A coastal Georgian villa in Kent
Production designer and director Tony Halton has used a cool backdrop to showcase the ever-changing tableaux of fascinating objects in his and wife Nerine’s ‘unfussy’ Georgian villa. Feature Emma J Page. Photographs Rachael Smith
Not many people can successfully pair quirky Fornasetti with 18th-century Chinese lacquerwork, or Georgian prints with British surrealist art, but after a career as a set designer and director, Tony has honed his ability to create intriguing tableaux out of the most disparate items.
An architect father and two vastly contrasting childhood homes perhaps explain his surprising ability to mesh classic period pieces with mid-century shapes. ‘We lived in a 17th-century Queen Anne house that seemed untouched by time,’ says Tony. ‘But that was followed by a home designed by my father – a 1950s bungalow with a Canadian-style cedar roof.’
The Georgian villa that he now shares with his wife, Nerine, in a pretty seaside village near Folkestone is a reflection of that diversity. When the couple first came across it after moving here from Lincolnshire in 2011, they were won over by its two-storey extension and generous roof deck, as well as the potential to house an artist’s studio in the garden. ‘It was decorated in a faux-marine style, which wasn’t to our taste, but we loved the fact that it was just paces from the sea,’ says Tony. ‘We could play with the building’s layout and adjust it to suit our needs.’
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One of the four bedrooms was turned into a bathroom, out of another the pair created a book-lined office, while a third has become a dining room. ‘The place had good bones, but we reinstated details such as tongue-and-groove panelling, as well as restoring fireplaces,’ Tony explains. With his design experience, he also drew up plans for a clapboard artist’s studio, accessed via the garden, whose generous vertical windows channel plenty of light.
The maverick layout of this home is the perfect foil for the couple’s carefully curated antiques, foraged in local shops and at fairs, including Sunbury, Ardingly and Newark. Convex mirrors and Vauxhall glass coexist peacefully with mid-century classics, including the Paul Frankl coffee table in the living room. While 1970s film art, such as the Jean-Pierre Melville lobby card in the breakfast room, lives easily with Tony’s collection of Blue John marble.
But this is a couple who are not precious about these much-loved pieces. ‘I call it junking,’ says Tony. ‘The thrill is in finding a bargain, such as the 18th-century console table in the sitting room that I picked up for a very reasonable price. It was missing its original marble top, but I created a faux replica using marbled MDF. I like to save and restore, but only to a certain level so as not to wreck the integrity of a piece.’
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The couple have amassed some interesting collections over the years, including several works by the 20th-century British surrealist John Banting, about whom Tony is currently producing a film. ‘I like a clean, pared-back aesthetic,’ he reflects, ‘so I am naturally drawn to unfussy Georgian and Regency pieces, as well as the fluid shapes of mid-century furniture.’
Several of the couple’s belongings are collected purely for pleasure rather than display. A set of architect’s drawing instruments from 1720 are squirreled out of sight in their original shagreen leather cases, while another of Tony’s penchants is for Pierre Cardin watches from the 1970s. But, mostly, it’s the visual appeal of treasured finds that keeps this home’s landscape fresh and interesting. ‘Shape, size and colour have always been integral,’ says Tony. ‘Often one large item, such as an overscaled mirror or even a picture frame, can really anchor a scheme.’
The couple love living by the coast and Tony notes that ‘some days, the sea is like a calm mill pond, with gulls sitting on its surface like ducks; other days there are raging storms.’ That elemental appeal is very much reflected in the eclectic yet deeply comforting nature of this seaside home, whose myriad contents prove to be so much more than the sum of their parts.
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