Brimming with vintage finds, upcycled furniture and bold colours, this south London cottage has plenty of individual style
Helen and Andrew Fickling were looking to move to London from Hampshire and quickly realised that renovating a run-down property afforded the best opportunity on their limited budget. Months of house-hunting finally revealed a potential property – a former workman’s converted cottage, which hadn’t been touched since the Forties, when it had been split into two flats. ‘It was in desperate need of love but had something special about it,’ recalls Helen.
The building’s meagre facilities meant there was considerable work to do; there was an outside toilet, a dangerous gas burner in the sitting room, electrical cables strung across the ceilings and a problematic roof. But despite its dilapidated state, the potential was clear and, stretching themselves, the couple bought the property. Plans and renovations proceeded at a pace. Both Andrew and Helen have a keen eye for design and swiftly made their mark on the previously lacklustre and cramped dwelling, creating a spacious home of great character.
Key to the redesign was opening up and extending the internal space by incorporating a side alley into the hall, erasing the dividing dining/sitting room wall and adding a full-width, lanterned dining area to the kitchen. ‘It’s a great, flexible entertaining space, perfect at Christmas when friends and family descend,’ explains Helen, pleased that, ‘all the rooms are now a decent size’. The walls and high ceilings are predominantly white, with pale grey accents and surprising splashes of colour. ‘This is a throwback to my Zimbabwean roots,’ says Helen. ‘Africans
who move west import sunshine and colour.’ Her home provides a natural setting for an eclectic and ever-changing mix of furniture, furnishings and accessories. ‘I love midcentury design,’ she enthuses, and uses their Arkana dining table, Eames dining chairs and the Italian Fifties sideboard every day. The clean, sculpted look spills into their 19-year-old daughter Hannah’s kitsch Seventies-style bedroom, too.
Recently, Helen has skilfully introduced a more pared-back look where French vintage pieces assume a quiet authority. Furnishings, textiles and accessories bring gentle tone, texture and sheen, adding subtle layers to windows, mantels and walls. Helen harbours unusual pieces, too, such as a vintage sledge, used seasonally as a coffee table. The Ficklings travel to flea markets, car-boot sales, auctions and brocantes here, in Belgium and France, in search of unusual and interesting pieces. ‘We go with an empty car and an open mind,’ says Helen. They gather beautiful vintage paraphernalia, which can be bought from their online business, George & Beth Vintage, or at their biannual pop-up shop in south London.
At Christmas, Helen embellishes the decor with gold, silver and glass. Mirrors are decorated with ivy or mistletoe, and trees in the sitting room, hall and kitchen affirm the season and shimmer with fairy lights. ‘We join neighbours for pre-christmas drinks, or sometimes we share the festivities by dividing out the cooking,’ says Helen. ‘Someone organises the starter, the main course is served somewhere else and dessert at another house. It’s a great way of celebrating.’