three (son Toby, 16, lives with her and she has two grown-up daughters and a grandson) can’t afford to buy her own property, Karen has always strived to make the three-bedroom farmhouse her home.
Built in 1957, the year Karen was born, it’s tucked away towards the end of a narrow country lane in the village of Broad Oak, just outside Canterbury.
Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the detached property is surrounded by wheat fields and there are great views at every turn.
Beautiful as the setting is, it is also right in the heart of the reservoir South East Water proposes building between Broad Oak and Tyler Hill in order to secure water supplies in the south east for the next 25 years.
“My house would be the plughole of the bath tub,” says Karen ruefully. “I just don’t know what we’ll do if they flood the area. I’m just not in a position to get a mortgage and a loan, but so many people are like me and can’t afford to buy, so have to rent.”
I doubt she will be able to pack up at speed either; Karen loves surrounding herself with pieces from her past and little nick nacks she’s acquired over the years.
There are solid oak cabinets inherited from her late mother and her ex-husband’s granny, a desk and chest of drawers from her dad, paintings once owned by various uncles and treasures from her own childhood: a much-loved pull-along horse (‘Horsie’), a cabinet full of teddy bears that belonged to Karen and her sister.
Born at Hunton near Maidstone, Karen’s mother ran the village shop and her (much older) father, a pilot in the First World War, worked up in London.
She’s Kent through and through and adores Canterbury. “Even if I won the lottery I’d never move from Canterbury because you’ve got everything here – it’s so cosmopolitan with such a diverse mix of people who all seem to get on,” she says.
If money was no object, what would be her ideal house, I ask Karen? “An eight-bedroom rectory in Arts & Crafts style,” she says, with no hesitation.
“I love William Morris and Victorian things and I don’t like too many things matching. I like places with character.”
“We used to have William Morris wallpaper in the lounge but it was too dark, so now the walls are painted in a smoky grey and the sofas are upholstered in William Morris fabric instead. I personally think colour will come back – we’ve all gone a bit neutral and it’s the same colour palette everywhere you go,” comments Karen.
Lacking the conservatory she’d love, there are plants on the floor, cabinets and windowsills – and either side of the striking tiled 1930’s fireplace, which is a real feature in this cosy room.
Karen re-upholstered the central dining room chairs she got from community partnership Necessary Furniture in Hersden, near Canterbury in vibrant Cath Kidston floral oilcloth. “It doesn’t match the Garden Birds’ tablecloth, but I just loved the pattern,” she says.
This is a real Aladdin’s Cave with a (rescued) statue of Jesus holding Karen’s quirky addition of an owl, a wooden pen box used to hold tiny coloured birds’ eggs, a mini greenhouse used for display purposes and a mahogany tantalus from an uncle that she stores drinks bottles in.
This really is a hall of mirrors, an idea Karen picked up from a design magazine, and the use of so many different shapes and frames magically lightens the deep teal wall. More light was also introduced by removing the old cupboard under the stairs. Against one wall is a handsome chair Karen rescued from an old people’s home and reupholstered, and there are stick-on Angel Gabriel transfers on the windows.
Despite the undeniably pink bedspread, Karen declares: “I hate pink but I do love purple. The cupboard was really boring before I painted it purple and lilac.”
The desk and chest of drawers are inherited from her father, as is the chest she uses to store her handbags, topped with cushions – including a favourite from Taking the Plunge in Whitstable. The pictures are a mix of charity shop finds and inherited from her uncles. Horsie has been with her since childhood.
Outside the bedroom is a wall cabinet filled with old perfume bottles and topped by a flamboyant hat that belonged to Karen’s granny.
Karen’s five-year-old grandson sleeps in this African-themed room, decorated in vivid orange, when he visits.
“It used to be Toby’s room, and he chose the colour – the big telescope is his too, he loves looking at the night sky.” n