There is a wealth of knowledge and an abundance of ideas held in the homes and minds of the great home-makers of this country, and I am on a mission to uncover and share it to the benefit of us all!
My first interview (well more of a coffee and a chat followed by a generously guided peeping about in her lovely house) was with Jane Henman. I hope that, like me, you find her ideas inspirational and helpful:
1. Think of your home as a constant work in progress – evolving to suit you and your family
Jane lives in a village in Oxfordshire in the home that she and Anthony bought nearly 40 years ago. One of the reasons that she has been so successful in creating such a comfortable home is that she has clearly viewed it organically – a living thing that has evolved in line with the needs of the family, rather than as a decorative theme that has to be worked round, as can happen.
Walls have been knocked down and the kitchen opened up, removing double doors to become modern and minimal. You can tell how important family and friends are to Anthony and Jane, and this is reflected in the lovely format of the kitchen – great for supper parties.
Another example is that what started as a garage, became a playroom when her three boys were young, and now has changed into a TV den. She has cleverly put in a clean wall of cupboards that are surprisingly deep and hide everything from golf clubs to spare sets of chairs. The simple style and careful lighting combine to look stunning – you would never guess that they are just from Ikea. And the decision not to add handles to avoid spoiling the line has definitely paid off.
Every room has been used in a different way at some point in time. Jane is both creative and entrepreneurial. When she was more focussed on her fashion business the drawing room was used as a cutting room and the bedroom upstairs a stock room.
2. Make the most of what you have got with a little reinvention
I am equally impressed by the way that Jane is clearly way ahead of her time, constantly upcylcing and recycling before these terms were even invented – and she is full of lots of brilliant ideas for making the most of what she has got:
For example they have lots of pine furniture that Jane is no longer fond of, and so she has been gradually painting it all, with diluted Annie Sloan type paint, transforming it into spot-on trend shabby chic.
The beautiful mirror in the picture above started life gold and garish and was re-invented with some left-over exterior masonry paint.
She even painted the legs of this old chair and then recovered it with a remnant of fabric. Rather than panicking because there wasn’t enough, she turned it to her advantage by using a second fabric, to add interest. A lovely finishing touch is the heart she appliquéd on the back which works with the theme of the room.
Like most spare rooms, Jane’s guest room isn’t very big, and so she came up with another great idea. Rather than having a wardrobe, which would have made it impossible to have a double bed, she combined plain hooks with a simple heart decoration (originally meant for cards) to create enough hanging space for guests – who rarely stay for more than a couple of nights.
3. Group favourite possessions and collections to add personality and create impact
One of the questions that we are regularly asked at our decorclub and workshops is what to do with heirlooms that have been passed on and collections of things that just seem to gather dust. Jane has great ideas for these too:
She used to collect button and glove hooks and over the years has amassed a rather fine collection. Her tastes have developed and now she likes more contemporary things so, rather than leaving them in a box she came up with this ingenious idea of housing them together in this glass topped table. William Morris would be proud – both useful and beautiful.
Jane comes from a long line of extraordinary woman. On the day I was there she was in the process of unpacking a box containing a beautiful Royal Worcester fruit service c. 1878, that she had taken to the Antiques Road Show, and had belonged to her Grandmother – the first lady to serve over-arm at Wimbledon.
It had been hidden away for a while but looking at it again she has fallen in love with it once more and decided to display it grouped on the wall, so that it can be enjoyed even though it is far too valuable to be used.
4. Use all the family’s ideas and talents to create a home everyone loves
Jane’s home contains lots of memorabilia from different events, and one of the lovely threads that lead us through the house is the artwork produced by her son Richard. Early on in his career he established a reputation as a fine artist with previous exhibitions at a gallery in Cork Street. He has moved on to other things now but still sells the occasional piece. My photos don’t really do them justice -so do ask if you are interested!
The paint finishes have changed on the creative advice of Jane’s daughter-in-law with off white satin replacing gloss for a more attractive contemporary touch on the front door. Similarly, the summer room has been painted contemporary black.
A favourite piece of furniture that the whole family loves is the coffee table in the open plan living area in the kitchen. It is an old ship’s trap door set in resin which Anthony and Jane bought from a shop in the Wandsworth Bridge Road more than 40 years ago – and which has always stayed with them.
5. Consider your garden as you would the rest of your home – an outside room
Jane’s most recent passion is to transform the garden. We feel so much more comfortable at home when it is an expression of our personality and how we live – and that is true of the garden too. A great friend of Jane’s always wears beautiful colourful, floaty clothes and her garden is a riot of colour. Whereas Jane herself has more classic tastes and the garden is equally elegant.
Jane removed the border under the trees that didn’t get enough light and designed a stunning parterre with beautiful box hedges. Now she can’t wait for the white tulips in spring and the lavender to blossom and the chance to have a party on the terrace!
The terrace is a fabulous mix of old and new just like the inside of the house – with the repainted old kitchen table creating part of the shape and a dramatic modern water feature Jane chose as her focal piece.
I had such a lovely day with Jane and the reason why is reflected in the final of these extra tips:
- It is hard to function if a house becomes a complete tip but be wary of it becoming too tidy and sterile
- Beautiful items add interest and character but if everything is too styled and staged visitors will feel uncomfortable
- Fresh flowers add life and colour bringing the outdoors in
- Most importantly – at the end of the day the feel of the home comes not so much from the bits and pieces within it as the welcome you receive as you enter