Former Fashion Director turned upholsterer, Sadie Dorchester takes Antonia Methuen on a tour of the interior of her spacious Victorian terrace, the gorgeous result of a seven-year renovation project
Like many people who move to Hastings, Sadie Dorchester and her family were only intending to stay for a few months. Sadie and her husband had spent nine years living in South Africa. In 2011 they made the decision to return to the UK with their two young children. “We rented a house as we had family nearby, thinking we would end up in Brighton or Hove, but in the end we really liked it and so we decided to put our new roots in Hastings instead,” explains Sadie.
We are sitting at the well-loved pine table in her kitchen, swathed in the sunshine pouring through the large Crittall-style picture window at the far end of the room. Sadie is explaining the seven-year renovation and decoration process that has transformed a large unloved Victorian terraced house into her stunning family home. “We were lucky, as we were renting a house a few doors down when we first arrived. So when we bought this place, and were gutting it from top to bottom, I was able to easily visualise each room and what to do with it, as I was living in the blueprint of the same space just a few doors down!”
Sadie decided the easiest thing to do, due to the size and scope of the renovation, was to strip and re-plaster the walls and strip the floors across the entire house and then paint all the walls and the stairs white. She could then move her young family in and begin to add colour and personality without any pressure. Pregnant with her third child, moving into the new house was a priority for the family, but a new baby meant that Sadie’s interior design ideas had to be put on hold for a few years whilst she focused on being a mum. “I had been very sick in South Africa, and had to stop work having contracted bacterial meningitis when my second child was very young. I wanted to focus on family life after moving back from South Africa.”
Slowly taking her time, Sadie eventually began to add her unique style and eye for design to the house. “The kitchen and garden renovation was finished three years ago,” says Sadie. “At the back of the house was a loo, a utility room and the kitchen. It all felt very removed from the rest of the house as well as from the garden. It was that very old fashioned sort of layout where everything was hidden away. Also the house is on a hill so we had to have the garden terraced, to push it back from the house and give us more light and space at the back and a better working garden. We then opened up the whole area around the old kitchen, knocking it all through and added the large window at the back to flood the new room with sunlight. I really wanted a kitchen that could be the heart of the home, where we could all eat and live as a family. It’s always tricky trying to make a Victorian house work in a modern way to suit our lifestyle, but I think we have achieved it now.”
The cabinet work and cupboards have all been painted in a bright grass green, Sadie’s favourite colour, with black accent walls around the range cooker and the picture window. “I wanted an island but I knew that in the space we had available, any off-the-shelf kitchen wouldn’t work. There are also very few right-angles in this house, everything runs off, so we had to have the kitchen hand-made.” The expense was however entirely worth it, as all the cupboards seem to disappear, with the bright green echoing the garden outside, allowing the room to be more like the family entertaining and living space that Sadie had desired, than a functional and utilitarian kitchen.
“I love sourcing things,” says Sadie. “So much of the furniture and accessories in the house I found on Ebay or in local antique shops. The Hastings Antique Centre on Norman Road is one of my go-to places. I also love mixing the old with the new.” In the kitchen – where the vintage pine table and kitchen chairs and armchair sit next to slick contemporary Philippe Starck dining chairs, Carrera marble worktops and three large industrial BTC lights – and next door in the dining room, the same mix and match style continues. The colour palette is also in tonal greens, like the kitchen, this time with accents of Farrow & Ball Nearly Black. A wall papered in House of Hackney Palmeral gives the room a fashionable edge. Sadie has picked up an apricot colour in a piece of artwork by local artist John Lipsham and dotted it around the room in the Love Frankie lampshade on the standard lamp, the leather upholstered armchair that is also mimicked in the piano and stool. A stunning etched glass light fitting, comprising five glass baubles hangs over the dining table. “I wanted a light like this for ages. Then one day I popped into a local shop and there it was!” says Sadie. “I had to get the wiring re-done to make the drops longer, but it was exactly what I had imagined.”
Just like all the other rooms in the house, light floods in to every room. A set of glazed double doors lead into the garden to the rear of the house. Indeed the inside-outside conversation is apparent throughout the entire house that is blessed with views to the rear of the terraced private garden and to the front of the house over the leafy Alexandra Park. Sadie also keeps this theme flowing with the use of houseplants and flowers that are found in almost every room, from the bathroom to the bedrooms, the kitchen to the living rooms.
The dining room leads directly into the large family sitting room. Sadie explains that she uses the designer Abigail Ahern’s 60/30/10 colour ratio in each room. Inspired by the William Morris fabric on an armchair, the room follows the perfect ratio of Farrow & Ball Drawing Room Blue on the walls, blue accessories and upholstery, Farrow & Ball Old White on the oppositional walls, and a soft pink as the accent. Also applying her love of mixing old and new, Sadie re-upholstered an antique chaise in soft pink velvet which she trimmed herself. A contemporary sofa that the family brought back from South Africa sits under a Cameron Design sculptural lampshade. “I bought that lampshade when the designers had just launched at London Design Week. They are huge now, but back then they drove all the way down from Camden and installed it themselves!” Artwork on the walls were gathered during the family’s travels in South Africa as well as from Zimbabwe and other pieces from closer to home.
Although Sadie had been a high-flying Fashion Director back in South Africa, on her return to the UK she decided she wanted to follow a less pressurised career path. With three young children and a new home, she didn’t want to return to commuting up to the city. She explains how her new career blossomed. “My former neighbour was a surface print designer and so we decided to collaborate on repurposing some old chairs with her fabrics. The only trouble was the cost of upholstery was taking up all our profit margin. I had always loved sewing, knitting and crochet, so I thought, why not try it myself, and so I decided to re-train as an upholsterer. I spent a year on a course in Shoreditch and then found myself in a basement in Tunbridge Wells working as an apprentice. I used to laugh when I looked at myself, working away for nothing after my life in fashion. How things had changed since South Africa!” However Sadie’s hard work paid off and over the past two years she has set up her own upholstery business, Sadie Dorchester, creating contemporary upholstered storage pieces and cushions inspired by artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich.
“It’s been great, having set down roots in Hastings I now feel my family are settled and I can begin to focus again on my career. The new business has taken over 18 months of experimentation, creating and developing designs, building a website (sadiedorchester.com) and attending retail fairs, but now I am really excited by the future. I want to develop the storage range and my designs and also look at possible collaborations and consultancy. I have started doing cushions as well, and I think the designs are strong and unique and really reflect my overall aesthetic. I would love to work on a hotel project for instance.”
Throughout the house, Sadie’s own designs are dotted around the rooms. Beautifully upholstered inside and out with her signature wool fabric in abstract patterns, strong colour combinations and bespoke feet, Sadie’s storage pieces provide the perfect combination of style and practicality. In the hallway and in each of the bedrooms, her boxes sit elegantly, working effortlessly with the different styles she has created within each space. From the hallway, where brass feet sit under a chic pink, cream and black design to her son’s top floor bedroom where the box of blues and greys sits under an explosion of abstracted shards of red and blue (inspired by a pet pygmy hedgehog and a splash of futurist graffiti). Within the other bedrooms, the boxes again add a contemporary touch. In Sadie’s own bedroom, with its palette of dark and light greys, golds and leather, there are two upholstered boxes in a range of contrasting colours, adding the perfect counter to the colours and textures she has curated within each room.
Sadie Dorchester took a blank white canvas and room-by-room, floor by floor, has transformed a vast Victorian house into a family home bubbling with character and life. From the bright green hand-made kitchen to the vast family bathroom, with her bespoke vanity unit (created from an eBay find sink, a metal trolley from Rusty’s Reclamation, some scaffolding boards and a chunk of slate).
Sadie’s unique eye for colour, shape, design and texture is apparent throughout. The blending of the old and the new, the neutral and the bold, the soft and the angular is also fully reflected in her own storage and cushion designs.
Hastings has provided a home and a sanctuary to the family and has in turn allowed Sadie the space and time not only to raise her young family, but also to develop her new career. It is a journey that I for one, cannot wait to see develop and perhaps stay in the first Sadie Dorchester interior designed hotel in the not-too-distant future.
Sadie’s storage pieces provide the perfect combination of style and practicality. Her designs are dotted around the rooms, beautifully upholstered inside and out with her signature wool fabric in abstract patterns, strong colour combinations and bespoke feetTEST
Sadie decided the easiest thing to do, due to the size and scope of the renovation, was to strip and re-plaster the walls and strip the floors across the entire house and then paint all the walls and the stairs white. She could then move her young family in and begin to add colour and personality without any pressure.TEST TEST
The family bathroom’s bespoke vanity unit was created from an eBay find sink, a metal trolley from Rusty’s Reclamation, some scaffolding boards and a chunk of slateTEST
A cluster of mismatched floral lampshades that Sadie found on notonthehighstreet.com hangs from the soaring ceiling in this peaceful bedroomTEST
A cluster of mismatched floral lampshades that Sadie found on notonthehighstreet.com hangs from the soaring ceiling in this peaceful bedroomTEST TEST
Sadie’s own bedroom is decorated in a palette of dark and light greys, golds and leatherTEST
Sadie’s own bedroom is decorated in a palette of dark and light greys, golds and leatherTEST
Houseplants and flowers are found in almost every room, from the bathroom to the bedrooms, the kitchen to the living roomsTEST
In the dining room, the colour palette is also in tonal greens, like the kitchen, and a dark slate grey. An accent wall in House of Hackney palm print wallpaper gives the room a fashionable edgeTEST
A stunning etched glass light fitting, comprising five glass baubles hangs over the dining table.TEST TEST
The family sitting roomTEST
The cabinet work and cupboards in the kitchen have all been painted in a bright grass green, Sadie’s favourite colour, with black accent walls around the range cooker and the picture windowTEST
Sadie’s storage pieces provide the perfect combination of style and practicality. Her designs are dotted around the rooms, beautifully upholstered inside and out with her signature wool fabric in abstract patterns, strong colour combinations and bespoke feet
- To find out more about Sadie Dorchester’s furniture designs and to speak to her about bespoke commissions, visit sadiedorchester.com
- Cameron Design camerondesignhouse.com
- The Hastings Antique Centre St Leonards 01424428561
- House of Hackney houseofhackney.com
- Love Frankie lovefrankie.com
- Rusty’s Reclamation Bexhill 07970349199
- words: Antonia Methuen
- pictures: David Merewether
- styling: Holly Levett
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