the dark arts
Jane Rockett and Toby Erlam used an imaginative blend of moody hues, striking artwork and vintage finds to revitalise an unloved country home
Few of us have the knack of making a pot plant and vintage desk salvaged from a Citizen’s Advice Bureau look covetable, but Jane Rockett has an enviable design eye. In her home, she has elevated the everyday to the interesting, and created harmony from disparate pieces. ‘I just combine elements I love,’ she says. ‘A home can’t be staged – it needs to evolve.’
This is a philosophy that Jane, co-founder of homewares brand Rockett St George, put into practice when she came across this Victorian cottage in a pretty Sussex village nearly 10 years ago. Her aim was to strip it back to its original layout, allowing it to breathe, and make alterations over time, like removing walls, exposing the top floor to the rafters and adding a simple conservatory to the rear. ‘Previous owners had carved more rooms out of the space, but it had become something of a rabbit warren as a result,’ she says. ‘However, I fell in love with the generous windows and I knew I could make the place work for family life.’
Jane and her partner, Toby, moved in with their children, Tyler, now 19, Lola, 17, and Eden, 13, and lived on site while the task of simplifying the property’s flow was carried out. ‘I remember enduring a very cold winter with the back of the house covered in tarpaulin, while Tyler’s 10th birthday party took place in a kitchen with no floor and the guests climbing over joists,’ recalls Jane.
With an eye for knowing exactly what to add and what to remove, she has
streamlined storage, creating a utility room out of a ground floor corridor space, leaving the kitchen free of wall units, and allowing bare bricks to add drama. Aged metal bar stools, a poured resin floor and modern artwork add a gentle industrial note. ‘I like that practical element, but for a softer look we’ve incorporated rustic materials, textures and foliage,’ says Jane.
Texture plays an important part in the sitting room, with dramatic, moodytoned walls offset by quirky finds, vintage furniture, and eye-catching silhouettes. Upstairs, seven bedrooms were reduced to five, allowing for three generous-sized rooms and a family bathroom on the first floor, and two bedrooms and a shower room on the second, with the ceilings removed to expose the eaves. Throughout, Jane has opted for unusual finishes to add depth and draw the eye.
The family’s light but cocooning garden room is the jewel in the crown of this sensitive restoration. It features a slim, dramatically dark frame, and doors that can be fully opened to a pretty courtyard garden. ‘We have dinner parties there and it’s magical at night, with the lights dimmed,’ says Jane. Meanwhile, Sunday lunchtime sees extended family gather round a huge former map table, which was once earmarked for Rockett St George’s concession in Liberty, but deemed too large to make it to its destination.
‘When we bought this house, our aim was to create a space that our children and their friends would want to hang out in,’ says Jane. ‘Fast forward a decade, and that’s exactly what’s happened. It’s a fantastic home that seems to absorb people, and since our mantra is “the more the merrier”, we couldn’t have asked for a better result.’
SITTING ROOM Dark walls provide a cocooning feel in this dramatic space. Walls painted in Madison Grey matt emulsion, £33 for 2.5L, Abigail Ahern. Black-and-gold framed convex mirror, £80; Oslo black/ivory cotton rug, £195, both Rockett St George
KITCHEN A striking seat and a selection of favourite artworks make a statement in this corner. Resin floor, price on application, Designs in Resin. ‘After the Disco’ art print, £125 unframed, Om Mudra hand chair, £ 450, both Rockett St George
KITCHEN Jane chose a light, white look in this room. ‘I like an industrial style,’ she says, ‘but I wanted to add some softening notes, so I opted for crisp white cabinets as a gentle contrast to the bare brick walls.’ Resin floor, price on application, Designs in Resin. Ceramic Drop pendant ceiling lights in White Gloss, from £125 each, Original BTC. Midas bar stool in antique brass, £145 each, Rockett St George
GUEST BEDROOM ‘I wanted a jewellike, opulent feel here,’ says Jane. Walls painted in Hudson Black matt emulsion, £33 for 2.5L, Abigail Ahern. Barefoot lamp, £56, Rockett St George pattern, paired with unpolished brass taps and bare wood floorboards create a heritage feel. La Fontaine Noire basin mixer tap is similar to this one, from £480, Catchpole & Rye. To recreate the look of this basin, try the London Console leg set, £363, CP Hart BATHROOM White tiles laid in a herringbone