Tales of the surprising: a house with hidden belongings | John-Michael O’Sullivan | Life and elegance


With Elvis, Del Boy Trotter and Pugin as inspiration, 1 couple remodeled their flat right into a cocktail of sample

Amber Butchart in her home office, with heavily patterned wallpaper and geometric tangerine shelving.

Sitting fairly: Amber Butchart in her dwelling workplace, with geometric tangerine shelving. Photograph: Jo Bridges for the Observer

F or many , transferring into a brand new dwelling means a sequence of compromises. There comes a degree within the means of mixing 2 tastes when most of us find yourself sulkily settling for off-white paint. “No, that was by no means going to occur,” vogue historian Amber Butchart says, surveying the Margate flat she’s simply completed refurbishing with boyfriend Rob Flowers. It’s an ode to exuberant color, sample and texture – and to a wedding of visible minds.

“Basically, Rob and I share the exact same aesthetic,” Butchart explains. “We have the identical favorite colors: inexperienced, orange and yellow. We’re each hoarders – we truly first met after we had been working at Beyond Retro, the classic clothes retailer in London. We’re obsessive about charity retailers and jumble gross sales. And we already had extremely sturdy concepts about what we had been going to do with wherever we purchased.”

Vivid orange and green cupboards in the kitchen.

‘We have the same favourite colours’: vivid orange cabinets within the kitchen. Photograph: Jo Bridges for the Observer

Living in east London, they dreamed of proudly owning their very own dwelling, which felt hopelessly out of attain. So just a few years in the past they began to look additional afield, and lit upon Margate’s bracing ocean air and chic structure. The city has at all times attracted guests from the capital, from Turner and TS Eliot to Banksy and Chas & Dave, for all kinds of causes; recuperation, amusement, anonymity, escape. “Fashion is now leading her votaries out of town,” 1 18th-century journalist tutted on the top of Margate’s Regency increase, “to those places which, not many years ago, were intended for the abodes of disease and quiet.”

For Butchart, who grew up within the fishing port of Lowestoft, and has written a guide dedicated to the historical past of nautical vogue, the seaside context couldn’t have been extra good. She and Flowers shortly discovered a two-bedroom flat on a waterfront crescent in Cliftonville, one of many resort’s genteel Victorian suburbs. The property got here with the correct bones: excessive ceilings, tall home windows, wrought-iron balconies and a superb working format. But it additionally got here coated with magnolia paint – which was the very first thing that needed to go.

Butchart and Flowers’s reference factors are an eclectic mixture of Elvis’s Jungle Room, Del Boy Trotter’s lounge and Pugin’s Houses of Parliament interiors. Each room has been lovingly, lavishly thought-about, with waist-height dado rails reintroduced to permit for 2 wallpapers (boldly painted Anaglypta under, retro deadstock prints above). “We wanted as much pattern and as much surface decoration as we could get,” Butchart confirms. She cites Margate’s Shell Grotto as an inspiration – an underground chamber of unknown objective, fantastically embellished with shell mosaics, which was found in 1835. “This is a gorgeous Victorian seafront building. But you walk in our door, and you’re suddenly in a totally unexpected place. It’s that eccentricity you get in seaside towns, which we love.”

Stepped tiling in black and turquoise the bathroom

Art Deco fantasia: the stepped tiling within the toilet almost drove the carpenter to despair. Photograph: Jo Bridges for the Observer

All this maximalism may really feel overwhelming, however Butchart and Flowers have carried their scheme by way of with such aplomb that it doesn’t. In the kitchen, vivid orange cabinets and leopard-spotted lino are set off by wall tiles printed with Flowers’s vibrant vegetable drawings. The couple’s bed room is completed out in breezy marigold tones, with classic Biba posters, animal-print furnishings and a midcentury dressing desk. There’s a lounge in vivid emerald greens and a house workplace with geometric tangerine shelving the place the couple work aspect by aspect – Flowers on his illustrations, Butchart on analysis for her new BBC4 sequence on the historical past of vogue, A Stitch in Time.

Everywhere you look, there are cabinets and sideboards stacked with scavenged treasures (Butchart’s charity store ideas embody Môr Margate and Cats in Crisis) and eBay finds. But the flat’s pièce de résistance needs to be their spectacular toilet, an Art Deco fantasia straight out of a Busby Berkeley musical. Its stepped tiling in black and duck-egg blue frames a 1970s toilet suite sourced (like most of the objects within the flat) from eBay. “Our carpenter, Greg Holmes, subsequently said it’s the most difficult room he’s ever worked on,” Butchart confesses. “But it’s probably the one he’s proudest of, too.”

The couple’s bedroom in marigold tones, accessorised with a fish-shaped cushion.

‘Everywhere I look makes me happy’: the couple’s bed room in marigold tones, a fish-shaped cushion on the mattress. Photograph: Jo Bridges for the Observer

The complete inside is such a curler coaster of references – Victorian postcards, crochet-square throws, Art Deco lamps, 1970s posters – that it’s exhausting to know the way finest to sum it up. “Baroque with a midcentury twist?” Butchart suggests. “One of my oldest friends was trying to describe it to another friend, and she said: ‘If you imagine Amber and Rob as a flat, that’s what it is.’ And it’s true. Everywhere I look makes me happy. Our only regret is that we didn’t have enough money to put Anaglypta on the ceilings, too. That’s possibly phase two.”

John-Michael O’Sullivan from theguardian.com

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