You might imagine that stepping inside the home of an interior stylist is an intimidating experience. Francine Kay’s minimalist Victorian house, then, just a stone’s throw from the beaches of Brighton, comes as a surprise. Painted in soft white tones, with plenty of meaningful trinkets and antique pieces that all have a backstory, you’re struck by how relaxed, calming and trend-neutral her home is.
It turns out that styling is all about confidence. During my conversation with Francine, it was clear that while she has strong opinions – like the no gadgets in the kitchen rule, for example – those are opinions that work exclusively for her own house. She was keen to emphasise that your home is a reflection of your personality, so you’ll naturally get out what you put in. Whether you want colour and visual stimulation when you walk through the door or prefer to keep it muted and serene, creating a scheme that works for you is key.
Read on to find out more about Francine's home, then check out our other completed projects.
The owner: Francine Kay, an interior stylist and photographer, lives with her daughters Hannah, 15, and Alber, 13
The property: A three-bedroom Victorian semi-detached house in Hove, Brighton
Project cost: £29,000
Q: Your home is such a considered, calming space, but I imagine it wasn’t quite like that when you bought it…
A: There was a great deal of pine wood and a lot of bright sickly colours. The kitchen was purple and lime green – you can imagine what I thought! The previous owners had done a lot of the structural work, so we didn’t have to change much there. Overall, the shell of the house was quite true to its Victorian design. The kitchen probably used to be two small rooms on different levels, but we inherited it as one long room.
Q: That kitchen décor sounds like an interior design nightmare! Where did you start?
A: We ripped up the carpets in the house very quickly, but the main design started in the lounge. The first thing I bought was the blue chandelier and I used that as inspiration. I tiled the hallway floor and whitewashed everything to get a feel for the space, then started building on tones.
Q: I’m intrigued by the chandelier. What was it about that piece that made you think, ‘That’s the starting point’?
A: It’s a vintage chandelier, but the colour stops it from being too twee, I think. When I found it, it wasn’t in its full glory – it had lost some droplets. I liked that, though – it’s a sort of 1940s faded glamour. It’s that softened grandeur that I wanted to use across the whole house. The kitchen is one example – I like the modern rustic feel, but it’s also got some slightly glamorous lampshades. I love the old French linen over the units, too.
Q: The whole house is quite minimalist. Was that something you wanted to get across?
A: Yes, definitely. The cupboards in the kitchen hide the dishwasher, washing machine and boiler, and we have a larder under the stairs. The only other storage is one big cupboard. I wanted a soft feel, without too many cupboard doors, which is why I chose dark linen as a sort of curtain instead. It has a more romantic feel to it. The good thing about it is that I never have piles of washing around, and I can’t have dirty dishes out – it forces you to tidy up quickly.
Q: There’s a lot of antique furniture throughout the house, I noticed. Was that a conscious choice?
A: It’s something I’ve loved since I rented my first house. I’d collect art pieces for projects I did while I was working in fashion, and go around lovely markets like Portobello and Greenwich. In general, I rarely buy new things, and everything I put in my home has got to appeal to me. I love 1950s furniture – it reminds me of my grandma.
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Q: I know what you mean – it does feel good when you track down something really special or find a new use for an old piece. How do you apply that philosophy to all the tech we have in our homes today?
A: I’m not one for gadgets, as you can see from my kitchen. I use a hob kettle, paper filters instead of a coffee machine, and I have a 1940s ceramic cone that I use to put the coffee in. I don’t want to keep buying new stuff that needs replacing. The one gadget we do enjoy is Google Home. I like sharing music with the girls – we all like listening to folk, Joni Mitchell, that sort of thing – so if I can force them to have a dance with me in the kitchen without them getting too embarrassed, I love to do that.
Q: It sounds like you’re all quite close – and I imagine this is a lovely, chill-out home to grow up in. How have you made the house work for you as a family?
A: Our home is very relaxed – I didn’t want any formal rooms – and the kitchen is a nice big space. As teenagers, the girls tend to want to go up to their rooms, but when I can get them out, we easily share the space together. We all cook in the kitchen and listen to music together. We’ll chat in there before school, and the bench in the hallway is a nice place to rest and catch up while we’re taking our shoes off at the end of the day.
Q: You have a background in interior styling, so obviously I’d love to hear your words of wisdom. Do you have any tips from a styling point of view for anyone doing a room or house makeover of their own?
A: I love to layer fabrics, like in our living room – I made my own cushion covers from coloured linens. My main tip is that things tend to look a little out of place if you do too much in one go, so I always recommend building rooms up slowly so everything looks natural. It’s never as fun doing it all at once anyway. Know your personality – if you enjoy having a big quirky painting on the wall, that’s good. Some people want
a home that’s stimulating; others want one that makes them feel calm. Personally, I want mine to be a sanctuary.
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