A former shop in Horsham has been given a complete makeover by creative couple Calum and Jen

No one wanted to buy it,” Jen says of the beautiful period home in Horsham that she and husband Calum have lived in for the last ten years. “It was built in 1911 as a dairy shop and stayed as a shop until quite recently. The front was the shop and then behind it was all divided into smaller rooms.

“There was a wall by the stairs,” says Jen, “and a wall across the sitting room and dining room. We opened it all out and put in the arches.” The couple lived in the small front room – rechristened the bar – while the structural work was done. “It was so dusty,” she laughs.“The ceilings had to come down as well as the walls, so it was a huge mess.” It is now a huge space, no trace of the division between shop front and back rooms detectable, although they did have to re-lay the floorboards on the ground floor to make them fit the space properly.

There are arches and splendid pillars where the walls once were. “I wanted the arches,” says Jen, “and Calum wanted the pillars, so we went over the top and had both.” Everything is painted dark grey – in the style of the queen of darkness, Abigail Ahern – that includes the plasterwork, radiators and fire surrounds. “So much easier to paint that way,” remarks Calum, “you don’t have to worry about the edges, and there’s no fiddly cutting in to do.” The colour is Bowler Hat by Dulux. “If you can’t get hold of it,” says Jen, “the nearest colour is Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe.” There is a grand and rather theatrical air here, the dark colour adding another layer to the drama. “The guy who did the plasterwork and pillars works in film,” Calum explains. 

They were determined to have a large island unit in the kitchen, but were told that there wasn’t room, but Calum was undaunted. “The carpenter said this won’t work, but I drew it out on paper.” The bespoke unit they chose – with a worksurface in quartz from Crown Imperial kitchens, creates more room around the edges because it is curved and so it works well. They have also borrowed some space from the adjacent units, which are much slimmer than standard kitchen cupboards – it’s like a slight of hand, conjuring a more manoeuvrable kitchen.  They also chose to put the hob within the island, which makes a more sociable cooking area. This is a friendly space – Calum and Jen are keen on entertaining, something that becomes clear as you move through the house – there’s a bar, or drinks corner in nearly every room.

The walls in the kitchen area are Marmorino, a type of fine plaster made from marble and limestone applied in layers until it turns to stone and then can be either left in a matt finish or polished to a sheen to look like marble – but without the expense or the weight. Marmorino works especially well in damp spaces like bathrooms where you might have up to 20 layers. “It means that you don’t really need a splash-back,” says Calum, “as it’s completely waterproof.”

Large ferns, hardy palms and bamboo give the garden a distinctly tropical feel, and were planted to provide a secluded and soothing escape – and make another ideal space for entertaining. The original estate agent’s details for the property show what an amazing transformation this couple have achieved out here. “It was completely open,” Jen explains, “with really low walls and no plants at all, just a patch of grass. We felt very exposed. The first thing Calum did was to build the pergola at the end.” Jen’s father helped Calum to make an outdoor kitchen too, resourcefully up-cycled from leftover wood. Suitably jungly and hardwearing teak root bar stools by Coach House Surrey add to the exotic feel.

The extension, once the shop’s uninspiring storeroom and toilet area, has been up-cycled – first into a gym and now into an atmospheric garden room, complete with bifold doors opening out into a small courtyard. Surrounded by bamboo screening this brings instant height and acts as a barrier from the road beyond. “I like the sound it makes, it’s very calming,” says Jen. The jungle feel continues inside with a mural by Avalana Design. “It came in four pieces of wallpaper that had to line up exactly,” Jen grimaces, as I search in vain for any seams. The other walls and the ceiling are painted in chalky finish Rust-Oleum paint, layered on, first with a roller and then with a brush, to give a textured finish – the effect is rustic, like that of brushed concrete or rough plaster, creating a weathered outdoorsy look. With the doors opened to their full extent, this is an inside-out space, inspired by their honeymoon in Costa Rica, where “there are no doors or walls, it’s all outside,” Jen says wistfully.

What was once the old shop toilet is now a smart shower and laundry room, the washing machine and dryer are cleverly concealed behind rattan panels. “These were a headboard for a bed from H&M,” she says adding, “we used a similar rattan bedside a table front to hide the gas meter.”

This creative couple have used their skills to up-cycle and repurpose materials inside the main living areas of the house too. Rustic reclaimed wood has been used to make shelves and a wine store in the kitchen, Jen distressed Calum’s old TV stand, allowing it a second life by painting it with chalk paint. She is very adept at spotting things to fit a room theme, and often uses family pieces, like the antique teal sofa that belonged to Calum’s mum – a wedding gift from his father to his mother. She has found some great bargains on eBay too, including an oxblood leather sofa and chair now in residence in the front room and some bone inlay furniture originally from Graham & Green. The antique dining table was bought for £6 at Denhams auction house.

The extension opens straight into the courtyard garden. A mural by Avalana Design runs the length of the back wall, with the others painted in chalky finish Rust-Oleum paint, giving a textured finish

“I have always liked period features and period properties,” she says. “I really enjoy mixing the old with the new. And I’m not too girly – I’ve probably got more of a masculine taste. The moody colours are definitely influenced by Abigail Ahern. I like her eclectic designs and her use of texture. I like to do the rooms dark, especially where there are high ceilings to make shadows. It’s really cosy too, when it’s dark outside. Like a members club.”

Accent colours work really well against dark backgrounds, the bright tones of teal and pink lighten the mood. There is warmth in the dark wall colour, making the atmosphere intimate, rather than gloomy and oppressive.

Jen has been clever with the window treatment in the living room, creating a means of keeping privacy – letting in the light, but keeping with the theme of the room, she has mixed voile curtains with plain grey – voile across the whole window would have been too much white in the room.

The artistic trait is strong on both sides of this family. Many of the pictures adorning the living room were painted by Calum’s mother, the artist Lynn MacLeay; her delicate and vibrant paintings of beetles and plants adding a rich layer of interest and fitting perfectly into the theme.

There’s a distinctly wordly feel in the dining room area, where the accents are rattan, large ferns and the intricate bone inlay sideboard, originally from Graham & Green, that Jen bought for a snip on eBay.

Upstairs there’s a spacious landing and a surprise. One of the bedrooms has been turned into an opulent cinema room, complete with a mini bar, bespoke chairs and ottomans that can double up as a sofa or beds. These exactly match the colour on the walls, it is a very inviting and comfortable looking room. “Yes, we spent a lot of time in here during lockdown,” Jen laughs.

Another of the bedrooms has been turned into a dream dressing room, complete with wall to ceiling cupboards. “They were here already, so we just took the doors off and painted them.” The room is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Vardo, its rich turquoise providing a cool yet vibrant backdrop to the packed, but neatly organised, open-fronted wardrobes. Jen managed to find a mirrored dressing table that perfectly matches the mirror she found once in Brighton. “You have to be on the lookout for things – and have patience.”

More useful cupboards were already in place in the guest bedroom, a light and airy room, thanks to the double aspect window. Dead Salmon, that iconic colour from Farrow & Ball provides a warm, neutral pinky-brown background and adds to the slightly bohemian feel in here. This room boasts an ensuite, although at one point the couple thought about knocking it through and incorporating it into the main bathroom. “We originally wanted a roll-top bath, but the one we found works with the size of the bathroom, so we’ve kept it as two separate rooms, which is much better for guests.”

They chose another iconic Farrow & Ball colour in the master bedroom, Inchyra Blue, its inky teal tones contrasting beautifully with the feature wallpaper panels – Butterfly Garden from Osborne & Little. “They came in 3m long drops,” says Jen, “really annoying as the most colourful butterflies are at the bottom.”

Their bed, with its three layers of different coloured walnut inlays was spotted by Jen on an interiors programme, and true to form, she managed to track it down online. Like the rest of the house, this room is an eclectic mix of antique finds, heirlooms and up-cycling, mixed in with online and high street purchases – the wall light is from H&M, bedspread Hello Fern and the bedside tables are from Zara Home.

Back downstairs and into what was once part of the shop front – but is now the bar room – Jen and Calum’s love of travel has been unleashed in decor form. Here gentlemen’s club meets Africa, en route to the Far East, with a rosewood ‘travel’ bar that was once part of an actual bar in a large pub.

“We work best when we know the theme,” says Jen. “We wanted this gentlemen’s club/travel bar look – and the places we’ve seen and hotels we’ve stayed in have inspired us. I use mood boards to help piece things together. It’s an eclectic style, so I’m constantly looking for things to fit.” She offers some sound and encouraging interior advice: “Don’t be scared to mix different styles from different eras, to use textures and shapes for contrast. Everything pops against dark colours, but people get scared. It’s only paint. There’s nothing wrong with showing personality, so go with your gut feeling – if you’re unsure, then start small or in one area.” 

It’s clear that through their ingenuity, attention to detail and sheer hard work, this couple have achieved a remarkable transformation here and given this period home a whole new lease of life. Inspired by their travel memories of far flung places, they have managed to transport the magic of their travels and have created an alluring and secluded paradise in the sober suburbs of Sussex.

Large ferns, hardy palms and bamboo give the garden a distinctly tropical feel, whilst providing some privacy. Calum built a pergola at the end, along with an outdoor kitchen

Address Book:

To find our more about Jen’s interior projects, see Instagram @jenniemacleayinteriors

Avalana Design avalanadesign.co.uk 

Coach House Surrey coachhousesurrey.co.uk 

Crown Imperial crown-imperial.co.uk

Denhams Auctioneers denhams.com

Words: Jo Arnell  Photographs: David Merewether  Styling: Holly Levett

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