VISIT AN ENGLISH SEASIDE TOWN WHERE THE OLD COASTGUARD’S HOUSE HAS BEEN CONVERTED INTO A LIGHT AND AIRY HOME.
“I open the shutters and all I can see is the sea and sky.”
On summer days there is nothing Jane and Martin Will like more than taking their West Highland terrier Baxter for a walk on the beach outside their house in the small town of Deal, on the Kent coast in the United Kingdom. “He loves being by the sea,” says Jane, “although he doesn’t like to get his paws wet!” Walks are just one of the many pluses of the couple’s coastal life. There’s also the shopping options for bric-a-brac-loving Jane, the opportunity for Martin to pursue his love of sailing and, best of all, the pleasure of living in their handsome brick house right on the seafront. Once a thriving seaside port, Deal has a long and rich maritime history including, in 1771, the arrival of Captain James Cook after his first voyage to Australia. Today, it is better known as a seaside resort than a working port. Just two hours’ south-east of London, there’s lots to draw tourists to Deal, including rows of pretty Georgian houses, a lively town centre, a long pebble beach with a rickety timber pier dating back to the 1950s, and Deal Castle, built in 1539 at the instruction of King Henry VIII. For Jane and Martin Will, who had always planned to move from London to the coast, Deal ticked every box. “We considered Cornwall and Devon, but I wanted somewhere within two hours of London so friends and family could come for the weekend, and from where I could commute easily,” says Jane, who works at a school in London during the week. In 2013, after their children had left for university, the couple made the leap, discovering this three-bedroom, former coastguard’s house. “We’d made a cheeky offer on a Georgian property, but it wasn’t accepted,” says Jane. “Then we walked past this house and our friends told us it was for sale. It was bigger and cheaper than the first property, and it was detached and on the seafront. We made an offer straightaway.” Built in 1860, the building was originally one of several that comprised the coastguard centre, and was home to the head coastguard and his family. “It’s built from brick to a thorough Ministry of Defence specification, so it has thick walls and feels very substantial,” says Martin, a marketing consultant. “It can take whatever the weather throws at it.” However, while structurally sound, the house had been empty for a number of years and felt cold and unwelcoming. Then a holiday rental, the interiors were, “pretty boring,” says Jane. “It needed some attention, which I knew I could give it.” The Wills tackled the kitchen first, pulling down the wall between it and the dining room to create a more spacious area. Jane’s brother, a carpenter, then built and fitted new kitchen cabinets. “The boiler and washing machine were in the kitchen, but we moved them into a utility room so the space looked streamlined,” says Jane. The muted colour scheme, with its nod to nautical style, reflects the landscape outside the house. “I am definitely influenced by my surroundings,” says Jane. “I get quite >
claustrophobic in small, dark rooms. I need to be where the light is, and where there’s air and space. I like to keep the windows open to let the air come through — even in winter. I’m amazed by the view every day, especially the sunrise seen from our bedroom. I open the shutters and all I can see is the sea and sky. On a clear day you can see France.” That said, it did take some experimentation to get things just right. “Poor Martin had to repaint the kitchen cabinets four times because I couldn’t get the colour right,” says Jane. “We tried pale grey first, but that didn’t work with the light-blue cooker. Eventually I thought, ‘What the heck, let’s go really dark.’ It worked — I really love it, and the room is big and light enough to take it.” At one stage, Jane worked for a Shaker furniture company and there are references to that particular style throughout the house — carefully chosen objects, many with a maritime association, hang from peg rails, Shaker boxes are piled here and there, and their wooden rocking chair is original Shaker. However, Jane’s design influences extend to markets and antique shops as well. “I like French painted furniture and rustic styling, but really, I just buy things I like,” she says. In the warmer months, Jane and Martin spend a lot of time outdoors in the walled courtyard at the back of the house, either entertaining or simply enjoying the sun. Martin laid the paving and the deck, and built all the raised beds. “It’s such a sun trap and it’s sheltered, so it doesn’t get any wind,” Jane says. “We could sit out there all day long in the summer.” With a passion for ceramics, textiles and art — and dreams of opening their own shop in Deal — Jane says the house will always be a work in progress. “I’m one of those people who never stops. I change things constantly,” she says. “The house gets better all the time, but it will never be finished.” For more information, visit airbnb.com.au/rooms/11544311
While you’re in Deal, shop for locally made products at Dunlin and Diver. “I’m a regular at this homewares store,” says Jane. “It sells contemporary art, ceramics and textiles, and champions local craftspeople.” dunlindiver.co.uk The Frog and Scot is the place to stop for lunch. “This bistro is relaxed and informal, and serves classic French food,” says Jane. “We also like to go to Poppy’s Kitchen on the high street for breakfast, The Black Douglas Coffffee House for coffffee and delicious homemade cakes, and Whits of Walmer for special occasions.” frogandscot.co.uk; poppyskitchen.co.uk; blackdouglas.co.uk; whits.co.uk If you’re in Deal on May 1st, visit the Walmer Brocante, a craft and antiques fair held each May Bank Holiday. It’s an “excellent place to hunt for bargains,” says Jane.