Period Property of the Month - November 2010
Artist, Michelle Scott, initially didn't know where to start with her new home in beautiful Arundel, but she now loves the finished results...
A little slice of heaven
After a long career in fashion, and with her experience as an artist, you might think Michelle Scott knew exactly what look she wanted to achieve when doing up a room in her West Sussex house. In fact the opposite is true. "My starting point is usually that I want things that are beautiful and practical," she says. "Apart from that I just buy what I like, then find a place for it when I get home. Luckily it sort of works."
It certainly does. Which makes it hard to imagine that when Michelle first set foot in her house in 2004 it was painted mustard yellow throughout, ceilings included. The spare room was lime green. "I love colour, and often use purples or gold leaf in my paintings. But these were not nice colours, they had to go," she says, shuddering at the memory.
For Michelle the most important thing was to have a great project on one of the oldest streets in Arundel, a chocolate box town in the shadow of Arundel Castle. She sold her flat in Notting Hill and for the next four years set about doing up the house, taking on a major task each year.
First she tackled the ground floor living room. "The previous owners had ripped up the carpet to expose the original floorboards but they needed sanding," she says. "After that I stained them dark oak, which gave the whole room a warmer feel."
The following year, Michelle had to have the front and back of the house damp-proof tanked. "That was a big messy job," she remembers. "But because the kitchen and dining room are in what used to be the basement, they need to damp free." With the basement re-plastered after the damp course had been fitted, Michelle was able to create a new kitchen.
As she had limited space, she went for simple white units, and got a local carpenter to transform an old coal store in the wall above the sink into hidden storage for pots and pans. To stop the modest room looking smaller, Michelle chose fitted base units and asked the carpenter to make open shelving for the walls.
The kitchen opens onto the dining room, which looks out over the garden. "I'm not the most experienced gardener," Michelle admits, "but I knew I wanted to plant a mix of flowers with colours that would be interesting for me to paint. When I now look out from the dining room it's as if the garden is already a painting. And if you look closer you will notice stone cherubs and wrought-iron love hearts hiding among the leafy shrubs."
The last phase of major renovation included painting the brickwork on the front of the house to smarten it up. "I had to check with the council before having the work done because we're in a conservation area, but they were happy because I chose a heritage cream exterior paint," she says.
Michelle also installed a new bathroom on the first floor, fitting it out with an Edwardianstyle bath, basin and WC. She designed the layout herself, choosing to move the bath to sit against the side of the room facing the window, and keeping the basin neatly hidden behind the door. As the house is only five miles from the Sussex coast, it's no surprise that driftwood boats feature around the room, along with the shells that Michelle has been collecting since she was a child.
Next to the bathroom is Michelle's spare bedroom which she has decorated in similar tones to her own room upstairs on the second floor. "I like to create a backdrop, with warm cream or off-white paint on the walls. Then I'm free to alter the colours in the space whenever I fancy a change, although in bedrooms I do find myself drawn to dusty pinks and taupes."
Michelle's bedroom is the most feminine room in the house, with silk throws on the bed and it houses her collection of shoes, handbags and vintage kimonos. It makes you wonder how her fiancÚ Matt, a gamekeeper, copes. When he moved in last year, Michelle was ready to tone things down a bit. Luckily there was no need as Matt loves the house.
"We even get the same feel from certain rooms," says Michelle. "I always thought of my room as a little slice of heaven because it's on the top floor and with south-facing views over the rooftops in the town. That's why I decorated it all white with soft, cream touches. Matt woke up one day and said, 'This room feels like heaven.' I couldn't believe it!"
With the house now finished, Michelle had planned to start work turning the outhouse in her garden into an artist's studio. She wanted more room to create the canvases she now paints for the town's gallery trail that made her visit in the first place all those years ago. But that project is on hold for the foreseeable future, as Michelle is too busy running the shop she opened in Brighton's South Laines in autumn 2008. "I noticed when I was buying gifts, clothes, handbags and jewellery for my shop that I had exactly the same approach as when I was doing up my house," says Michelle. "I had no set plan of what I wanted to sell, but I knew every single thing had to be gorgeous, practical if possible and, of course, something I love."