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Family-Friendly English Country House
A formal 1840s Georgian-style house, reinvented as a family-friendly home
Photographs by Dominic Blackmore
Written and produced by Jenny Bradley
Su Harr is no stranger to extreme home makeovers. She caught the bug when renovating her London “starter” flat into a stylish two-bedroom apartment and steadily progressed from there. Most recently, she had painstakingly converted an oceanfront home in Brighton from apartments into a six-story family home. Needless to say, she has a rather fearless approach toward home renovation.
So she wasn’t particularly daunted when she first walked through the 1840s Georgian-style Sussex house that she and her family now call home. Though scaffolding appeared to be holding up several walls and the basement ceiling was all but collapsing, Su saw potential in the rambling yet classic home.
“I’ve done structural work before,” she says. “My previous house had been such an enormous undertaking that this seemed like nothing in comparison. It had such great potential. Of course, at some point, you always think, Oh, I’ve opened a can of worms, but it’s ended up such a good thing.”
With three children (Dominique, 24; Mackenzie, 10; and Mungo, 8), Su’s first priority was to convert the house from a formal English country house to a family-friendly home.
“The previous owners didn’t have children,” says Su. “So the house was set up more for entertaining. I had young children and a very different way of living. We turned it into a family home again.”
Almost storybook, in fact. A child’s imagination is given free rein here. Outdoors, the children have 2 1/2 acres of gardens to roam. Roses and wisteria flourish. A pool offers respite from the (occasional) English sun. There’s even a “Children’s Wood” that’s worthy of enchanted-forest status.
Indoors, it’s no less magical. On the main floor, multiple living spaces—an entrance hall, library, map room, and drawing room—open off a main hall. Each has its own distinct personality—from serene and cheerful to dramatic and moody—and gives the impression that one is traveling the globe without leaving the comforts of home.
Just through the canopy of wisteria enveloping the front door is the light, airy entrance hall. Easy on the eyes, the charming space with its pale palette is a study in design complexities. Wide-plank pine floors add an air of rusticity to the otherwise whimsical room. Furnishings are a mix of new and vintage, slipcovered and tailored, mirrored and patinated. Accessories run the gamut from elegant (the French mirror) to rudimentary (the bones on the mantel). A collection of Italian olive jars in various shapes and shades of white lines shelves. “I love the look of them,” says Su. “I’ve collected them for ages. It’s taken years to accumulate this many!” Opposite the fireplace, an overscaled iron clock adds Alice-in-Wonderland appeal. “It was the largest and heaviest thing I could find!” laughs Su.
Perfect for daydreams about exploring far-flung continents, the lipstick-red library adds a dramatic pause to the generally neutral palette of the first floor. Filled with finds from Su’s travels as well as items salvaged from local antiques fairs, it’s a cabinet of curiosities of extraordinary proportions.
“Some of my favorite things are in here,” says Su. “It’s funny, though, because I’m very much a taupe person. This room was red when I bought the house, and it seemed the perfect color for a library, so I kept it. It’s a very strong, intellectual color, don’t you think?”
Necessities in any library worth its weight, two battered leather club chairs flank an upholstered sofa strewn with patterned pillows. Vintage trunks find new life as side tables dotted with favorite pieces: globes; a toy ark from a local antiques shop; a collection of tribal hats from Thailand, Laos, and Burma.
The traditional library meets its match in the home’s luxe drawing room. Having debated whether to go the expected route—a classic drawing room with stripes and overstuffed furnishings—Su finally chose something a little less, well, English.
“I really wanted a shiny, glamorous room,” says Su. “And the lines of the more contemporary pieces here—the ottoman and the acrylic table—work well with the details of such an old, classical house.”
Arguably the most dramatic changes to the home, however, were made in the kitchen and breakfast room. Su opened up the cramped space—knocking down walls and relocating what was previously the laundry and boiler room—and added sculptural pieces, modern appliances, and sleek cabinetry. A wall of doors leads to a back terrace and pool area, creating a space that feels more like an exotic villa than an English country house.
Now that she’s happily ensconced in the perfect family home, is Su at all tempted to feed her addiction to home makeovers? “I’ve been here six years,” she says. “That’s quite a long time for me. Apart from the house I grew up in, it’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. I actually feel like I’m ready to do it all again!”
Most furnishings are antique or purchased on the homeowner’s travels.
Chairs by window (“Pluto Chairs”); chair fabric (“Panama”/Taupe); chest beside sofa (“Livingston Steamer Trunk”); pots with lids (“Medium White Spice Jars”): Andrew Martin, 212/688-4498, andrewmartin.co.uk.
Paint (“Porcelain”): Dulux, dulux.com.
Entrance Hall Details
Hydrangeas add softness to the charming entrance hall, where new and vintage furnishings mingle amid a mix of patinated and mirrored finishes. Wide-plank pine floors and a rough-hewn coffee table add rusticity to the whimsical space.
Homeowner Su Harr displays her collection of embroidered hats from Thailand, Laos, and Burma along with an antique toy ark. She reupholstered damaged seat cushions on the vintage leather chairs with fabric from Andrew Martin. Sofa pillow fabric is also from Andrew Martin.
Red pillows on sofa, from left (“Koh,” “Coromandel,” “Tasman,” all from the Coast Collection); lumbar pillow on sofa (“Matchbox,” Coast Collection): Andrew Martin, 212/688-4498, andrewmartin.co.uk.
Paint: Dulux Trade, dulux.trade-decorating.co.uk.
A stately stone bust overlooks pillows from Andrew Martin in the crimson library.
The home’s front entrance is draped with wisteria.
Su and Mungo.
Tailored upholstered pieces and a sleek acrylic coffee table mix with antiques and vintage finds in the glam drawing room. All upholstered pieces and fabrics are from Andrew Martin.
Pair of chairs by window (“Mercury”); sofa (“Rochester”); fabric and pillows on chairs and sofa; side tables flanking sofa (“Octavian”); large table lamps (“Giant White Ceramic Lamps”); lamp between chairs (“Pascal”): Andrew Martin, 212/688-4498, andrewmartin.co.uk.
The clean-lined contemporary kitchen was “built around the essential country house Aga,” says Su. “It has been in the house since the ’60s.” A mix of materials—black concrete countertops on the island paired with light oak cabinets—gives the kitchen a “touchy, friendly, use-me feel,” she adds.
Cooking appliances: Aga, aga-ranges.com/cooking/.
Countertops: black concrete.
Cabinetry: light oak.
“This is really the perfect place for children to grow up. We turned it into a family home again,” says homeowner and designer Su Harr.
Table; chairs; mirror: owner’s collection.
Shades of aubergine and lilac create a sophisticated backdrop for the vintage chaise and mirrored chests from Andrew Martin.
Chests (“Steel Howard Chest of Drawers”); drapery (“Debussy Quilted Velvet”): Andrew Martin, 212/688-4498, andrewmartin.co.uk.
Back Terrace and Pool
Wide French doors were added between the kitchen and the terrace, making an extension into the garden. “It really gives the effect of an all-in-one space,” says Su.