With her eclectic vintage style Susan Chester put her own mark on a Victorian terrace house – while allowing it to keep its own character
It never fails to amaze me, that while 26% of British houses are terraces – and the vast majority of them Victorian, built between 1840 and 1900 – every single one I have ever been into has its own specific atmosphere.
Susan Chester’s Victorian terrace house, in the Clive Vale area of Hastings, up the hill from the Old Town, certainly has lots of it. Atmosphere, individuality and character abound, with nothing here bought off-the-peg.
Everything in it was sourced by Susan from the wealth of junk emporia in the town, on eBay and from antique fairs and brocantes in England, France and Belgium, as well as all the unique items created by herself and her extended family.
Indeed, I first met Susan when perusing the treasures for sale in the lovely little shop she had in Courthouse Street, in Hastings Old Town. Taking in the interesting and appealing things she had chosen for Seapink, as it was called, and how well displayed they were, prompted me to ask her if she had a house as nice as her shop… It turns out she did.
Like pretty much all these terraced houses now, Susan’s has an extension at the back and a much bigger kitchen than the original set up, plus a fabulous new bathroom, in what was a bedroom, but what really struck me as she showed me round, was how much of the house’s own character was still there.
Not just in the ‘original features’, such as the ceiling cornices, bannisters and old door furniture, that we have all come to treasure – and it certainly isn’t a shrine to Victoriana – but this house somehow has a mood that feels very much in keeping with its origins, in the 1880s.
Taking me through to the kitchen, Susan explained the changes she made. “There was a galley kitchen in a flat-roofed extension,” she says. “It was very dark.”
Susan replaced that dreary corner with a bright new extension with a pitched roof and a tongue-and-groove ceiling, which she uses as a dining area. Gazing down through that vista of fresh white from the kitchen and you have a blueprint for the whole house. A mix of clever new ideas, with lovely old things.
The three pendant lights over the table have shades made from old metal jelly moulds. The seating round the dining table is made up of a church pew and church chairs and at the end of the space, by a picture window looking over the back garden – also accessorised with vintage finds – is a lovely Victorian slipper chair, a £40 find in Hastings Old Town.
An old watering can sits under a marble-topped console table and there are vintage floral prints on the walls, all setting the scene for the segue to the outside space.
Looking through the window I see there is a lovely summer house at the end of the garden and I’m start to imagine the very pleasant afternoons that could be spent in it, but Susan explains – it’s used as storage for her fabric collection.
This is a lifelong passion, which led her to study for a BA(Hons) in textile design, specialising in prints for interiors fabrics, at Winchester Art College, training she uses now for projects around her own home – and plans to get back to, ere long, in a more serious way (of which more, later).
Stepping back into the kitchen, which is arranged around a central island, Susan explains how she reorganised the space when she bought the house 13 years ago. “The hall corridor led to a downstairs loo and a huge cupboard, so I made it into a laundry cupboard on one side and a pantry on the other, with blackboard paint on the doors.”
The whole kitchen is on a monochrome theme, with charcoal grey cabinets – from Howdens – below and a variety of fittings on the walls, from various interesting sources.
The white wall cupboards with glass doors are the upper parts of two dressers, which Susan bifurcated, very cleverly. “The wall cupboard and central island are both made from two old dressers. I put the two drawer sections back to back to make the island and the upper parts are on the wall. I had glass put in the panels of the cupboard doors to display my collections of glassware, china and silver-topped cut glass jam pots.”
A new wooden worktop sits atop the drawer sections, bringing them together and extending the island out at one end to create a counter, where two black-painted bar stools are pulled up. Other kitchen storage includes an old white meat safe, sitting on the counter, with a lovely unit of vintage industrial drawers, painted black, on the wall above it.
The kitchen’s smart wooden floor is another very cleverly sourced idea. “It’s the old gym floor from Rye College school. The stripes of yellow and red are from the court markings. I deliberately didn’t have them matched up.”
Heading from the kitchen to the front of the house, the pleasantly time-paused Victorian atmosphere (Miss Havisham, but without the cobwebs) gets stronger. The floorboards are bare and delightfully beaten up, paint-splattered in places, heading up the stairs with a very characterful central ‘runner’ of bare wood, where carpet would once have been.
The sitting room has a real parlour feeling, with a splendid chandelier and wall sconces and a fine glass-fronted bureau that belonged to her parents, displaying more of Susan’s collections, including a Shelley tea service left to her by an aunt. Adding character are an unrestored ‘raw’ chaise longue, from eBay and a gorgeously weathered French buttoned chair from Adi at Hoof Brocante.
Susan’s appreciation for the patina of well-used items is displayed again on the half-landing with an old painted cupboard from a school science lab, topped with a lovely flower painting she had bought for the shop (lucky I didn’t spot it in there…) and two blue enamel jugs.
The generous proportions of this house – a feature of this slightly later era of Victorian terraces – is beautifully apparent on the large first-floor landing, where Susan has created a mirrored wardrobe area, while still leaving plenty of thoroughfare space.
This generous sense of ease continues into the bedroom at the front of the house, where light pours in through the bay window, enhancing the space and high ceilings with their original decorative square pattern.
Susan has not held back in here with a splendid bed, with gold trim, from eBay, a Venetian glass chandelier from one of her Belgian missions and a wardrobe of particular magnificence, a weathered sage green, with more gilt decoration, from Pete Grant, when based in Hastings Old Town’s Courthouse Street.
Another feature in here come from a legend of Hastings vintage splendour, Mick, of 20th Century Funkin’ Junk. These are a couple of French 19th century cloches du marriage – 3D collages of decorative objects, such as gilt birds, wax flowers, velvet cushions and small mirrors, that brides-to-be assembled under glass domes.
Heading from the kitchen to the front of the house, the pleasantly time-paused Victorian atmosphere (Miss Havisham, but without the cobwebs) gets stronger. The floorboards are bare and delightfully beaten up, paint-splattered in places, heading up the stairs with a very characterful central ‘runner’ of bare wood, where carpet would once have been
It has to be said, they would not fit in every home, but they are perfect here, alongside a plethora of cherubs and a lovely collection of pressed glass powder bowls, grouped on the dressing table.
Across the hall, is the absolutely splendid new bathroom, which was a bedroom; the smaller room next door, which used to be the bathroom is now an office. In a house with five bedrooms, since Susan converted the loft to create two more, this is a much savvier use of the space – and the bathroom itself is another testament to her brilliant curation skills.
The impressive stand-alone claw-foot bath, was a classic Susan find. “It was £10 on eBay,” she says laughing. “It’s resin. Cast iron would have gone through the floor.”
The mirrors over the twin basins belonged to her grandparents, the curtain is an old lace tablecloth and the amazing boat on top of the cupboard was made by her former partner, from driftwood and flotsam and jetsam picked up on the beach.
The beautiful organically shaped sculpture on the mantelpiece – original like all of them in the house – is from another talented family member. It was sculpted out of African Black Soap by her daughter, for her degree show at St Martins.
And, of course, there has to be a chandelier, which in this case, complies fully with the complicated regulations about lighting and water in bathrooms.
From here, Susan takes me up to see the next two floors, which include two more lovely big bedrooms on the second floor and two more, plus a shower room, created in the attic space – but these weren’t suitable for photographing, because they were in the special state of disarray only achieved when moving house… Which is exactly what Susan is doing.
Coming back down to the hall we have to step round two large antique fireplaces and a huge mirror (from an old Hastings pub again via 20th Century Funkin’ Junk) which are all going to the new house – a cottage in the country, with outbuildings.
The outbuildings are the key thing, as they will be the space for Susan to run courses in decorative arts – making lampshades and cushions, sewing and patchworking, with other teachers coming in to teach specialities, such as willow weaving and felting.
And this enforced year of downtime we have all had, rather than holding her up, will have allowed Susan the time and mental space to mould the new house into a perfect setting for such creative endeavours, with originality jumping out of every corner – and an atmosphere all of its own.
To find out about Seapink and Susan’s new decorative art courses, visit seapink.shop or Instagram @seapink.shop
20th Century Funkin’ Junk 20thcenturyfunkinjunk.co.uk
Susan’s Instagram loves:
- words: Maggie Alderson
- pictures: David Merewether
- styling: Holly Levett
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