Overwhelmed by aesthetic inspiration? This is how interior designer Francesca Johnson found the style that truly reflected her (Picture: Brent Darby)
Taking on your first major interior design project is a daunting experience.
Making it a one-off aesthetic statement that reflects your true passions, inner life and most important relationship makes it an even more formidable task.
But it was a challenge that Francesca Johnson has risen to in a gloriously unique way, at her two-bedroom apartment in an Edwardian conversion in the East Sussex coastal town of St Leonards-on-Sea.
Her home is filled with colour, art homages to the greats of literature and music along with vintage chandeliers, delicate ceramics and sensuous textures, created to a renovation, landscaping and decoration budget of about £120,000.
The first Covid lockdown of 2020 had prompted Francesca, who has a background in fashion marketing, and her partner, Ben Shapland, an analyst in the energy sector, both in their 40s, to rethink their long-term lifestyle in south London.
‘As it was for many people, the lockdown was something of a circuit breaker, emotionally and mentally,’ says Francesca. ‘After 20 years of living in Crystal Palace, we found the courage to make a big change. We’d visited friends in St Leonards many times and loved the seaside location, the incredibly creative community and its independent spirit.’
On viewing their 1,033sq ft first-floor flat, just a 15-minute walk from the town’s promenade and shingled beach, they were instantly smitten, despite the fact it was simply a shell, with no kitchen or bathroom, and that it needed complete rewiring and replumbing.
The flat was simply a shell that needed complete renovation (Picture: Francesca Johnson)
‘Light was streaming in through the huge south-facing windows in the high-ceilinged living room,’ says Francesca, ‘and we could see that its original features were in wonderful condition.’ Fireplaces, delicate cornicing and ceiling panelling had all been retained.
Completing on the property in August 2020, they stayed in a series of Airbnbs in St Leonards, moving in in October once their bathroom – a vision of art deco-inspired glamour in forest-greens and golds – was user-friendly.
The couple had decided early on to flip their original plans, opting for the kitchen and main living space to be at the front of the home, to benefit from the south-facing light.
Taking inspiration from Parisian apartments and Brooklyn open-plan living, they wanted to honour the building’s Edwardian heritage while creating connectivity between spaces – something they did by creating large case openings from the hallway onto the kitchen and living space, eschewing doors.
For Francesca, working full-time from home while project-managing the three-month build during lockdown was admittedly stressful – although enlisting the kitchen design team at Howdens in Bexhill-on-Sea eased some of the strain.
They helped Francesca achieve a dreamy room with floor-to-ceiling duck-egg blue cabinetry and white marble-effect quartz-stone worktops. However, it was settling on a cohesive interior design scheme that turned out to be most testing.
Francesca designed the scheme around a few key pieces that were really meaningful to her and Ben (Picture: Brent Darby)
Their bathroom – a vision of art deco-inspired glamour in forest-greens and golds (Picture: Brent Darby)
The sunshine-yellow front door (Picture: Brent Darby)
‘As this was the first property I had ever designed, I immersed myself in interiors magazines and Pinterest, and initially found everything a little overwhelming,’ says Francesca, who has worked for fashion brands such as Karen Millen and Dr Martens.
‘It was hard to narrow down what our own personal style really was. So I thought hard about what the purpose of our home was, how we wanted to feel in the space and how to make it feel connected to us, both emotionally and as a reflection of our personalities.’
The answer, Francesca realised, was to design a scheme around a few key pieces that were really meaningful to her and Ben – from ceramics to photography.
‘From there, the process felt much clearer and very intuitive,’ she says.
Beyond the sunshine-yellow front door (painted in Lick Yellow 02) and the hallway, with its geometric Bert & May tiles, the living room, kitchen, main bedroom and study/guest bedroom all feature one special object chosen to unify the concept of each room, through colour, theme and texture, all linked to the wider scheme beyond.
‘Ben and I are lucky in that we have very similar tastes, and are aligned on most design decisions,’ says Francesca – although mood boards, she adds, are strictly her domain.
‘Ben is very hands-on and will give DIY a go. His dad is an electrician, so he comes from a background of knowledge and confidence around DIY, which has been super-helpful.’
The 1970s photograph of David Bowie was a Christmas present (Brent Darby)
A Concetta Gallo for Habitat bowl became the focus for the living room (Picture Brent Darby)
Francesca and Ben’s tastes are very aligned (Picture: Brent Darby)
Having loved the entire process so much, Francesca has now undertaken formal interior design training, at the KLC School of Design, and has launched her own business, The Concept in Curation (@theconcept_incuration).
‘I want to help clients create progressive, considered interiors curated around loved items to build true emotional connection and reflect a sense of self,’ she says. ‘It’s all about working out the starting point of your story, and finding real purpose and meaning in what you are creating.’
The colour scheme in the kitchen is a blend of muted grey and duck egg blue (Picture: Brent Darby)
The wall hung with delicate plates was inspired by an organically textural clay piece from Francesca’s company Ferm Living (Brent Darby)
A wall hung with delicate plates was inspired by an organically textural clay piece from Ferm Living.
This determined the other colours around it, a blend of muted grey and duck egg blue.
Bursts of colour are provided in joyful table and cookware from Our Place.
The curved oak Sienna bed (Picture: Brent Darby)
Francesca’s favourite buy a miniature chaise lounge was found on eBay (Picture: Brent Darby)
The bedroom is perfectly accentuated by a series of framed botanical prints (Picture: Brent Darby)
The elegant bay window of the couple’s bedroom has been used to showcase one of Francesca’s favourite buys – a miniature chaise longue, found on eBay, that she bought before the renovation had even begun.
Now upholstered in dramatic House of Hackney fabric Midnight Garden, inspired by moody Dutch Master paintings, it is perfectly accentuated by a series of framed botanical prints and the curved oak Sienna bed (from £999, Feather and Black).
The living room
It’s a mini-masterclass in contrast (Picture: Brent Darby)
The sculptural chandelier emphasizes the theatrical ceiling height (Picture: Brent Darby)
Embellished with mixed media in the form of photos and drawings, smooth lines, grainy texture and matt and metallic details (Picture: Brent Darby)
The home is filled with delicate ceramics and sensuous textures (Picture: Brent Darby)
A Concetta Gallo for Habitat bowl – an unusual purchase by Francesca in the early days of her career, when she was in her 20s – provided the focus for the living room design.
‘It was a lot of money for me, considering I didn’t really have a focus on interiors at the time,’ she says. ‘But the piece still feels true to my style today.’
As well as being a treasured memento, it’s a mini-masterclass in contrast, embellished with mixed media in the form of photos and drawings, smooth lines, grainy texture and matt and metallic details.
The wonderful yellow hue Gallo used for it is reiterated in the room, on the cabinetry and bookshelves, with the sculptural 101 Copenhagen Drop chandelier in Brass (£1,028 from Nest), chosen to emphasise the theatrical ceiling height.
The guest room
A vintage Murano glass chandelier refracts light around the space (Picture: Brent Darby)
To the rear of the flat, in the study/guest bedroom, a 1970s photograph of David Bowie was a Christmas present from Ben after Francesca had rhapsodised about it in Lucy Bell’s local art photography gallery (lucy-bell.com).
Bowie’s magnetic persona, captured in flashes of orange, black and white, was the perfect presence in a creative space.
The use of orange in the photo inspired the terracotta-painted ceiling (Farrow & Ball’s Red Earth), which created a warmer feel in the north-facing space. A vintage Murano glass chandelier refracts light around the space.
FREE TICKETS FOR METRO READERS
Are you feeling inspired?
The South West Homebuilding & Renovating Show is on this Saturday and Sunday at Bath & West Showground – whether you’re planning home improvements, taking on your next big project, looking for practical tips, inspiring advice or you’re interested in the latest products, this is the show for you.
Metro readers can get in free, by booking at: homebuildingshow.co.uk/pr-metro
And get free tickets to The South West Homebuilding & Renovating Show to find yours.