A 1930s home with a contrast of designs
Samantha Bruce has always had an eye for the unusual, and her Thirties home is filled with flamboyant and unexpected touches. Photographs Rachael Smith
Samantha and Dougie Bruce’s home in Royal Tunbridge Wells is a masterclass in laid-back luxury. The house twinkles with super-sized fairground illuminations and pretty chandeliers; seating ranges from sleek mid-century chairs to the enveloping comfort of a huge Togo sofa from Ligne Roset; the walls are hung with contemporary art and, just to keep the mix happy and unpredictable, the odd piece of winsome taxidermy peeps out from unexpected places.
But Samantha resists the temptation to overcrowd her rooms. ‘I prefer to display a few really good pieces, so they stand out and can be appreciated properly,’ she explains.
Samantha owns In House Junkie, an antiques and interiors shop in St Leonards on Sea, which specialises in quirky and glamorous pieces that she sources from antiques markets in Europe and the UK. ‘I’ve always been a rummager and I love it when I spot a diamond among the junk,’ she says, gesturing to her latest find, a Sixties table lamp with a golden-orbed stem, ‘definitely a keeper’.
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Although most of what she buys is for her shop, she can never resist keeping a few of her favourite finds for herself. Which is not surprising, as shop and home share a similar aesthetic: beautiful pieces from previous eras mixed with canvases by contemporary artists that hint at a darker side.
‘I’m drawn to pieces with something unexpected beneath the surface,’ she says, and her newest acquisition, a painting by Rachel Glittenberg that hangs in the dining area, is no exception. ‘I love its dream-like atmosphere,’ she says.
Buying art that’s ahead of the curve chimes with Samantha’s love of spotting gems at antiques markets, although sometimes the antiques are hard won. On one bitterly cold trip to Saint-Ouen, Paris’s famous flea market, her car was broken into. ‘It was one of those winter mornings when it’s almost too cold to think, and the market wasn’t great,’ she remembers.
‘But I’d found some good bits, including a French brass wall light and an ostrich egg lamp. I packed them in the car while I went on to the next area, then returned to find them gone. I was gutted.’ The thieves had overlooked one of her best finds, though: some Italian Lucite resin lights. ‘Maybe they thought they were plastic. I don’t think they were very discerning,’ she says.
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Samantha’s home, with its two-tone hallway and large kitchen-diner at the back of the house, is the perfect platform for the pieces she decides to keep. But the Thirties property has come a long way since the couple moved in. ‘When we bought this place, it felt depressingly old-fashioned. There was an arched brickwork fireplace and lots of wall-to-wall carpet, which hid parquet flooring in the hall,’ she says. ‘The parquet stayed, but not much else.’
Samantha oversaw knocking through the skinny kitchen and living room at the back, adding an interesting detail at floor level, where the kitchen floor tiles meet the floorboards. ‘I wanted a cut-in effect rather than a hard line slicing the room down the middle,’ she says.
In the hallway, however, there is crisp division at work. Walls are painted white above the dado rail and in Railings by Farrow & Ball below, the effect flowing across doors and frames. ‘I felt the need to do something radically different from the previous fusty decor,’ she explains.
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The dark mood of the hallway is balanced by brighter shades in the living spaces, most dramatically in the shape of a luxuriously quilted Togo sofa. ‘We needed a shot of colour and this raspberry velvet is just the job,’ she says. Samantha originally trained in fashion, but always did up houses on the side.
She later switched to interiors, initially working for a design agency that specialised in fitting out hotels and restaurants before setting up on her own. These days, however, she concentrates on running her shop. ‘I prefer to source things that will give people their own inspiration, rather than doing it all for them,’ she says.
Her shop on Norman Road is a popular destination for set designers, as well as homeowners in search of something unusual. ‘Whether people are buying for their own home or to provide authenticity to a film set, it’s lovely to offer something a little bit special that captures their imagination.’
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