The beautifully restored Ditchling home of Brandwatch creative director Katja Garrood
Despite its prominent location in the centre of Ditchling, opposite the village church, many people have confessed to Katja Garrood that they never really noticed her house before.
That was until she and partner Giles Palmer embarked on a long four-year project to restore the former vicarage in West Street. “We bought the house in September 2013,” says Katja from the newly built patio, which took 18 tonnes of stone brickwork to create. “We were looking for somewhere out of Brighton, where we both work. It was the view which sold us.”
And what a view it is. From where we are sitting we can see a long unbroken run of countryside leading to Ditchling Beacon which towers above us. The south-facing garden – which is Katja’s next project with the support of Stella Starcke of Blooming Marvellous Gardens and gardener John Tovey – catches the sun throughout the day and already boasts a pond, apple trees and a selection of wild flowers which Katja uses to fill vases through the summer.
That morning the eightmonth-old lawn had just been cleared of a minor infestation of giant snails. They were the two ice cream-inspired sculptures provided for Brighton and Hove’s six-week Snailspace trail by its main sponsor Brandwatch, brought down specially for Sussex Life’s photoshoot before their installation by the British Airways i360 and in the Pavilion Gardens.
Social intelligence company Brandwatch was founded in Brighton in 2006 by a small team including its current CEO Giles and Katja who is now the creative director. Their digital platforms are used
by more than 1,400 international brands, including Unilever, American Airlines, Whirlpool, Asos, Walmart, British Airways and Dell. Brandwatch itself has grown to employ 420 people across seven global offices. Its flagship product Brandwatch Analytics gathers millions of online conversations every day from open social media sources to help support their clients’ own market research. Vizia is used to provide visually engaging insights. It will be used to give real-time information drawn from social media about the Snailspace trail in a window display at the Martlets Hospice shop in Brighton’s Church Street as part of the Brighton Digital Festival – another citywide event which Brandwatch is closely involved with. “It has evolved to a point where people can showcase their latest digital innovations – it’s very much a festival for the city,” says Katja who has sat on the board for four years. “We rely on Arts Council funding and sponsorship – and a lot of voluntary work – but we desperately want to make sure that we appeal to people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s a testament to the diversity of Brighton. Snailspace is an event we know our staff will love being part of, as well as offering them lots of creative opportunities. We’ve always been pioneers in our space, and we love that this campaign offers us a chance to really celebrate that spirit of innovation.”
With so much going on it’s no surprise that Katja describes her Ditchling home as her sanctum. She has designed it to be comfortable and robust particularly as she shares it with two teenagers and her “clumsy” 6ft 5in partner.
Key to Katja’s design of the house was a synergy between the old and the new. Originally built as two semi-detached houses, the one-time Sillwood House is thought to have become one house in the mid-19th century
and undergone many refurbishments and modernisations over the years. One of its more unusual inhabitants – uncovered by the Ditchling History Project – was Ada Botting-tuppen, who made her maid dress up in several different outfits every day to make outsiders think she could afford a houseful of servants.
Now Grade II listed, some of the changes to the house are obvious, such as the protected staircase which goes nowhere in Katja’s studio and doubles up as useful shelves. The biggest new addition to the house is a squaring off of the western wing where once there was just a flat roofed living room extension. Now it is home to the kitchen and master bedroom. Seamless transitions like this helped earn the refurbishment a regional award at the 2018 LABC Building Excellence Awards and a Sussex Heritage Trust Award.
It didn’t come without a lot of hard work and disruption though. Having spent 18 months living in the house the family moved out to Giles’ Brighton flat, and builders Nutshell Construction and the architectural team Cityzen Design moved in. Architectural technologist John Smith worked with Katja to make her ideas a reality. “As a family living in 2018 we wanted a place that was going to suit our style of living today,” says Katja. “It was a collaboration that worked really well. There was a great team spirit among the builders – they fell in love with the house and were really respectful and careful.”
“This building has been around for 300 years, we want it to stick around for another 300 years”
After two years of wrangling with the planning authorities the house was stripped back to a shell, with all the existing plumbing, electrics and heating removed. “We tried to be as smart and energy efficient as we could,” says Katja, who admits to battling with the conservationists over installing double glazing. “We wanted to be respectful to the history absolutely, but we wanted to be progressive. The Victorians lived with no central heating and small windows – but that’s not how we live today. Why should we be forced to stay in the past? This building has been around for 300 years, we want it to be around for another 300 years.”
While the family was living offsite, Giles and Katja took half a day off every week for a site meeting with the builders. “I was juggling full-time work and family with sourcing taps and tiles, making really big decisions which sometimes felt really scary,” says Katja. “If you made a decision in a rush it could have real consequences. It helped that we had a vision and a sense of style about what we wanted to create.”
On their website Cityzen Design sum up the work as “you name it, it needed it”. As well as the western extension they spent a lot of time rebuilding an unstable outbuilding which is now connected to the east of the building, acting almost like an annexe. Every room was refurbished and renewed, with steels added to the old structure. One cosmetic element was making the colour of the house grey to complement the light in the UK. “I must have gone through 55 different shades of grey,” laughs Katja, who confesses to having OCD – Obsessive Colour Disorder. “I love colour and how a brand’s persona evolves around its colours. For some of the upstairs rooms I picked a particular shade of grey. We turned up to see the painters looking so gloomy with their brushes putting the colour on. We had to make it three shades lighter.
“The outside took a long time to paint as we were trying to match a Farrow and Ball shade – it ended up looking lilac so we had to use the original Farrow and Ball colour ammonite. When we bought the house the walls were pale yellow and the pillars and window frames were white. There was a charm about it, but I wasn’t a fan of the pillars, so I decided to knock them back with one colour. Grey changes with the light.”
The grey carries on inside, with the living room painted a dark grey in a counterintuitive move to make it cosy and perfect for watching television on a drop-down projector screen. The smoked oak wooden floors on the ground floor, from Hove’s
“On their website Cityzen Design sum up the work as ‘You name it, it needed it’”
Ocean Flooring, make for easy movement from outside to inside without worrying about ruined carpets, while the bathrooms all follow a similar design and style using Italian-honed marble sourced from Brighton’s Tile Depot and taps from Brooklynbased Watermark. Other innovations include a stunning vertical light fitting by the main staircase – originally designed by Katja using water-filled balloons – and neat design touches such as a utility room sink by Worthing stonemasons Francis Tate Marble Works made by repurposing an old trough found in the garden.
That’s not to say the family didn’t make the odd mistake. Katja bought a velvet sofa feeling that it would age gracefully with the house as in so many stately homes – but didn’t count on it getting milk spilt on it in the first week. She’s now looking for more furniture and wall decorations. “It’s the fun bit,” she says. “It all has to fit into the bigger picture and tie together.” She has been exploring the likes of Lewes’ vintage store Lovely and Co for suitable finds.
“I love my studio,” she says of her favourite space in the house. “I’m quite sentimental, but I can become a terrible hoarder. My partner is very unsentimental and keeps me in check. But that room means I can have my little Sylvanian rabbits with their nibbled ears on display. Virginia Woolf talks about having a room of one’s own – and this is mine. It is my folly, a place I can indulge in my whimsical thoughts and creations, away from the pressures and reality of my job at Brandwatch. In the future I’d like to think I could qualify it as a working studio.”
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LEFT: The refurbished former vicarage seen from the garden RIGHT: Katja Garrood with the patio in the background
ABOVE TOP: The dining room looking out over the view of Ditchling Beacon LEFT: Katja’s studio and protected stairs ABOVE: Katja Garrood with Brandwatch’s snails and Fabtastic Scoopalicious