After several sunny years downunder Jenna and Andrew didn’t want to leave the light and airy mood they loved in Australian houses behind when they moved back to the UK – so they re-created it in Hersham.
“We bought this house without even seeing it,” says Jenna, who moved back to the UK with her husband Andrew from Australia last year, in search of a more affordable family home. “We looked at a lot of similar homes in Sydney, with a similar layout – but couldn’t stretch to the $3 million price tag,” she says.
Jenna’s parents, who are experienced property developers, found the house and immediately saw its potential. “We actually put in a few offers on a house a few doors up, which had been renovated. Then my mum discovered this one. She emailed: ‘I’ve found this one, much lower price bracket… Do you fancy a project?’ And we thought, ‘Why not?’”
Many people might have been put off by the scale of work involved, but Jenna, who runs the event management company Chapel Lane, and Andrew, who is a quantity surveyor, had just the skills needed for such an ambitious renovation project. “Andrew managed budgets and so on – and my parents’ advice was invaluable. My dad was really good at motivating the team too. He was one of four men who slept in the house on blow-up mattresses, for the last eight weeks of the project.” The couple started work on the house in January of this year, so it’s an impressive turnaround.
So, what was their vision? “I wanted to design a home that I could happily spend lots of time in,” says Jenna. “I used to go out to work every day, but since having Charlie and starting my own business, I’ve been working from home. I’ve never spent so much time in the home environment before!”
Chapel Lane, named after the road on which Jenna was born, came about almost organically, when friends and associates started to ask Jenna to organise events and parties for them. “I wanted a business that sounded approachable and friendly and quintessentially English; which would represent me and my approach,” says Jenna. Likewise, developing their Hersham home seemed like the perfect project for someone who is used to co-ordinating skilled teams and working to budgets and deadlines.
“It seemed like a natural progression from my years of event styling. It was with this mentality that I approached this project – considering how the space flowed as a whole, defining and highlighting particular spaces with their function in mind.” She also spent a lot of time considering lighting, with different types of light – wall, lamp, pendant and spot lights – at different levels throughout the open-plan living space, so that the couple could redefine specific areas, as required.
While the house is distinctly light and open-plan, Jenna has created her own little spaces – such as her office – where she can work while her son Charlie runs through the house and into the garden. “Charlie can still roam free, because we’re all on the one level,” says Jenna. The family’s living space and bedrooms are all on the ground floor, while upstairs there are guest bedrooms and a bathroom. “My English friends who come round can’t believe that our bedroom is on the ground floor. They can’t get their head round the concept.”
But having their bedrooms there did raise some issues: “We actually have a semi-soundproof door that you can pull across, because we absolutely love entertaining; house parties, dinner parties – we celebrate the opening of an envelope!” says Jenna, while showing me the cleverly hidden sliding door that separates the living from the sleeping area. Practical and aesthetic details have been executed with equal care.
Aesthetically, one could describe this home as ‘Modern Rustic’ but Jenna has a nice way of summing up how her and Andrew’s tastes were combined: “We have very different styles. I’m probably quite English country cottage and traditional – I grew up with that style and it reminds me of home. My husband is more bachelor pad; clean lines, gloss kitchen, minimalist. So, over the years we have found an aesthetic that we both like, kind of Scandi/Industrial.”
The first thing I notice as I walk into the main living area is the expanse of what appears to be pale wooden floor boards. “They’re actually ceramic,” says Jenna. “We looked at having wooden floorboards, but when you have a rambunctious toddler, it wasn’t really very realistic. At first I was sceptical, as I don’t like things that pose as other things. I always think it looks as if you are trying to be something you’re not.” But the effect is spot-on, both practical and beautiful – especially when you find that there’s underfloor heating too.
Wood is a recurring theme, softening what could otherwise be a little hard and stark. “We knew we wanted it to be kind of Scandinavian, and with lots of white and neutral wall colours,” says Jenna. “I wanted a white kitchen, but softened with touches of wood. And that’s where the idea for this floating island came from.” Around the top edge of a glossy, white kitchen island runs a band of warm, honey-coloured oak just asking to support a cup of tea or to be leant upon while chatting. Oak floating shelves also offer a contemporary perch for recipe books and favourite bits of crockery.
Jenna’s husband Andrew also had some say: “When designing this space, he said, ‘This is your baby but I want bi-folds and a wine fridge!’ If I have those things, I’m happy’.” Alongside the wine fridge is a Neff oven with retractable door and above it there is an induction hob. “I wanted gas initially, but I’m sold on this now,” says Jenna. It certainly fits the brief of sleek, modern and practical as well as sociable: “I wanted a bright and inclusive kitchen where I can still be a part of the conversation with guests whilst preparing meals and not be hidden away in a back room.”
From the kitchen there is an unbroken view across the dining area with its limed-oak effect dining table – from No 44 in Cobham – out into the garden. Charlie sits playing in the living area, while we chat and it’s easy to see why this space works so well. Overhead are five roof light windows and blinds, all of which can be controlled at the touch of a button, and which at the moment are flooding the room with light.
The light floods through the heart of the house and down the corridor which leads to the front of it, the hallway and the family bedrooms. Having the bedrooms at the front and on the ground floor, does feel different but it works – especially when you live on such a quiet street. The hallway is neatly furnished with a rustic bench seat and drawers from Willow & Stone and a complementary shelf and coat rack from Loaf, which is based in Falmouth. Like the rest of the house, it’s tidy and uncluttered, but without feeling sterile.
Coming back to England certainly gave the couple an excuse to sort out their stuff and Jenna learnt a lot about decluttering: “Moving countries and living out of boxes – all our stuff was in storage for seven months – we literally came over with two suitcases. But we didn’t miss any of our ‘stuff’. It just goes to show… you probably use 30 per cent of the stuff you own.” So the items around their home are hand-picked and carefully chosen.
Jenna’s study typifies this, and is what she describes as her one bit of personal space: her office and boudoir. There is a modern desk along one side, a ladder shelf, a storage rack and memo board from Urban Outfitters. The latter, Jenna bought online: “I do most of my shopping and sourcing online as, since Charlie, I just don’t get to go out shopping.”
The master bedroom also demonstrates simple style with a neutral, upholstered bed from Feather & Black taking pride of place and dressed with bedding from one of Jenna’s favourite companies, The Secret Linen Store. “It’s divine. It does lots of lovely deep fitted sheets and strong designs, like stripes. They’re online and a young, start-up business and I always support those, if I can, as it’s rather like my business.”
Across the hall from the master bedroom, Charlie’s room is rather more colourful, bucking the general theme of muted, pale colours. “For a little boy’s room, you’ve got to introduce some colour,” says Jenna. On the wall is a poster of a lion – currently a favourite animal – while cleverly matched furniture and curtains hint at Jenna’s interior design skill. “We scanned a colour which is on the curtains and had paint mixed at Homebase, which we used on the chest of drawers.” Vintage children’s books, sourced from Oxfam online, complete the picture of a simple, cheery bedroom and play area.
Jenna is clearly adept at sourcing items online, though she also turns to her parents for advice on suppliers and tradesmen. She also likes to use local companies if possible – their architect lives opposite and their builder four doors down. “I sourced every light, fixture and fitting, everything. I had a very clear vision of how I wanted it to be – the challenge was finding the items that suited that vision.”
A realistic and practical attitude seems to have stood Jenna in good stead when project managing the work. “I didn’t have 100% success sourcing items, of course. You have to bend and sway with what is available and what is reasonably priced. But we’re really happy with how it turned out. It evolved, as it went on, as all projects do.”
The end result is a truly surprising and refreshing home – a little piece of Sydney in a suburban corner of Surrey. The question is, has Jenna inherited her parents’ itchy feet, and love of doing-up and selling-on properties? “I always considered this house as a home for us to live in. When I was designing the layout and the fittings and the fixtures, I was absolutely doing it for us, and creating a family home.” And she has done this with ease – and with more than a touch of antipodean style.
Bi-fold doors open the entire back of the house onto the garden
The garden becomes an extension of the living area, with a second dining table for al fresco meals. The sofas are from Darlings of Chelsea
The fire truck was Charlie’s first birthday present and the family brought it back from Australia, along with his cowboy print tipi by Mocka
Rather than hit the shops with a toddler, Jenna sourced practically everything for the house online. The cushions were found on the H&M homewares site
Wood is a recurring theme in the house, softening the all-white kitchen with the wide oak trim around the central island. The copper kettle is from John Lewis and the brass wall lights are from Cox & Cox. The oven is a Neff Slide & Hide, as made famous by Great British Bake Off
The same wood is used for the shelves, which were chosen instead of wall units to provide pockets of visual interest and a lived-in family feeling in the very pared-down and serene design
Jenna’s study and ‘boudoir’ typifies her clutter-free style, with her things neatly stored in a ladder shelf from Mocka
The Vogue print is an online find from Desenio. The cushion on the chair is by Jane Constantine from Fenwick, Bond Street
The rustic shoe cabinet in the hall is from Willow & Stone and the coat rack above from Loaf, which is based in Falmouth
The master bedroom - and Charlie’s room across the hall - are on the ground floor, with a semi-soundproof door they can pull across so they can entertain without disturbing his sleep. Their upholstered bed is from Feather & Black, with bedding from one of Jenna’s favourite online companies, The Secret Linen Store. The walls are painted with Soothing White from Homebase
The brass-framed mirrors are from Cox & Cox. Jenna found the vintage photograph of her home town of Chepstow, South Wales and had it framed to match
The bath in the ground floor master bathroom is from Patons of Walton and the black and white towels are from House of Fraser. The map of Australia is a piece of wrapping paper from Willow & Stone, which Jenna had framed
The bespoke vanity unit was built by Stonewood and is painted in Farrow & Ball Pale Blue
There’s a red, white and blue theme in Charlie’s bedroom. Jenna had the blue
The rustic aluminium jug is from Cox & Cox
The vanity unit in the guest bathroom upstairs was also built by Stonewood. The floor tiles are from Direct Tile Warehouse in Cardiff
Light floods through the heart of the house from five roof light windows, the effect maximised by the glass bannister panel
Homely details from the two upstairs guest rooms include vintage books, a cushion given to Jenna by her mother and a vintage-style radio by Bush
The bedside lamp is another online find from Wayfair
The hamper in the alcove is from Ikea
- Chapel Lane www.chapel-lane.com 07885598688
- Cox & Cox www.coxandcox.co.uk
- Darlings of Chelsea www.darlingsofchelsea.co.uk
- David Ehrenstrahle City Guides email@example.com
- Direct Tile Warehouse www.directtilewarehouse.com
- Feather & Black www.featherandblack.com
- Grace & Glory Home www.graceandgloryhome.co.uk
- Industville Vintage Lighting & Furniture www.industville.co.uk
- King & McGaw Artwork and Prints www.kingandmcgaw.com
- No 44 Contemporary and Modern Furniture
- Secret Linen Store www.secretlinenstore.com
- Stonewood www.stonewood.uk.com
- Urban Outfitters Online www.urbanoutfitters.com
- Wayfair www.wayfair.co.uk
- Willow & Stone www.willowandstone.co.uk
- words: Jennifer Stuart-Smith
- pictures: David Merewether
- styling: Helen Barton
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