Epic renovation: remaking a house in Devon | Life and elegance


It was whereas driving again from one in all their frequent journeys to Totnes, a medieval market city in one in all South Devon’s prettiest corners, that Hianta Cassam Chenaï and her husband Matthias Peters first noticed the Regency townhouse they now name house. “We kept coming down to Devon for weekends to see his friends and family, then dreading going back to London,” she says. “Then we saw the ‘For Sale’ sign.” Following their Provencal wedding ceremony in 2014, the couple traded their 1970s Hoxton flat for the good-looking four-storey property first constructed for the Duke of Somerset (proprietor of the close by Berry Pomeroy Castle) in 1830. Even on boring days the neighbouring River Dart beams in its watery mild, lending the Grade II-listed home an ethereal, seaside high quality. “It still feels like a holiday home,” she says, to the sound of seagulls.

Though the location had lain empty for a number of years following its earlier incarnation as places of work, the couple have been immediately drawn to its grand proportions and closeness to city. Smitten, they didn’t realise how dangerous a state it was in. “We naively thought we would just give it a lick of paint,” she says. Little did they know that they have been embarking on an epic renovation that entailed changing the stairwell, the roof and home windows in addition to reconfiguring the structure on the high and backside.

‘It’s like a laboratory where I get to experiment with ideas’: Hianta Cassam Chenaï.

‘It’s like a laboratory the place I get to experiment with concepts’: Hianta Cassam Chenaï. Photograph: Simon Upton

Today, the doorway corridor offers strategy to a big lounge dotted with midcentury design, and an workplace with the double-sided desk she shares with Peters, a movement graphic designer. On the decrease floor ground a sequence of dingy, poky rooms is now a serene open-plan kitchen and eating room overlooking the backyard, with a utility and Lilliputian hall resulting in a house recording studio long-established from the unique cellar (“It was full of stalactites”). On the primary ground are 2 cozy visitor rooms and a dark-hued rest room electrified by blue tumbling- block ground tiles. The couple knocked into the eaves to create a cavernous main bedroom, with acres of customized storage that doubles as a room divide, cordoning off their clean-lined Ashton & Bentley roll-top bathtub – and having fun with distinctive views on to the river and rolling hills.

So all-consuming was the mission, which took greater than 18 months in planning alone, that it prompted a completely fledged profession change for Chenaï. The former digital strategist has now fulfilled her long-held ambition as an inside decorator. Since she retrained, and launched HCC Interiors 4 years in the past, the home has turn into a test-site for her whimsical design: “It’s like a laboratory where I get to experiment with ideas,” she says. Her newest tasks embrace a household cottage close to Exeter and a customized furnishings line made in collaboration with the architectural and design agency Woco, the place she’s a part-time inside design advisor. Its first fruit is the elegantly proportioned ghost console (“no legs means less cleaning”) that’s sleekly positioned within the hallway.

Though the couple’s previous lifetime of partying has fortunately been usurped by adorning and gardening, neither would have imagined that their social lives would really get pleasure from an uptick in Totnes. “It’s way more sociable here than it was in London, where people would be so exhausted by the hustle they’d need to go home and rest,” she says. “Here, we see friends all the time and it’s often very spontaneous.”

‘Everything has been designed to face outwards, so we can cook and chat’: the kitchen.

‘Everything has been designed to face outwards, so we can cook and chat’: the kitchen. Photograph: Simon Upton

It’s common to congregate for post-work river swims or impromptu dinners at their close by allotment to share the spoils of the most recent crop (proper now, it’s courgettes, artichoke flowers and white currants). Central, in interiors phrases, to this communal mentality is their west-facing kitchen. “We wanted it to be a very sociable kitchen,” says Chenaï of the area which, like the remainder of the home, is decked with classic artworks and treasures gathered on sourcing journeys to Copenhagen, Brussels and the south of France. “Everything has been designed to face outwards, so that when friends come over we can cook and chat.”

Much of the art work is inherited from the portfolio of Peters’s late mom, an novice artist and eager potter, who taught her craft at a neighborhood college. Everything is inventively hung utilizing cleverly upgraded charity-shop frames. Self-portraits sit alongside an eclectic gathering that features a painterly seaside canvas picked up for €150 close to Montpellier, and an otherworldly tapestry by the Danish artist Naja Salto. It’s these touches, along with Chenaï’s evangelical method to lighting (“It’s decorative and sculptural”) that lends heat to the cool, monochromatic palette, punctuated by the occasional sprint of pink and purple.

Window on the world: the bathroom.

Window on the world: the lavatory. Photograph: Simon Upton

On the furnishings entrance, Chenaï operated a strict swivel-door coverage for all the pieces except for the classic twin beds inherited from her French grandmother: “Nothing from our London flat really worked proportionally,” she says. “So we slowly sold to replace on eBay.” The couple’s shared love of sci-fi lends one other surprising sartorial layer. “It’s Tron-meets-Regency,” she posits, gesturing to the spherical shelving that looms over the lounge. Stacked with books on all the pieces from English herbs to Thomas Heatherwick, it’s modelled after the futuristic Tyko bookshelf by Italian artist and architect Manfredo Massironi.

With the home full, you get the sense that they’re now prepared to completely immerse themselves in the local people. “Our lives have been dominated by DIY for the last few years,” she says. “I’m always tinkering – but there is an end point.”

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Aimee Farrell from theguardian.com

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