Look through the keyhole of this pretty Georgian home
PUBLISHED: 13:00 04 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:44 11 July 2017
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Interiors specialists Lisa and Paul Thornton-Allan left the bustle of East London for the tranquillity of a Georgian home in Little Chart that they have completely restored
When two designers find the place of their dreams in the Kent countryside, you just know you’re in for a treat. And driving down a long lane in the depths of Little Chart, Appleyard at its very end immediately delights.
Once the dowry house of the manor, it then became part of a farm and was sold off to a couple who lived here for 50 years. It was very out of date in terms of plumbing, electricity and decor when Paul and Lisa Thornton-Allan took it on.
“It’s been really nice to give it back its integrity and character and make it a home that is fit for purpose today but still holding onto its charm,” says Lisa of the 1740-built Georgian house with its pleasing symmetry and Dering windows.
“All of the houses around here have them and it make the area so appealing. The softness of the window arches led to introducing soft fabrics in to the sitting room because the roundness makes you feel you don’t want anything angular in here.”
The unusual windows are named after Sir Edward Dering, Pluckley’s Lord of the Manor during the Civil War. Arrested by the Roundheads, he managed to get back to Pluckley and escape a second time through a small arched window which his pursuers had considered too small to guard.
Since then the Dering family has thought this window had a sacred charm and during the 19th century an eccentric descendant, Sir Edward Cholmeley Dering, had arched windows fitted into all buildings on the estate.
It’s a lovely story and clearly enchanted Lisa and Paul Thornton Allan, who definitely don’t intend to escape any time soon from Appleyard.
Living in Shoreditch, they wanted to find somewhere ‘away from the sirens’ but at first Kent didn’t register as a possible contender, despite Lisa having gone to school in Faversham and her mother living in Whitstable.
“We wanted somewhere close to London and the more we thought about it the more appealing Kent appeared – easy access for us into east London, the coast, mum nearby,” says Lisa.
“I was sitting in bed Easter weekend two years ago and I got an alert for this property on my phone and I just thought, oh my word, that looks absolutely perfect. It needed completely renovating, which is what we wanted. We made an appointment to go and see it and from the moment we turned the corner, we thought ‘that’s it’.”
She adds: “It’s quite unusual for a property like this to come onto the market so there was a huge amount of interest – Hobbs & Parker had never had so many viewings – but when people realised how much work was involved in renovating the house, many dropped out.
“However, because we’d done a lot of renovation work for ourselves and for our clients, we weren’t scared. We ended up in a bidding war with another couple, which we eventually won. It was in probate so the actual process of then going to exchange was quite protracted and we couldn’t start work until the following January.”
The owners of Thornton Allan Interiors have so much experience of projects that would unnerve many home buyers that they managed to come in £25,000 under budget and to finish ahead of schedule.
This was helped by Paul staying with his mother-in-law during the week so that he could take on the project management and Lisa knowing exactly how far in advance she needed to order flooring, tiles, etc so that it was all just-in-time (JIT). “We’re used to doing all our own electrical drawings and creating a furniture plan first, so you know where all the sockets should go; people just don’t think of that and end up with a room that isn’t fit for purpose.
“We also wanted to use primarily local suppliers – we have a lot in London, but we wanted to see if we could increase out address book in Kent, which we did really well. All the paints are from Autentico Paint UK, which is based in Ashford; they mixed paint from a flake of original colour from the back door to get one particular shade just right.
“The wardrobes were built by a local joiner, the carpets are from Tunbridge Wells, a salvage yard just down the road was our source for bricks for the inglenook and paths.”
They must have been the perfect clients, because “the builders loved this place as much as we did, so they wanted every single thing to be perfect.” Lisa also sourced quite a bit from her European contacts, including lights, plus items picked up from French trocs such as the old suitcases in the master bedroom.
Her advice to people embarking on a house project is born of years of practise, including the family living in the South of France for five years and the three boys going to school there.
“I always look at the history of the house and of the area so that any changes we make are fit for purpose and sympathetic to the original. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t do contemporary things, but they should have some kind of context to the history of the property – for example, we are close to Rooting Manor’s deer park and the chandelier in our dining room is made from antlers.”
The vibrant acrylic painting in the hall came from a troc in the south of France and first hung in their kitchen when they lived in the region, then it moved to their kitchen in north London and is now somewhere it shouldn’t work, admits Lisa, but somehow does.
“I think it stops the hallway from looking a little bit twee – it adds a bit of ‘us’ as soon as you walk into the house. Every time I come downstairs in the morning and see it there it makes me feel happy. I now feel our house is calling out for some paintings that reflect the Kent countryside we live in.
“We’re not rushing, sometimes you have to just wait to find the perfect piece rather than trying to do it all at once. But when you see something you like you have to buy it, whether you can afford it or not, because you’ll never find it again.” 4
She adds: “It’s all about making your house your home, so that when you walk around it you’re happy. Every bit of art on the walls here means something to us. Create a house that is you rather than a house that you think you should have.
“Your house should reflect your personality, so if you are a soft and casual person then your fabrics and textures should reflect that (rather like your wardrobe) or are you someone who looks immaculate in a suit with short hair or are you a more curly-haired Bohemian type, your home should really reflect that.
“Invest in key pieces like your bed, dining room table, centre lighting because not only will they look good but they will stand the test of time. But then you can have fun with accessories and add in more expensive accessories, such as the ‘zap’ taps in our kitchen.”
As well as an awareness of the importance of provenance and personality in house design, Lisa loves the combination of practical and stylish. In the hallway the understairs cupboards all have masses of coat hooks and shoe racks, making it easy for everyone to hang their coat up and put their shoes away.
In the dining room there’s a little office area tucked away behind a panelled door, while the kitchen boasts so many drawers and cupboards (17 in total) that some have hardly anything in them – which is pretty impressive for a family of five.
Paul and Lisa have three sons, and while only the youngest is still at home, the elder two visit frequently and bring their friends too. You can’t blame them.
The Ikea kitchen is a real source of pride, as Lisa’s expertise enabled her to bring the whole room in at just £5,500, without compromising on style and design. By adding a much more expensive worktop and getting the units built out to 900m rather than the standard 600mm, it looks more like a Poggenpohl design than something from the Swedish multinational.
It’s also highly practical, as Lisa explains: “Because I’ve done so many kitchen layouts, I know exactly where things should go and be easy to use and access – having your glasses and plates close to your dishwasher so you’re not trekking across the room, for example.
“I always ask clients how they cook so I can make sure their kitchen works for them – you can make things look good but unless they function it’s not worth it. I couldn’t live without my zap tap water filter for instant hot water – makes the best cup of tea in the world – and it also means there’s no kettle on the worktop.
“The big island unit has all the sockets concealed on one pull-out column. Sometimes if something big like a Magimix is tucked away in a top cupboard it doesn’t get used. Mine is at hand, so it does.”
I ask Lisa if she misses London, but with a journey of just 15 minutes to Ashford Station and another 27 minutes into Stratford, they aren’t exactly cut off – although she admits visitors with young children used to the noise of the city often don’t wake up until 10.30am, such is the peace of the countryside (“unless you get a really loud sheep”).
Their next project is the garden, which was totally overgrown and had been quite churned up by the workmen when they moved in last June. “We are not gardeners but will do the hard landscaping. Gardens should be like rooms as well, that whole ‘inside outside’ feel can make rooms look so much bigger.”
And they are embracing everything Kentish too – from seeking out more projects in Kent so they don’t have to go up to London so much (one current one is the oast house next door, a rather nice commute!) and extending their local contacts to their personal food choices.
“Now that we live in the Garden of England and in a house called Appleyard we refuse to buy anything that isn’t an English apple!” says Lisa.
She won’t be drawn on her favourite room, but does admit: “I love our bedroom because the views are so amazing – when you sit up in bed and look out to uninterrupted countryside it’s one of those ‘glad to be alive’ moments.”