With a skilled eye for uniting inside with out, interior designer Lisa Evans has made a High Weald cottage into a sophisticated home.
Using nature as an inspiration for interior design is appealing; many of us are drawn to prints that use flowers, birds and other natural motifs. We make patterns with them, colour schemes and artworks, but interiors expert Lisa Evans is inspired by the natural world in a textured, raw and earthier way. A visit to her house in the exquisitely pretty village of Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, becomes an immersion into a sensual world of texture, scent and elemental forms.
Happily for me, this all starts in the garden. We are sitting in Lisa’s idyllic home office space, built at the bottom of her garden and looking back along a central brick and stone patch to the house. The garden building helps to enclose the outside space, the idea being to make it feel like another room.
“All you would need is a sliding glass roof over the top,” laughs Lisa.
The garden was designed by Bonnie Lamont and the planting is glorious; there’s a demurely softening froth of Nepeta, Campanula and Cosmos in the borders on either side of the paving, punctuated by stately foxgloves, bay lollipops and low yew mounds. The colour scheme is elegant – blues, whites and cream, all set off by soothing deep green foliage.
“I wanted a low maintenance and pretty space,” explains Lisa. “I put together a mood board and Bonnie and I came up with an initial plan – and then my builder and I put it all together.”
The view from the garden room takes in the whole garden and continues through the house right to the front door. “It was very important for there to be a one line of sight all the way through,” says Lisa.
The house is as open plan as possible and the bi-fold kitchen doors open right out and bring the garden in. “This space is a major part of the house and yes, it is another room, really. I sit at the kitchen table and look out onto it all year round.”
This is where the structural evergreens and garden features really come into play. There are some ingenious touches too, not least the clever use of storage – for bins and garden equipment that disappear under a living roof of catmint and Euphorbia.
An old rustic verdigris copper kettle acts as a central planter in the middle of the garden, contrasting beautifully with a more modern rusted steel fire bowl, which sits on a plinth near the garden room. This was a bargain of a find from Homebase.
“I love the texture of rust, and the dark greens of foliage – the earthy colours,” says Lisa. “And the juxtapositions – the old copper kettle planter next to a raw modern fire bowl, old and new should mix together. You don’t have to have all new, or all old – that can be too contrived.”
Lisa owns and runs Ensor Interior Design with showrooms in both Frant and Cuckfield. She bought her cottage, just down the road from the showroom, when she acquired the business in 2016.
“I wanted to be near. I did consider living above the showroom, but I just love looking out onto the garden. Frant is a fabulous place to live. Our showroom overlooks the church and this house is very near, so it was ideal.”
Lisa is very involved in the day-to-day running of the showrooms and strives to make them enticing to her clients. “We create areas within the showroom in order to present our work. People can come in to buy gifts, fabrics, anything that we can supply.
“We have an appointment system for the pattern room, as we need to be able to give the clients our undivided and individual attention. We do not charge a design fee, any charge is covered by what we sell. Everything is made by hand in the workroom, so it’s all bespoke. For instance, the sofa bed in the chalet is a one off. All sofa beds are made to order, to whatever size you want.”
Once the house was bought, Lisa lived with the original layout for a year, getting the feel of it, planning the work and instructing an architect.
“When I moved in, there was a little galley kitchen and a separate living area, it was cramped to say the least. So I completely refurbished, putting in new plumbing and electrics. There is underfloor heating. There’s no space in the house for radiators. We used a massive amount of concrete in the living area, put in underfloor heating, then insulated all the walls and added a new front door. Now it’s really cosy.”
Dear reader, you may want to rush past this next sentence if the work on your house is dragging, because the speed of this refurbishment was fast.
“My builder Neil Griffin did the house in three months,” Lisa smiles. “He also made the chalet and did all the hard landscaping in the garden. He’s even been in today to wash the windows. It’s been fantastic. He and his team have done everything.”
A good builder is invaluable, but an experienced and knowledgeable client is just as vital. “I’m decisive.” Lisa says. “I know what I like. Neil suggested I had a different floor, but I said I’d rather wait.”
The floor is from Bailey Wighton in Tunbridge Wells. “It has grey and some hints of yellow. The colour and texture was perfect.” The company also supplied and fitted all the carpets in the house.
As you would expect from her profession, Lisa has a strong sense of colour and texture and both are of paramount importance in a scheme. A case in point is her choice of colour for the interior walls – the same one has been used throughout. This has the effect of unifying and enlarging the spaces, providing a backdrop and soothing the senses.
“I wanted it to be dark with elements of green,” she explains. “l chose Tarlatan from the Paint and Paper Library. I’ve used it before so knew how it would look. It’s important to have warmer colours when using the greys; blue-grey is cold and needs mixing with ochre elements to warm it.”
Similar colours have been used for the curtains and the soft furnishings, so the whole cottage is luxuriously enveloped in warm grey. “I like really thick fabric,” she says. “I like the strength and the strong lines. No fuss, I’m quite direct.”
If you’re looking for patterns and prints here, you will have to look very hard. “It’s a masculine look,” she says. “A statement look. You can create detail with contrasting bands of colour – it doesn’t have to be pattern.”
Remarkably, the only bits of pattern in the entire house are the timorous beasties featured on the cushions in the sitting room and the chalet – and upstairs in the back bedroom there are some cushions covered with a delicate Mark Alexander fabric. “These are the prettiest things in the house,” she laughs.
The success of a scheme ultimately lies in the detail and this is evident in Lisa’s business life at Ensor Interior Design too, where curtain making is a speciality.
“Attention to detail and experience is key. You can be the best designer in the world and something will happen that you’re not prepared for.” Knowledge and experience keep things on track, so to speak.
“Before I bought the business from Mary Ensor I worked very closely with her for eight years. She’s passed on so many tricks with fabric that the girls have worked out over all their years here – how not to show the seam, balancing the curtains, joining up the pattern.
“We prefer to do lined and interlined curtains to get an elegant look. All the blinds have blackout linings, otherwise light shows through the fabric when it’s against the window – and then you can’t see the pattern.”
The curtains in the garden room are a case in point. They have been lined with a complementary fabric, rather than curtain lining. “This is important,” explains Lisa. “It means that I’m not looking at the lining from the outside when the curtains are drawn.”
Throughout the house there’s evidence of Lisa’s skill as a designer and also of her keen eye for a find. There’s a fabulous pumpkin lamp base from Porta Romana and a beautiful contemporary painting by the artist Liesha Yaz that epitomises Lisa’s love of nature and its colours.
“I love shopping and sourcing items,” she says, and will often buy several pieces from the same place. She found the large oil portraits and several other items at Phoenix Antiques.
“I think you should have bigger things – and less of them,” she says, indicating the huge circular Slovakian railway mirror in the sitting room. “I love this mirror. It reflects the light, but also reflects the other areas and the rust within the glass reflects the textures of the house, the juxtapositions of rough with smooth, old with new.”
The basin cupboard in the bathroom is an old Indian cupboard, its rough rustic patina rubbing along nicely against the smooth sleekness in the rest of the room. More contrasts of old and new are found throughout the cottage. In the master bedroom, for instance, there’s a new headboard, but there’s also an old chair covered with a loose cover made from old grain sacks.
“I always try to update things rather than discard them – if you have a good quality sofa you can change the covers, add loose covers, new cushions and refresh the look.”
Interior design is an art that takes time, knowledge, a sense of place and an understanding of how people use their living space. To be successful in the field takes determination, flair and an ability to translate and guide the tastes of a client in order to help them find their individual home style and deliver a unique and appealing interior.
To this end Lisa’s own house is often used as a set for Ensor’s products and is featured in their catalogues. But this is no set; it is a living, breathing reminder of all that is good in local interior design and furnishing. And for this hardworking interiors expert, above all else, it is a much loved, comfortable and happy home.
Looking from the kitchen out into the garden
The sofa in the sitting room was made by the workshop at Ensor Interior Design
The log box made out of an old shell casing is from Ensor
The convex mirror is from a Slovakian railway station
Candles from Ensor Interiors
The deconstructed chair in the drawing room is made by Ensor
The pumpkin lamp base is from Porta Romana, the wicker wreath is from Ensor. The seed pod is a holiday memento
The metal chest of drawers, lamps and finials are all from Ensor. The flour bin and elephants are antique finds
The master bedroom is the only room in the house where Lisa used a different paint colour – Squid Ink by Paint and Paper Library
This chair, in the master bedroom is covered with a loose cover made from old grain sacks. The portrait of a boy and the double height chest of drawers were antique finds
The basin rests on an old Indian cupboard from Ensor. The oil-rubbed bronze taps and shower fittings are from The Watermark Collection
An antique painted cupboard from Ensor acts as a bedside table in the guest bedroom
The sofa bed in the garden chalet is a one-off made by Ensor Interior Design. The fabric on the cushions is by Timorous Beasties, from Ensor
Looking from the garden into the chalet sitting room and cloakroom
Everyone enjoys a bit of sun in the garden
The garden was designed by Bonnie Lamont
The rusted steel fire bowl was an antique find
Handy herbs for the nearby kitchen
The bug house encourages insect life into the garden
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