A creative couple found the perfect spot for their home – and their boutique – in the very centre of Hastings
In a first for all the many (lovely) houses I have written about for this magazine, my visit to Shelley Kenton-Cooper’s five-storey Georgian dwelling resulted not only in the notes for this article, but also a fabulous new dress.
When Shelley opened her front door wearing a shocking pink broderie Anglaise tiered maxi frock, all thoughts of interiors fled, to be replaced with asking “Where can I get one of those…?” “In the shop,” said Shelley, nodding to the right, where her boutique Flot & Jetsam is located, on the ground floor level of the house.
It’s in central Hastings – the bit between the established Old Town and so-cool St Leonards – in a new up and coming area, which has been rebranded the ‘Trinity triangle’, in reference to the three roads that surround Trinity Church.
As well as the lovely old shopfronts, this little pocket, with the pointy end of the triangle meeting the seafront, boasts some of the most interesting buildings in the whole combined town. There’s the splendid Victorian library, with its lobby mosaic of the Bayeux Tapestry, and the original Observer newspaper building, with a splendid moulded terracotta frontage, which houses Dyke & Dean homewares (they have the best light switches I’ve ever seen).
Shelley’s shop, Flot & Jetsam, is right opposite, selling a mix of bright, witty clothes (like my new dress) and quirky homewares. This is Shelley’s permanent shop, but we first met when I bought a jumper from her at a Wealden Times Midwinter Fair – so, as a reader of this magazine, you might have come across her too.
I next encountered Shelley in St Leonards, at an auction of artworks in aid of funds for Ukraine, and was so impressed by the array of wonderfully vivid paintings she bought, I asked her if she has a house as appealing as her taste in art and the clothes she sells…
The answer is a resounding yes. So, how did they come to find this gem in the still-emerging quarter of Hastings?
Shelley, husband Justin and their daughter started off renting in St Leonards – and came there by a more circuitous route than most newbies in the seaside town, who usually slide straight down from London (and have so earned the nickname DFLs – Down From London). This family are more interesting OFSs – Over From Somerset.
“We left London when I was expecting our daughter,” says Shelley. “And lived in Frome and then Bruton for 20 years. But in our early days together, when we were living in a shared house in London, Justin and I would come down to Hastings at weekends and go to dances in the ballroom on the pier. So we already knew it and when our daughter went to uni, we decided to move to here.
“We’d had enough of landlocked country living and wanted a massive change. We used to live in Camden, which was so colourful and vibrant and we wanted that again.”
So that was a more roundabout version of the usual move-to-Hastings story, but then comes a theme common to so many houses featured in these pages – the lucky chance that leads to finding the perfect place. “We were renting in St Leonards’ lovely Shepherd Street, looking for a house to buy and for shop premises – I’d had homewares shops in Frome and Warminster and I wanted to open another one in Hastings.
“Then our landlord told us he was doing a project in this area, which he thought would be right for us – it was this building. The moment we saw it we knew it was the one.
“He had to get rid of a lot of asbestos and convert it back into one dwelling from flats, but the Georgian bones and high ceilings were all here – and the corner window with a view right down the street to the sea.”
And of course, the shop was already right there too – with no commute to work. Saving a visit to that tempting emporium for after looking at the house, I head up the stairs with Shelley (and Sailor, the adorable Affenpinscher) and at the first landing the tone of the place is set – with the biggest banana plant I’ve ever seen, tucked in the corner, in front of an artwork as vivid as the ones I watched Shelley bid for.
Opposite that is the door to an outside terrace, with a large board propped against the wall, decorated with very cool urban graffiti. “It’s by a Mexican artist, called Pedro,” says Shelley. “He also did the metal shutters that goes over the shop window at night.”
Which reminds me that I’ve seen them and they fit perfectly with the very cool Gotham Alley bar, opposite, which is entered via a grafittied passageway. It’s all very Brooklyn.
Back on the landing it’s through to the kitchen, a simple, white space, with black accents, greatly enhanced by the vivid art, with bright graphic works on every wall. “We let the developer put the kitchen in,” says Shelley. “We just told him we wanted white, with a modern look, without wall cupboards. It looks much bigger that way. We’ve added the breakfast bar and another shelf.”
There is also a wall with floor-to-ceiling cupboards which is the modern solution to not having those space-invading over-counter wall cupboards, which look so dated. Also giving it a fresh contemporary feel, the fridge is black.
From here, we head back out onto the landing, past the banana plant and I see the painting it’s nearly covering is a technicolour collage of old film stills by Hastings artist, Tiff McGinnis, also known as ‘Grande Dame’. “We like to support local artists,” says Shelley.
Then it’s on into the ‘wow’ space, the amazing sitting/dining room, with windows on three sides – the middle of which, on the corner, looks straight down the street to the sea. With high ceilings and light pouring in and bouncing off the while walls, it’s very impressive.
The couple’s creative flair – Shelley travelled around the world as Senior Creative Director of Vidal Sassoon for many years and Justin is a packaging designer – jumps out here, with yellow features making the eye dance around the room.
There are four egg-yolk yellow dining chairs at the contemporary white table, a yellow lampshade to the side, artworks with yellow themes on three walls, a bright yellow plastic gnome and two yellow velvet sofas. “We saw this Habitat sofa and it was so great I said, ‘Let’s get two…’,” says Shelley. “I’m so glad we did that.”
What I particularly like about these two brilliantly bold sofas, is that they’re not pushed against the walls, but are placed in the middle of the room, creating the sense of different ‘areas’. It articulates the space, making it look even bigger.
The two leather club chairs are from Laura Ashley, but a lovely mid-century sideboard has a more unusual provenance – Hastings dump. “They have a little area with things to sell,” says Shelley. “It was £10. I restored it, with a light sanding with very fine zero-grade wire wool and teak oil. I have done furniture restoration before, so I knew what to do.” The marble fireplace was also restored.
There are more amazing artworks on every wall – many of them by Hastings’ artists, others by painters in Cornwall they have collected for many years, from galleries they have grown relationships with.
It’s clear that for this family art isn’t just something pretty for the wall, but a serious commitment and the extent of the collection, plus Shelley’s vases by the very collectable German brand, Scheurich, gives the room a gallery feel.
But while there’s a lot to look at, it doesn’t feel busy. This is partly the cool effect of the white plantation shutters, which come just halfway up the windows, allowing the light to pour in above, but also the scale of three huge old gold French mirrors – “bought in Rye, we’ve had them for years” – and a giant Anglepoise-style lamp.
Having these oversized pieces somehow ‘calms’ the space. Shelley said her use of large-scale objects was inspired by legendary decorator Nicky Haslam and features again in two huge Noguchi-style lantern-look paper lampshades, from Hay. “They aren’t cheap, but they are worth it,” says Shelley. “They soften the light and at night you can see them glowing from the street.”
And talking of the streets outside, I wonder whether it ever gets noisy at night, living in such a central part of town, with at least two of the best bars in Hastings within yards of their front door. “It’s very quiet, apart from the seagulls,” says Shelley, “except on Friday and Saturday evenings when it can get a bit raucous, but double glazing keeps the worst of the noise out.”
From here we head up stairs, past Justin’s home office and another flight up of the lovely restored staircase, leading to the master bedroom and a spare room, to the master bedroom, which has the corner space over the sitting room, with the view down to the sea.
Like the rest of the house, the main colour in here is white – walls, ceilings, a bank of built-in wardrobes, a stretch of drawer units and another of those huge paper lampshades – lifted with thematic notes of pink and brightened up by two vivid bullfight posters over the bed, a present from when Shelley lived in LA. “We wanted it to be completely calm and simple in here,” she says. “We’ve got enough going on in the other rooms.”
With the tour of the house complete, it was time to head back down to the ground floor and the marvellous shop, where I snapped up a dress like Shelley’s in vivid green – and drooled over all the other merchandise.
There is jewellery by Julie Tucker-Williams – who is a Wealden Times fair regular – and clothes from Brighton-based label Sugar Hill and Religion, from near Lewes. Greetings cards are made in St Leonards and, apart from some Moroccan hand-painted enamelware, the most far-flung supplier sends printed sweatshirts from Wales. This proximity is no accident. “I want to sell things that are locally sourced, not stuff that’s come from China,” says Shelley. “I want to bring into the town clothes that are about prolonged fashion, things that will last. Not fast fashion. I want people to wear my dresses for years to come.”
Having just put my beautiful green dress away until next summer, after wearing it many times and always receiving compliments, I can guarantee that is going to happen.
Shelley will be bringing Flot & Jetsam to this month’s Wealden Times Midwinter Fair, from 17-19 November at The Hop Farm. Book your tickets online at wealdentimes-fair.co.uk. Find out more about the shop at flotandjetsam.com
Luke Frost lukefroststudio.com
Mary Ford maryford.co.uk
Melanie Laslett laslettengland.com
Michelle Mildenhall michellemildenhall.com
Sara Pope sarapopeart.com
Tiff McGinnis grandedame.co.uk
Words: Maggie Alderson Photographs: David Merewether Styling: Holly Levett
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