A Regency villa filled with renovated antiques
Sheila Wallace is passionate about restoring period properties, which she furnishes with antiques exuding a continental feel – think tapestry rugs, droplet chandeliers, touches of gilt and doors leading to a statuary-filled garden. Feature Katie Hallett. Photographs Jan Baldwin
Sheila Wallace is nothing if not modest. Always self-deprecating, she describes the aesthetic of her seaside home as the result of being a ‘serial junk buyer’. This term conjures dark rooms filled with broken, sorry-looking furnishings and shelves crammed with dusty knick-knacks: a look that has little in common with the elegant, understated home that Sheila’s very much is.
Standout antiques – Sheila’s so-called ‘junk buys’ – are showcased in whitewashed airy, open rooms, and while the pieces may have been tatty when she bought them, this certainly isn’t the case now. ‘I’ve always been interested in antiques so I taught myself how to restore them,’ she says. ‘I’m learning and improving all the time – I learnt not to block paint, it robs antiques of their identity.’ Items which have benefited from her deft hands include a 1950s desk, given a French makeover with two shades of paint, and multiple glass droplet chandeliers from the 1900s.
We first featured Sheila three years ago when she was living in the West Country. Her new home may have smarter architecture (it’s a Regency villa) but the cosmopolitan feel remains. ‘I initially warmed to the French look but then I discovered that Italian pieces were even better. You can’t go far wrong if you keep Tuscany in mind,’ she says.
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What drew her to the house was its proximity to the sea and the vantage from the living room to the garden. ‘I walked into the living room and saw that I could create a fabulous view down to the garden from there,’ she says. And that is exactly what she did. Sheila is a qualified garden designer and so set to work transforming the unloved space – bringing a slice of Italy to the south coast.
Columns, bird feeders, urns and a water fountain are all classical in style and were mostly bought from auctions, junk shops and fairs. The exterior walls have also been given a makeover with a splash of pink paint accented with green-painted shutters – a colour combination inspired by Monet’s palette. Underneath the windows are cast iron rain hoppers, bought from Lawrences Auctioneers. Such is Sheila’s eye for detail that she had closed shutters made to cover over a filled-in window.
While many pieces have followed her from home to home, such as her ‘save in a fire’ piece – the Belgian bureau in the living room – she’s also sought out new pieces from local markets and fairs, her favourites of which are visited on a monthly basis. ‘Everything I own is used, shabby and old. If there are cobwebs on the chandeliers, I leave them!’ When buying, her ethos is: ‘Never conform. If you follow trends, your home won’t have any individuality.’
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And, of course, buying old, handmade pieces is very much part of this. When asked what she collects, her answer is resolute. ‘Everything!’ she laughs. ‘Kitchenware, fabrics, furniture – just anything that has charm and a story to tell.’
It’s not just antiques that Sheila restores. She’s been ‘decorating’ properties since she was 18, although to her this means more than updating with a lick of paint. In three years of living here, she has moved the staircase and completely reconfigured the layout. Sheila isn’t one to sit still though.
Of her urge to restore homes to their period roots, Sheila says, ‘I’m driven. I can’t help it, there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’m not in control of it, it’s in control of me!’ She may say that she doesn’t have control, but one look around her home – and garden – and quite the opposite seems to be the case…
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