Restoring and decorating a Victorian B&B

Paul Oxborrow and Stephen Groves have taken their home back to its Victorian origins, filling it with personality, colour and pattern. Feature Amanda Harling. Photography Andreas Von Einsiedel.

Layers of pattern, ornate mouldings, gilded chandeliers and innumerable gilt-framed pictures provide guests with plenty to look at.

Buying the Victorian property

Paul Oxborrow and Stephen Groves moved into their Victorian house 25 years ago, first buying a flat on the raised ground floor. Living close to the sea appealed to the couple, as did the generous room sizes and the quality of the high Victorian architecture. ‘The fact that it was also affordable made it an attractive prospect,’ says Paul, ‘although the decoration, or lack of it, being white throughout, was not to our taste.’

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Subsequently, when the maisonette on the top two floors became available they purchased that as well and, in 2002, when the basement flat came up for sale, they finally had the entire house to themselves – but not for long. ‘The idea of running the house as a B&B evolved during the course of the renovation. Most of our guests are here because they love the idea, just as we do, of going back in time to the 19th century,’ says Paul. ‘It’s been a labour of love and sharing it with our guests is all part of the fun.’

A 19th century style restoration

‘The house dates from 1882 but, when it was divided into three flats in the 1920s, some fairly substantial alterations were made,’ Paul continues. ‘We decided to restore the original layout and decorate in a style appropriate to the age of the house, using antique furniture and vintage fittings wherever possible.’

While their guests enjoy the novel attractions of the Victorian era for a few nights, Paul and Stephen are immersed in the past full-time; the basement kitchen is startlingly devoid of mod cons. ‘The sink is now back in the scullery along with the washing machine. That’s a necessity in a B&B,’ Paul points out. ‘We cook on a reconditioned oil-fired Aga – a full house generally means serving multiple cooked breakfasts and an Aga is ideal for that.’

Aga in victorian house kitchen
A well-used, reconditioned Aga set into the chimney breast, where the original range would have been, is useful when it comes to airing the fine vintage bed linen used in the guest bedrooms.

Restoring the original layout led to a trawl through Hastings Council’s building records. Research is second nature to Paul, who taught religious studies in his previous life. ‘We wanted to ascertain the exact position of walls and doors and the original staircase. We even reinstated the dumb waiter that had been removed when the building was converted into flats. On busy breakfast mornings it saves so much time being able to send the plates up and down.’

Overlooking the garden at the back of the house is the splendidly over-the- top double drawing room, with Stephen’s Blüthner grand piano taking centre stage in the middle. ‘When we moved in, one half of the drawing room was the kitchen, and the fireplace in that part was long gone, but we saw a matching one in a Tunbridge Wells antiques shop and bought it just in case.’

Victorian decoration to match the era

The elaborate scrollwork cornice is in fact a wallpaper border, while the architraves and skirting were marbleized by a skilled decorative artist. ‘The antiques and bric-a-brac shops of Hastings and St Leonards have been excellent hunting grounds and, although we had a general idea of the sort of furniture and decorative features that would suit the house, it’s an interpretation of the era rather than a museum-like collection of Victoriana. For instance, when we commissioned the panels of stained glass for the hall, we opted for a design that was original and evoked the era rather than a facsimile.’

Victorian style bedroom
The walls of the Old Nursery are covered in Watts of Westminster’s Lorimer in the Iona colourway, a wallpaper influenced by the style of the Aesthetic movement prevalent in the 1880s.

In common with most homes, there are pieces found by Paul and Stephen on their travels, things they’ve been given and items they’ve adapted, but almost everything dates from the latter half of the 19th century. Paul and Stephen are members of the Orthodox Church and religious artefacts feature strongly as a decorative theme throughout the house, juxtaposed with collections from fine china to waxed flowers.

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Each of the five guest bedrooms is different in style; the most spacious (known as Mr Parry’s, after an owner c1900) is a suite with a four-poster bed. The decoration of the three bedrooms on the attic floor is no less charming. ‘Children and servants would have slept here, so we decided a simpler look would be appropriate,’ says Paul.