Through the keyhole in High Halden
PUBLISHED: 08:28 09 July 2016 | UPDATED: 10:03 09 July 2016
This is a tale of triumph through adversity, as one Kent family survive sealed bids and a car-sized wasps’ nest, a devastating fire and a total rebuild in the journey to achieving the perfect family home
Amateur artist (and self-confessed cushion addict) Kim Dawson and her businessman husband Simon spent three years viewing almost 40 different properties in their search for their perfect home in the 1990s.
As so often happens, they suffered several disappointments along the way, losing out to quicker buyers with deeper pockets.
But Kim’s diminutive five foot height hides a steely determination and she would not be beaten. The couple found themselves at an auction bidding for a Victorian farmhouse with a dramatic cat-slide roof, decidedly not what they had set out to find.
Seduced by the potentially breathtaking views – the house sits in a commanding position on top of a hill – as well as the beautiful land that came with it, the couple dived into the nerve-racking process of sealed bids.
They were ultimately successful, apparently beating the nearest bidders by a mere whisker. Originally intending to restore and extend the existing property, they soon discovered that there was severe structural damage to the first floor (not to mention a wasps’ nest the size of a small car in the attic) and decided to opt for planning permission to replacethe whole house.
The local council agreed, encouraging the Dawsons to build a modern glass structure, but after a long debate, Kim and Simon decided instead to opt for a tile-hung, Kent farmhouse-style home. With her natural boundless energy, Kim threw herself into the build.
They decided on hand-made tiles and bricks to give a softer look so the house could sit very comfortably in its surroundings. Keen to try and recreate a feature of the original house, they chose to include a cat-slide roof in their design, but in a more modern way with a very high roof, thus gaining ceiling height on the ground floor.
The result was a surprisingly contemporary feel, given the traditional look to the outside.
A great deal of landscaping also had to be done and trees removed in order to open up the previously obscured vistas, but it was a priority for Kim, as the views were a major reason for buying the house in the beginning.
After 12 months of hard graft and countless decisions their house was finally finished, and it was beautiful. The home grew over the years to keep pace with the family, with two more daughters joining the two they had when they moved in. First a two-storey extension was added and then the house grew again to include a large new laundry, a boot room, a den and a large breakfast room adjoining a redesigned kitchen.
With a family of six to look after and a lovely new home, everything was going well for the Dawsons, when tragedy struck on the eve of the eldest daughter’s 16th birthday.
With no one at home except the pets, a huge fire broke out at the house. Fortunately a passing motorist called 999 and started to rescue the family’s much-loved animals. The response from Kent Fire Brigade was mercifully quick, but the blaze completely destroyed a third of the house and the parts that the flames didn’t reach were badly damaged by water.
It was heartbreaking for the family to see the home they had created over so many years destroyed so quickly. “However, if it wasn’t for the intervention of the motorist, our whole home would have burnt to the ground,” says Kim. “It was a horrible time for all of us.”
Everyone deals with adversity in different ways. Kim – ever the optimist – was determined to look on the disaster as an opportunity to rethink some of the mistakes they felt they had made when first building the original house.
With so many animals to care for – horses, donkeys, dogs, cats and chickens – they decided to stay on site during the reconstruction process.
The family took a deep breath and prepared themselves for another year of hard work. They restored what they could and started again where necessary, incorporating a former storage area on the third floor into another bedroom and an en-suite. They have added another very large master bedroom, and changed two smaller bedrooms into a bathroom and dressing room for Kim and Simon.
The house was gradually reborn and has become a much-loved family home once again. “It was really tough,” admits Kim. “But it was worth it. If anything, we think we have made it much better.”
Over the years both before and after the fire, the style of the interior has evolved, along with the needs of the growing family. For Kim one of the big challenges was adapting her home to the changing tastes of all the family members. As the children have grown up (the youngest, Melissa, is now 14), bright playrooms have given way to a more restful calm palette of greys and creams.
The main entertaining areas downstairs are open plan and so the decoration in these rooms flows naturally, with hints of colour linking each room in a subtle way. The overall effect is harmonious without being too ‘hotel perfect.’
The family can hunker down in the snug with a roaring fire but can equally use all the rooms simultaneously for parties and big gatherings.
When asked about her decorating style Kim is clear. “We love Andrew Martin, with the big statement pieces and contemporary feel, but we also like mixing in antiques and local finds. With regards to the soft furnishings, we wanted lots of texture using velvets with linens and silks.”
Kim admits to a “serious obsession” with her cushions and indeed they are everywhere, along with a few quirky features dotted around the house such as the little people who sit at their own table in the breakfast room off the kitchen. “They celebrate Christmas and other festivities as well, with their own miniature mince pies!”
Through adversity, hard work and limitless energy, Kim has created an elegant home, without ever forgetting that it is a family home that is lived in every day. wGET THE LOOK
Sofas from Sofa Workshop covered in oatmeal linen, www.sofaworkshop.com
Voile curtains from Brian Yates, www.brian-yates.co.uk
Adelle Stone and Designers Guild Mezzola Furniture from Andrew Martin (including the bust), www.andrewmartin.co.uk
Small bureau is an antique family heirloom
Walls painted in Slate 1 from The Paint Library, www.paintandpaperlibrary.com
Woodwork in Slate 3 from The Paint Library, as above
Chandeliers Franklite, www.franklite.net
Roman blind by Colefax and Fowler, www.colefax.com
Bust by Andrew Martin, as above
Two chairs by Andrew Martin, covered in linen, as above
Walls as in drawing room
Shutters from Shutter Frontier, www.shutterfrontier.co.uk
Black chest of drawers from And So To Bed, www.andsotobed.co.uk
Dressing table and chair from Harrods, www.harrods.com
Two single chairs from Andrew Martin, as above
Large sofa from Woodcocks, Tenterden, www.woodcocksinteriors.co.uk
Rugs from Harrods, as above
Cabinets from Richard Baker of Sevenoaks, www.richardbakerfurniture.co.uk
By Matrix of Knightsbridge, www.matrixkitchens.co.uk
Lighting by Olive & the Fox, Tunbridge Wells, www.oliveandthefox.co.uk
Curtains by Manuel Canovas Kesa, colour 26, www.manuelcanovas.com
Dining table from Titchmarsh and Goodwin, www.titchmarsh-goodwin.co.uk
Dining chairs from Tenterden House Interiors, www. tenterdenhouseinteriors.co.uk
Walls by The Paint Library, as above
All other items are antiques collected over the years