Through the keyhole in Cobham

PUBLISHED: 15:47 22 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:28 29 March 2014

The living room

The living room

Rikard Osterlund

This delightful character cottage is a real family home

The local primary school is the reason Dr Gillian Burgess moved to Cobham, and the village has become a true home to her and her family.

“Cobham Primary just looked so cute, this very traditional little flint building, and I thought wouldn’t it be fantastic to have the kids go there,” she recalls.

Despite looking at many other places, Cobham was lodged in their hearts and in 1999 Gillian, husband David, their two sons and daughter moved here and the children did indeed start at the village school that September.

What wasn’t part of the plan at all was David’s death in 2004, her daughter then only seven and Gillian not only a busy mum but a full-time pharmacologist with a demanding workload.

“Initially all I could do was keep working and look after the kids,” she says. “Then after a couple of years I thought I needed to do something to distract myself and the house would be a good project.”

By then she had met local interior designer Anna Ghomi at the school gates, the two friends shared similar tastes and it seemed a logical next step to engage Anna’s professional services. Six years ago the project started to take shape.

‘Home’ is the middle section of a terrace of four white-clapboarded farm cottages built in the 1700s and perched on a bank high above the road.

Because the work to create one cottage from two had been done many years before, there was quite a bit of space for everyone – just on four different levels, including an attic, a big double basement used for storage – and a bewildering number of narrow staircases connecting it all.

David is still very much a vibrant presence, with family photos on walls and different surfaces, as well as examples of his many sketches – a scientist like his wife, he was also a talented artist and all the children have cherished examples of his work in their bedrooms.

Many of the paintings are bought in St Agnes, on the north Cornish coast, a favourite family holiday destination, others are of Gillian’s beloved Ayrshire, where her parents still live – but all are “paintings we love and mean something to us as a family,” says Gillian.

The kitchen

Gillian and Anna decided to start in the kitchen, the place where the family ate together and, despite its compact nature, the heart of the home.

New cupboards were put in and a traditional tiled floor laid, while the old range cooker was replaced with a cream one, which goes really well with the unusual French limestone worktop.

“Despite being recommended we didn’t have limestone as it tends to be more porous than most stones, I don’t regret getting it and it has lots of natural features that I love,” says Gillian.

Naturally the farm-fresh eggs and vegetables on the worktop are all from Cobham Community Village Store (see March Kent Life, page xx), where she is the very active co-chairperson.

The living room

“We have two open fireplaces at either end of the room but we only use the one with the wood stove in it,” says Gillian. “We did have a big mahogany table in here but decided as we ate mainly in the kitchen, we didn’t really need one. Taking it out opened up the space and it’s good for parties, as it’s right near the kitchen.”

Gillian admits that if there was one thing she’d like, it would be a hall, but as the front door opens straight into this room, that’s never going to happen. Instead, her desk is just inside the entrance and Anna made sure the curtains used in this room are not only beautiful but also fully lined to keep out any draughts.

As well as more paintings by Cornish artists, there’s a John Piper plus an original Chagall “bought at auction, unintentionally, a couple of years ago,” smiles Gillian and, above the fireplace, a striking picture of a woman doing a crossword, also bought in Cornwall.

“I don’t usually like paintings with people in them, but I really like this – and I like the window in it, the way it extends the view.”

The colours used are earthy and rustic, which suits the cottage, with a lovely use of burnt orange flowing through the house: in this room a glass vase bought in Ayr and filled with orange roses, a huge candle from Cobham Village Store, a stripey rug.

Even the pets – Rab, a Scottish border terrier and Garfield, the quite extraordinary looking Scottish fold cat – have the right colour palette for their environment.

There are also examples of Gillian’s own pottery: an urn with handles (“glued back on so many times”), a fish bowl and a triangular-shaped bowl, plus aboriginal artefacts – including a killing stick and a boomerang – brought back from Australia, where David’s family lives.

The dining room

One of the last areas to be tackled, this room has one window on to the kitchen and patio doors opening onto the garden and orchards beyond. It is dominated by a large, family-sized wooden table around which are high-backed chairs; on the walls and shelves are more family photographs and a collage of David with his family.

Between the kitchen and dining room is a cosy little area filled with more paintings bought in St Agnes, including a splendid Matthew Lanyon above a pretty rosewood sideboard Gillian inherited from her granny: “You really need a bigger house for a picture this size, but it didn’t seem so big when I saw it in the gallery,” she says.

In a brick alcove is a wood stove Gillian and David bought when they lived in France before the children, which she plans to restore. “We were very poor and would collect wood from by the Seine, burn it in the fire and cook our dinner on the stove on top,” she recalls.

“The skull came back with David after a trip to Turkey, and the kids also all collect bones – there are bone collections everywhere.”

The bathroom

“The bathroom should have been the first thing we tackled really,” admits Gillian. “It was just one big room before and it just didn’t work with so many of us wanting showers at the same time.”

Now there is a separate family shower room and Gillian’s own gleaming white bathroom, which has a striking, high-sided oval bath (set on a plinth to compensate for the room being on different levels.

A grey and white blind hangs at the sash window and original Victorian stained glass in one small skylight is replicated in others created by Anna to ‘steal’ additional light.

Extraordinary framed images by X-ray photographer Nick Veasey, who lives in Harvel, hang on the walls, as do more examples of David’s artistic talent.


Living room

Sofa units, curtains and soft furnishings: designed by Anna Ghomi Consultancy,

Sofa fabric: Andrew Martin,

Cushion fabric: Designers Guild,

Curtain fabric: taffeta, by James Brindley,

Curtain poles and lighting: Bradley Lighting,

Coffee table, lamps and bureau: Ecco Trading,

Rug: Anna V Rugs,

Paint: Farrow & Ball,

Desk: Andrew Martin,

Candle: Cobham Village Store

Dining room

Sliding panels: Kyoto Panels, in James Brindley fabric

Rug: Ikea

Dining table: Andrew Martin

Glass vase: Rosedale, Yorkshire

Paint: Farrow & Ball,

Storage baskets: Range, Maidstone

Candles: Cobham Village Store,


Cooker and hood: Falcon,

Worktop: French limestone, supplied and fitted by Keystone, Longfield,

Tiles: Fired Earth,

Ironmongery: Clayton Munroe,

Paint: Farrow & Ball,

Rugs: John Lewis,

Cushions: Marks & Spencer,


Blinds: fabric by Romo,

Towels: The White Company,

Bath and sink: Victoria + Albert,

Taps and ironmongery: Nu Line Bathrooms,

Floor-level shower tray: Bette,

Stockist of all items: Potts, East Malling,


Walk: I love walking Rab in the orchards behind the house, the views are fantastic. You can walk right over to Luddesdowne and beyond to Harvel. If you go into the woods at the back of Battle Street there’s an old burial mound which is interesting.

View: Behind the church of St Mary Magdalene, which is famous for its brasses, there’s a fantastic view across the fields and lovely rolling downs towards the Medway.

To spend my money: Cobham Village Store, I don’t shop anywhere else now except our shop, it’s got everything you want there.

To eat: We have 3 pubs – The Ship Inn, the Leather Bottle and The Darnley Arms - to choose from.

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