Janet Horner’s lifelong collections are lovingly displayed in her East Sussex home, which, at this time of year, comes into its own with paper decorations, foliage and fairy lights
Jody first started taking photographs at the age of 13, when landscapes were his subject of choice, but interiors soon caught his eye. During the 10 years he has been working, his work has appeared in myriad national and international titles.
‘My favourite tradition is definitely the Christmas tree. I always take my nephew Christian to choose one, then we spend the day decorating it.’
Janet Horner’s house in East Sussex is a vivid record of her life as an artist, collector and dealer in textiles. In 2011, when she decided to look for a townhouse within walking distance of shops, she did her research, found a terrace of Victorian houses that met her requirements and walked down the road to put le!ers through the door of each house. Then an estate agent called and said that if no one over the next two days o"ered the asking price for the end house in the terrace, the owner was simply not going to sell. ‘So I o"ered the asking price,’ says Janet.
Once she had moved in, there was quite a to- do list before she could think about where to accommodate her many antiques, purchased from salesrooms and auctions over more than 50 years. The collection began in the 1950s when Janet and her late husband, Cedric, were art students in Leeds. On a pre- Christmas walk they found, ‘a clockwork aeroplane with pilot that had nose- dived into the snow,’ says Janet. ‘ We couldn’t imagine how it had got there, but we carried it o" and, a #er that, whenever we saw a toy we liked for its visual appeal we bought it. Lots came from jumble sales, while some were bought brand new. The $ rst pair of motorbikes came from a toy shop and we started collecting ones that dated from the 1920s to the 1960s; everything from a Lambre! a scooter to a Schuco racing car that plays a tune when the steering wheel is turned. Most of the toys are clockwork but we also added space toys and robots as they appeared on the scene.’
Janet’s three children, Peter, Ben and Polly, grew up learning how to play with these special toys with care. ‘ It was a rainy day’s treat for us to take them down, dust them and all play with them together.’ Today, her four grandsons are similarly entertained. The vast collection is now displayed in glass-fronted cupboards in the snug.
Her jumble sale and auction habit also nurtured a collection of Victorian garments, from pe!icoats to christening gowns. ‘ I had them hanging in a window instead of a blind,’ she explains. ‘A friend said, “You could sell that sort of thing.” It took a while to realise he was right.
Then I used to go out with a friend in the 1960s, pushing our babies in prams, and we’d pick up beaded dresses and art deco Bakelite and brooches.’
By the 1970s, Janet was selling ! rst to dealers, then from her own stalls. Her talent as a self-taught dressmaker is only revealed in passing when she describes how she sewed bias- cut dresses out of silk scarves and coats out of chenille tablecloths that she sold in London’s Camden Passage then Covent Garden. ‘ I still wear a 1920s long bouclé jacket in black with Japanese embroidery that I bought in those early days,’ she says.
Bit by bit, Janet also began buying interesting pieces and became known as a dealer in textiles and decorative antiques with a presence at prestigious fairs, from Kensington Brocante to Ardingly and Newark. Special buys from auctions and other dealers include her si"ing room curtains with chenille embroidered panels dating from the late 19th century and thought to be a design by CFA Voysey. Another favourite acquisition is a design for fabric by French artist Raoul Dufy, reprinted in the 1980s. ‘ I recognised the design as a Dufy and couldn’t bear to cut it up, so I made a blind with it for the kitchen window so that I can enjoy his skill as a pa"ernmaker every time I wash up.’
There is scarcely an item in the house that doesn’t have a story to tell and, for Janet, that is the joy of living here. In her bedroom she points to the 1920s shoes on the mantel that her artist daughter, Polly, wore at her wedding. While on the hall wall it is the picture of the family’s Christmas tree by Cedric that illustrates many of the decorations that still come out each year. Every Christmas, helped by Polly, Janet conjures up the seasonal magic of their collective past with paperchains and lanterns, baubles and candles, to enhance rooms that are already scenes of extraordinary visual largesse. This is a house where decorative # air is a non-stop backdrop that merely goes into overdrive as it salutes the season.
ABOVE FROM LEFT Clockwork motorbikes form a core part of the collection; the main cabinet that holds Janet’s hoard of clockwork toys was discovered 20 years ago on the pavement outside a chemist’s shop, waiting to be collected for disposal.
ABOVE FROMLEFT Paperchains introduce Christmas into the sitting room. The 1860s wing chair is covered in vintage French tea towel fabric. Curtains dating from the 1890s are thought to be in a CFA Voysey design; a selection of old toys share their own set of shelves.