Russell's work on Dolphin House has been a delight to follow on Instagram. I was chuffed to bits when he said he was keen to participate in Tat. I hugely admire his bravery in construction, and while I was reading this, I stopped a few times to glance around my own house, worrying what we would uncover, a great idea just before bed. Anyway, you will know what I mean once you've read this.
THE HOUSE ON DOLPHIN STREET
I discovered the historic seaside town of Deal on a coastal road trip back in 2005 and instantly fell in love with the place. I'd just sold my place in London, and I was looking for something to invest in there again, but I couldn't get Deal out of mind. So that year, after obsessively trawling all the property sites, I bought my first property. This was used as a holiday home for some time, but I found myself less and less keen to go back to London.
I was a little fed up with London. I was keen to make the move permanently to the coast. My art commissions were taking off, and I really wanted to have that space for a studio. A couple of renovation projects later, I was still looking for the right space and that all-important sea view.
All the viewings and my constant pestering of local estate agents over the past years meant I sometimes got to see things before they hit the market, so I managed to get a tour of this four-story Georgian property before it went to auction. Seduced by the sea view from the first-floor bay window, I immediately offered the asking price. The owner was keen to sell, so he immediately accepted my offer.
The house was built in 1768. It's a Grade II listed building and had been pretty much untouched since the 60's apart from the addition of a new kitchen sink in the '80s. It was an almighty project as the house needed gutting, and the entire roof had to come off - being listed that came with all sorts of drama. All the period features had been ripped out or altered before it achieved its listed status. Except for one open fireplace and a panelled wall on the ground floor; however, I felt confident, due to past experiences, that I could tackle this head-on and bring it back to its former glory.
Renovation began, and I expected it to take around four months. The builders were making great progress. Until one of the plumbers were installing new pipework, they drilled through a rafter that just crumbled in his hands. This caused the top floor to move. They discovered live woodworm throughout the rafters. The entire internal framework was coming away from the walls like a broken ribcage, so we immediately stopped work. Every single floor and ceiling had to be replaced, and the renovation budget just evaporated. It was incredibly stressful and broke me both financially and mentally. What should have taken a few months took over a year to complete.
Looking back, the only good thing to come out of the building disaster is that it gave me time to sit with the spaces and make more of an informed decision before decoration began.
The Georgian streets of Deal are narrow and the buildings tall, so a lot of the properties are very dark, but luckily I have a low building to the front and a row of gardens to the rear, so quite the opposite – this really opened up the colour scheme for me. Although the light on the coast is ever-changing, sometimes quite dramatically that one day I'd paint a swatch and think perfect, but then the next, the colour was really off. The house started to look like a patchwork quilt inside and out - so much so that passers-by would stand there discussing the different shades (some quite rude re my choices)then would write comments on the wall or tick their favourites!
Natural light floods the first floor, and I wanted the colour choices to reflect the view of the sea from the vast bay window, so it's decorated in a palette of greens and blues. I do have something of a stripe fetish. I thought that hand painting a striped effect in the bedroom would be the perfect way to indulge my love of stripes. This was not straightforward - to be honest, this is the only thing I've done myself as I'm pretty much useless at everything else. There's not a wall or ceiling that's straight, so by day three on the first wall; I did think, 'Why did I start this..?' My neck and back are still in recovery, but I'm so happy with the effect as it's bizarrely quite calming. I have become addicted, so I've now taken the stripes through to the hallway, bathroom and guest bedroom!
I feel I've coaxed the building back to life - the main task was to reinstate the period features by recreating the wood panelling and replicating it throughout the ground floor and stairwells. I had a skilled carpenter create a partition to divide the kitchen from the main living space with a panelled glass wall that opens out, connecting the living spaces when desired. The colours are bold but moody on the ground floor and are very atmospheric and dimly lit, so friends have nicknamed the 'Dolphin Street Tavern' when entertaining.
.I've moved around a lot within Deal, but this house is my favourite by far. Something about the colours, the light and the building itself is inspiring. It has brought about a new confidence. It's the space where I feel most creative. This reno hasn't put me off. It's made me want to do it again, so much so that I've launched my own interiors company. I've taken on a few clients who are enjoying this style, too, so thankfully, I can channel this energy into their projects and take a breather with The House On Dolphin Street!