Some people can't help but take their work home with them. For Richard Smith, that's a bit of an understatement. As a textile designer who has created fabrics for companies such as No. 9 Thompson by Jim Thompson, Warner Fabrics, and F. Schumacher & Co., he doesn't just bring his work home, he swathes most every inanimate object in it. From floor to ceiling, his 17th-century farmhouse outside Hastings, England, is a montage of patterns. Florals, paisleys, and stripes--oh my!
"I think to be a successful fabric designer you really have to live with your product, understand it, and see what works," says Richard. "If it were up to me, I'd have pattern everywhere."
Thankfully, Richard's fabrics--from flat-out-feminine florals to spirited stripes--flawlessly lend themselves to the idyllic English farmhouse and surrounding nature preserve.
Idyllic, however, wasn't always the most appropriate description of the house that Richard and partner Andrew Blackman stumbled across just five years ago. The structure was near ruin--having been vandalized after the previous owners left the house to a county trust, and neglect got the better of the property.
"It was boarded up--just very sad," says Richard. "I immediately fell in love, though, and we kept coming back. We would make a picnic to eat in the garden. I even took photos. Who would have thought I would stalk a house!"
Fortunately, persistence paid off. Having visited the house throughout the year, Richard and Andrew witnessed the structure's potential during spring blooms and balmy summer evenings. When the house finally came up for auction during the dreary, fog-shrouded winter months (and after additional months of neglect and mistreatment), most sane bidders saw it as a seriously scary prospect. Richard and Andrew, however, had already developed a case of unconditional love.
Post-auction, the five-year rehab began--starting with the chimney pots and working down. Missing windows and gaping holes in the roof made the winter months the most difficult to endure. Snowdrifts occasionally appeared on stair landings, and Richard and Andrew spent many an evening huddled in front of their trusty Aga range for heat.
"We feel like we're finally here now, five years later, having literally lived with the builders for four of those years--and having seen their children and pets grow up--plus 30,000 handmade clay roof tiles, 17 new chimney pots, miles of new electric cables and pipes. You get the point," laughs Richard.
Having reclaimed its status as a charming English farmhouse, the sandstone structure is a beacon for guests in need of a little rural R&R. These days, that trusty Aga is still put to good use. Not as a heat source, but as a serving station for the constant stream of visitors arriving for parties, holiday gatherings, and quiet weekday dinners.
"We wanted this to be a comfortable family house again," says Richard. "It needs people in it. We just tried to make it seem as though it had never gone through its unloved phase."
Richard's passion for textiles (and pattern in particular) is apparent the moment guests step inside. An overscale silver-and-cream floral wallpaper clambers gracefully up the stairwell and spills into the upstairs hall, adeptly complementing the blue-gray woodwork. An audaciously striped cashmere fabric elegantly strewn on the center table in the entry completes the palette.
In the adjoining drawing room, the layering of fabrics and patterns plays off the quintessentially English home's charm and grace, yet somehow never feels the slightest bit stodgy. Paisleys pop against centuries-old woodwork. Old Master paintings mingle with spring-fresh florals and stripes. Antiques and found objects are given new life when paired with pastels that are more powerful than precious.
"Our new collection for No. 9 Thompson by Jim Thompson uses slightly rustic linens," says Richard. "They work well in this house because they give an informal, friendly look."
In the dining room, restrained red walls play off warm woodwork while an immense round table--seemingly large enough to host the entire nearby village of Winchelsea--dominates the room. The ethereal handwoven silk tablecloth (designed by Richard, of course) mimics the tranquil view out the wide front windows across fields of sheep and down to the English Channel.
Atop the mantel, a cache of objets d'art collected by Richard and Andrew over the years is proudly on display.
"We weren't going for perfection here," says Richard. "This house and the furnishings reflect different periods of our lives. Every piece has a story attached to it or came from a loved one. I still love it all."
Down a two-toned hallway (glossy chocolate below meets matte cream above) lies perhaps the most well-used room in the house--the cozy kitchen. The room's most unexpected and utterly un-English addition, a Moroccan lantern suspended above the kitchen table, attempts to steal attention away from Richard's beloved (and well-worn) Aga--an exact duplicate of the one his mother had while he was growing up.
While a pastel (and, no surprise, heavily patterned) palette abounds upstairs, black-painted wide-plank wood floors act as punctuation marks to the plentiful colors and patterns.
"We wanted to keep the original floorboards, but they weren't good enough to be polished," says Richard. "They were looking a bit sorry for themselves, so we just slapped a little black paint on them and off we went."
In the master bedroom, lavender hues dominate. A double-height headboard upholstered in copious amounts of the noble hue sets the stage, while an energetically striped fabric gets triple billing--appearing as bed linens, upholstery, and finally as dressing on a folding screen in the adjoining bath.
Multiple guest rooms, each decorated with the familiar pattern-on-pattern style tempered by black-painted wood floors and lofty proportions, stand on alert for the next wave of houseguests. Even awaiting company, however, they never feel empty. The layered patterns and carefully edited furnishings bring life to these rooms even sans guests.
"We really want this to be a house that evolves over time," says Richard. "You know when you go to a beautiful old house, and things have been collected and added over time? They don't look like they've all been put on a swatch board. I love that. The polished look just doesn't suit
Photography: James Merrell
Interior designer (with Richard Smith): Diana Kelly, Alfriston, UK, 011 44 132 387 0777, email@example.com.
All paintings: Andrew Blackman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fairlight (a house this idyllic has to have a name) oozes a relaxed elegance. The 17th-century farmhouse was built with local sandstone and clay roof tiles. "I love the local aspect of living here," says Richard. "That's something I didn't have when living in London."
Paisleys, florals, and stripes harmoniously join forces in the drawing room.
"These rooms aren't necessarily about individual pieces," says textile designer Richard Smith. "They're about the overall atmosphere. Sitting around a fire with your friends and looking out at the sea-it's very cozy."
Blue-and-white porcelain, a Moroccan lantern, and chairs covered in a new linen designed by Richard become powerful partners in the high-traffic kitchen.
Thanks to its proportions, an antique map becomes the focal point in Andrew's office.
Richard peruses patterns for his newest No. 9 Thompson collection.
Richard designed the handwoven silk tablecloth in the ethereal dining room.
A pretty floral palette pops against black-painted floors in the guest bedroom, nicknamed the "Dead Salmon" bedroom for the Farrow & Ball paint on the walls.
Seaside sunlight illuminates a corner nook in the bedroom.
An upholstered screen links the master bath to the adjoining bedroom, where the stripe is used in the bed linens.