Take a tour of Bayham Hall in Kent
When Jaime and Justin Cooke moved to a wing of Bayham Hall, they were happy to carry on its traditions – both in terms of its decor and their own lifestyle. Photographs Rachael Smith
The rooms of Bayham Hall would originally have echoed to the music of society balls held by the 3rd Marquess of Camden, who had the house built as his weekend retreat in 1870. An invitation here would have been coveted by any self-respecting Victorian DFL (Down From London), ideally combined with a stroll around the genteel spa town of Tunbridge Wells, six miles away.
The Jacobean-style house enjoyed a second heyday in the 1920s, when Edward, Prince of Wales was among the garden party guests. The newest owners, Jaime and Justin Cooke, are more than happy to carry on the house’s traditions. But, Jaime says, ‘As with the decor, we’ll be doing things in our own style.’
In between being hired out for parties and private events, this central portion of Bayham Hall in Kent is home to Jaime and Justin and their children. A side wing was converted into flats after the estate was sold in the late 1970s, but the family live in the most commanding central section, complete with a pillar-studded entrance hall and a dining room that lacks only the hovering figure of a modern-day Carson.
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However, while this house is redolent of history, Jaime says: ‘We didn’t want to feel intimidated by its heritage. Our aim was to breathe new life into the building.’ From the off, this country seat had to work as a busy family home, with all the craziness that comes with three young children, plus Herman, their Great Dane puppy. ‘The decor needs to suit family life and it feels very ‘us’,’ she says.
When it came to furniture, the challenge was finding pieces that didn’t look lost in the impressively sized rooms. ‘We’ve been getting up early to go to Ardingly Antiques & Collectors Fair ever since we bought the house in 2003,’ says Jaime. ‘It’s the only place where we manage to find pieces that are interesting and large enough to fill our rooms. Everything is on a different scale here.’
While initially they filled the house with painted vintage French furniture, now Alberta’s bed is the only piece that remains in this style. ‘We felt the house needed a touch more originality. Justin has more of an eye for retro-kitsch pieces, while I’m more drawn towards French and Italian antiques, so it’s now a bit more of a mix.’
Jaime’s favourite antique is the pair of French corner tables in the living room. ‘They have a beautifully distressed finish and came from a large house on the Champs-Élysées. I love being surrounded by pieces that intrigue while looking beautiful. Antiques can work alongside contemporary pieces if they echo the shape, colour or mood of each other,’ she says.
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Jaime and Justin didn’t embark on a full-scale renovation of the house until more recently. Bought from an elderly couple who had lived there for several decades, the house was ‘freezing cold and draughty. We ended up holed up in two rooms, hunched over heaters,’ says Jaime. Back then, the timing wasn’t right for country life and Justin’s mother held the fort while the couple moved back to London. Seven years on and with a toddler and a baby, they returned to the Kentish countryside.
Major work included removing 1970s partition walls that had chopped up the hallway and some of the rooms. ‘As we opened up the house it was amazing – you could see the space as it was meant to be,’ says Jaime. The couple admit that it’s not always the easiest house to live in and compare it to the Forth Bridge. On occasion, Jaime says, she’s yearned for a more straightforward home. ‘But never for long. I can’t imagine a more spectacular place for the children to grow up.’
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