Tucked away behind a hedge off the main street of a historic Sussex village, Fran Fudge’s early 18th-century house is easy to miss. ‘We bought the house three years ago. It dates from 1704 and although it looks quite small from the outside, inside it’s deceptively spacious. With three teenage children, we needed at least four bedrooms and plenty of space inside and out,’ she explains.


Fran and her Canadian husband, Brian, set about planning how to adapt the house to 21st-century family life, without destroying the character of the historic, listed building. ‘Back in the 1960s, previous owners had constructed a two-storey extension at the back, which added an extra bedroom and bathroom on the first floor and a kitchen and dining area downstairs. Although the house required updating, all the essentials were there: five bedrooms, though one is now my office; a large garden; lots of parking; and the icing on the cake was a barn where I could store my stock.’

Fran is an antiques dealer, and easily accessible storage space for her finds makes life less complicated. ‘I spend days on the road and make frequent, sometimes weekly, trips to the Continent. Often I’ll get back just in time to offload the haul before heading off on the school run. In between trips abroad, I buy closer to home, getting up at dawn to trawl through the antiques fairs at Kempton or Ardingly, the latter being conveniently just a couple of hundred yards up the road from my shop, Ardingly Antiques & Interiors.’

Despite being distinctly ‘olde worlde’ with its beamed walls and ceilings, Fran and Brian’s house has a pared-down, uncluttered look. ‘While the house required updating, we were intent on retaining the period details such as the beams and fireplaces. However, the underfloor heating, which we installed beneath a new limestone floor running from the hall through to the kitchen, doesn’t detract in any way from that period style,’ says Fran. ‘Other changes included knocking out the plaster in the beamed walls in the sitting room and the small side room between the kitchen and entrance hall, which enhanced the light flow without detracting from the traditional look. In places, we even knocked out ceilings.’

The existing kitchen was spacious, but Fran was keen to put her own stamp on it. Working with a local builders’ merchant, she specified a classic combination of grey-painted Shaker-style units, contrasted by work surfaces of black granite. The dining area, which opens on to the terrace and the garden via double-glazed French doors, is furnished with antiques.

The garden itself looks remarkably mature, thanks to Brian’s hard work. ‘He put the word out locally that if someone’s garden was becoming overgrown, he’d dig up any trees or shrubs that needed thinning out. In that way we ended up with a more-or-less instant garden, for remarkably little cost,’ explains Fran.

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Upstairs, each bedroom has a bathroom or shower room designed by Fran and re-fitted in a similar style; walls and floors clad in grey stone with affordable, contemporary-style sanitaryware. Similarly, the decorative theme throughout is neutral. The walls are painted white, as is the woodwork, but there’s no lack of colour.

‘Painted furniture, cushions, upholstery and decorative paintings, which generally come from France and Belgium, add the colour accent,’ says Fran. ‘As I swap everything around so often, having a plain backdrop means most pieces, even those with a strong pattern, don’t look out of place.’

Fran had an early interest in antiques and decoration, which was encouraged by her late mother. ‘She was an avid reader of interior design magazines and moving furniture around was second nature to her – and it didn’t take long for me to start joining in. At the drop of a hat, she would completely change the furniture in our family home in Fulham, and I’ve followed her example. I often move everything around on a whim – perhaps an armchair I’ve bought will propel me into a change-round, or a Fauves-like still-life becomes a focal point in a new arrangement. By the end of an evening the room is unrecognisable – almost! Having the shop does make that part of life easier, as a surplus sofa simply goes into stock,’ she says.

Fran’s life as an antiques dealer took off soon after she and Brian moved from London to the East Sussex village of Ditchling, in 2004. ‘I’d just finished studying for my law degree and, for a bit of fun, I entered an interior-design magazine competition. I was only a runner-up, but it got me thinking about what I liked doing and how I saw the future panning out.

Although interiors and antiques had always fascinated me, when I left school I’d got a job helping to organise exhibitions and then worked in financial administration. Anyway, I decided it was time to try my hand with antiques, so I’d hold an ‘open house’ at weekends, with a ‘For Sale’ ticket on pretty much everything.’

Subsequently, Fran opened her own antiques and interiors shop in nearby Hurstpierpoint until she found larger premises in Ardingly, when the family moved three years ago. ‘I now share that space with a couple of other dealers and, as we take turns manning the shop, I have more time to source new stock, put it on Instagram, try new pieces at home and occasionally see my children,’ she says, laughing.

Fran’s latest enterprise is to join The Vinery near Arundel, where the varied wares of some 25 antiques dealers can be seen under one roof. ‘Arundel is a regular port-of-call for international interior designers and decorators, sourcing English and continental antiques, so it’s a chance to widen my range of stock and my customer base,’ she says.


‘I visit every week to change my display and meet up with the other dealers. There’s no formal training for dealing in antiques, but over the years you get a feel for what looks right and, more importantly, what doesn’t. Most of what I know, I’ve learnt from other dealers who are generally very happy to share their knowledge. No day is ever the same – being able to indulge my passion for antiques whilst learning on the job makes it a fascinating way of life.’