In a central, yet completely private, location in Tenterden, a creative couple have lavished their Grade II listed maisonette with colour and personality

We mortals are but dust and shadows,’ said the poet Horace, reminding us from long ago of our fleeting time on earth. The marks we make may remain, but if you live in a listed property, even these are fairly temporary, as there’s not much you’re allowed to do to alter the structure and features. The owners of this Grade II listed maisonette above a shop in the historic market town of Tenterden were aware, and actually very happy about, their property’s listed status, despite the obstacles.
“We were in Rolvenden before, but wanted to come somewhere more central,” says the owner. It’s hard to imagine anything more central than this high street location. “The shop downstairs was called Potters, which was owned by George Pope who married Barbara in later years. The shop moved to the other end of the high street after George died, and Barbara lived here for 70 years. So we renamed it Potter’s Cottage in their honour. Although George and Barbara are no longer here, we’re still friends with the family and they come to visit sometimes.” The last owners must have witnessed quite a transformation – the layout may be the same, but everything else in the interior has had a unique and glorious makeover.

“We thought we’d found a blank canvas,” she says, “but had to ask the council what we could and couldn’t do. A surveyor did come in and suggested replacing the ceilings, but we didn’t want to open it up and alter it. We are the custodians,” she adds, “we wanted to make it safe and comfortable, but to be sensitive to the age of the property. Henry VIII was supposed to have visited Tenterden in 1538 – not our home as far as we know though – the surveyors said at the time this was a hall house where meetings were held, with a central fire in the middle of the building at one time. There are not many Tudor façades left and it was weather-boarded at some stage. The wattle and daub ceilings are still the same,” she pauses and smiles, “it will be standing for many years after us.”
After a tricky start – due to hitches with the land registry, which meant that they couldn’t move in for twelve days and had to stay in a nearby hotel – they managed to move in, “despite the fact that the application to land registry has taken eighteen months to come through.”

There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms in the maisonette, but the layout is complicated. “We thought we were downsizing – that was the plan, but we ended up upsizing,” she laughs. Despite this, the couple have had to leave some of the furniture behind, because access has been an issue. “We lost two sofas,” she says, “but there was nowhere for them to go really. And the big granite work surface in the kitchen had to be sawn in half and re-installed.” Such is life with winding staircases, small doorways and low ceilings, but there was one advantage. “The walnut credenza had to be left here – the layout of the property meant it came up easily, but would not get out again. We like it – and it makes a great drinks cupboard.”
When they first arrived, every room was piled to the top with furniture. This was while they undertook important updating work, involving completely re-wiring and re-plumbing. This big and messy job involved lifting floorboards and surface mounting conduit with wires and pipes onto the walls, all made doubly difficult and uncomfortable because they moved in the November before last, at the start of a very cold winter, when temperatures at times went down to minus eight. “In the end the council came round and dropped us off a two ring electric cooker,” she remembers. Despite the freezing conditions and coping with all their furniture piled up to the ceilings under dust sheets, they managed to decorate the rooms and then eventually lay carpets, improving the insulation as they progressed. “It originally had an energy rating of G. Now it’s D, which is really good for a listed property.”

Living on a high street is interesting – and great fun looking out at the life going on below. Tenterden is not the noisiest of towns, but there is constant activity through the day as people visit the bustling pubs and shops, and then there’s the regular bell ringing practice in the church. There are more benefits too, like neighbouring a fantastic hardware store. “We love everything about where we live, and Webbs were brilliant and very helpful,” she says. “It was challenging to get people in to do the work though, because of the access issues and being on the high street, but in the end we found some really great people. I saw them working nearby. Charles from Blooflame plumbers was wonderful, as were Jason and Kane the apprentice. Our electrician was great too – Eddie from CEM Electrical Services. Local. Keeping it local is important.”
Sitting by the window at a lovely oak table, in a room that feels so established, it’s hard to believe that the renovation has only taken eighteen months. “We started at 8am every morning and treated it like a full time job. My husband is a carpenter by trade and made the oak table we’re sitting at from oak he found on the floor in the yard. He’s also made several other pieces of furniture and carved the oak box at the end of the bed in the hobbit bedroom upstairs. They were all made from things people threw out.”
Everything has been redecorated bar one small, but remarkable, square in a corner of the sitting room. This is a fragment of wallpapered wall from the eighteenth century, when this was a merchant’s shop. “From the days when you had to pay a tax to have wallpaper. I found the pattern in a museum – there were three different types and I knew we had the Emu one,” she smiles. “I’ve framed it and varnished it.”

Wallpaper makes a statement (thankfully it’s not a taxable luxury any more) but it can be very expensive and tricky to choose the right one. As we pass by the kitchen I spot a clever solution that avoids making a decision. “I loved so many of the designs and kept buying samples, so in the end I used all the samples together like découpage,” she says, pointing to a section of wall. “That way I can have a bit of all of them.” It’s a little like a wallpaper version of the ‘hall of fame’ she has made in the hallway filled with pictures of friends and family.
Wallpaper is used judiciously here – and a little can go a long way. Most of the rooms have been painted in the owner’s favourite colours – duck egg blue and dusky pink. It seems to work perfectly with the colour scheme in each of the rooms, belying the skill and eye for detail that has gone into choosing accessories and soft furnishings that magically mix well with either blue or pink. “I’ve always decorated and can see the potential – people either don’t have the insight or are a little scared.
“A lot of furniture we’ve had for a long time. Most of the curtains were made for two houses ago and the ones in the bedroom I’ve had for thirty years and had them taken up. The funny thing is that we had exactly the same tiles for our kitchen as these,” she says, pointing to the tiles in the kitchen. “The cupboards are good quality oak, they were in perfectly good condition so we just painted them. The base units are Farrow & Ball’s Apple Green and the top cupboards are in Chamomile.”

The pale blue backdrop in the main bedroom and adjoining bathroom is a perfect foil for the polished wooden furniture and oak beams. Pattern is restricted to the wallpapered wall behind the bed, resulting in a cool and dreamy atmosphere – a far cry from the cold and stark beginnings in this room where the couple spent much time huddled around an oil heater.
Above this room is the ‘snug’ – we are into the rafters here and snug is the word – this is definitely a room for sitting in, rather than standing, as the ceiling is incredibly low. An illusion of space has been created with a colourful mural of Lake Como at one end – “we go to Italy a lot” – the perspective is great too, as if we are looking out at the view over the lake.
There’s an opulent feel to the other sitting rooms in the maisonette, despite the fact that much of the furniture has been up-cycled and imaginatively repurposed, using richly patterned fabrics, velvet and thick carpets to create a luxury feel. The coffee table in the main one functions as a glass topped display cabinet. I’ve got everything in there – the children’s teeth, keepsakes and nick-nacks. I found it in a charity shop.”
The second sitting room is smaller and more intimate. A striking grey velvet cushion with an image of the late Queen takes pride of place, embellished by the owner with red jewelled detailing to match her red lips and to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Upstairs – and this is really the third floor – we are into the roof space again. There’s a sign on the stairs that reads ‘Hobbit Hole’ and as we wind our way up it’s not hard to imagine why this section is so named. It’s quirkily cosy up here, with cherubs floating among the clouds in the sloping blue of the bathroom – these were hand painted by local artist Sophie Dengate.
The impressive floral jardinières in the Hobbit bathroom – and many other items – came from Tara, who owns Rising Star in Tenterden. “I find things from charity and antique shops – and visits to the Wealden Times Fair. We are big fans of the Fair and always visit,” she says.

As I turn to leave I can’t help thinking that if Vivienne Westwood met Alice and they teamed up to decorate a house in Wonderland they might end up with something like this interior – a fabulously creative mix – surreal and at the same time eminently practical. This is a totally bespoke and captivating makeover, and a unique celebration of both the owners’ lives and that of their venerable home.

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