Real home: a stylist's summery seaside home full of vintage pieces

We stepped inside Francine Kay's Brighton home to find out how she created her serene summer scheme

Boho style kitchen and dining area with white painted floorboards
(Image credit: China Cooper)

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.

Living room with round jute rug, grey sofa, white fireplace and chandelier with blue glass hangings

‘The living room is where I snuggle down with the girls. Everything has meaning in here, and the decorations are either gifts or specially chosen from galleries. The armchair is from 1910 and it used to be leather, but when the girls were younger, they’d pick at
it – so I had it upholstered.’

Walls painted in Cotton, Paint & Paper Library. Jute rug, Ebay. Coffee table, Ercol. Side table, Habitat. Mirror, Ardingly Antiques Fair. Chandelier, Portobello Market

(Image credit: China Cooper)
Project notes

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.

A vintage teak cabinet from Ebay

‘I used to commute to London for work, so I wanted my house to be as close to the sea as possible to make the commute worth it,’ Francine says. ‘Naturally, I was inspired by the beach when it came to decorating my house.’ The 1920s sofa was reupholstered by Francine using muted  blue fabric.

Teak cabinet, Ebay. Mirror, Three Angels of Brighton

(Image credit: China Cooper)

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.

Boho style kitchen and dining area with white painted floorboards

‘The kitchen is such a big space and it’s so bright that it’s lovely in the daytime,’ Francine says. ‘We spend a lot of our time in here, but I don’t want to sit around a table all day – I’m lazy and I like to lie down! The lounge is cosy with a warm glow, so we’ll snuggle down in there in the evenings.’

Walls painted in All White and floorboards painted in Dimpse, both Farrow & Ball. Oven, Smeg. Pendant lights, Heal’s. Unit curtains, The Irish Linen Company. Table, vintage G-Plan. Chairs, 1960s Ercol

(Image credit: China Cooper)

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.

Hallway with Moroccan encaustic tiles

‘The floor tiles are from Morocco. They’re very thick, encaustic, and they needed treating a lot otherwise they’d stain. They look very individual – like they’re hand-painted. I love the green on the floor – it reminds me of nature, of grass, but the tiles are also a nod towards the more graphic side of Victorian
interior design.’

Encaustic tiles, Dar Interiors. Bench, Three Angels of Brighton. Pendant light, Ardingly Antiques Fair

(Image credit: China Cooper)

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. 

Bedroom with black and white branch wall mural

‘I never set out to do anything all in one go – it’s a slow, natural process. There’s always things that need doing and you’re never finished anyway, so why rush? I change things as they get tatty and never redecorate for the sake of it. I’ve been here for 17 years and I’ve never changed my style.’

Bed, Ikea. Linen covers, Christy. Wall mural by Ella Doran, Surface View. Walls painted in Ammonite, Farrow & Ball. Throw, White Company. Anglepoise lamp, After Noah

(Image credit: China Cooper)

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.

White fireplace with houseplants

‘Hannah loves plants, so there’s lots of nature-inspired things around the room. She’s green-fingered.’

Floor painted in Cotton, Paint & Paper Library

(Image credit: China Cooper)
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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.

Boho-style garden studio with coffee table, rattan style chairs

‘We had the garden studio built when I’d finished the house, mainly to practise yoga as I started taking it more seriously. It’s blissful – very quiet and chilled.’

Flooring, Amtico. Jute rug, Ebay. Curtains, handmade with linen from Sanderson. Coffee table, Ercol

(Image credit: China Cooper)

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.

Boho-style garden studio with coffee table, rattan style chairs

‘I had to lose half the garden to create the outdoor room,’ says Francine, ‘but as a family we all use it far more than we ever would a garden. It’s such a flexible space to have in our home.’ 

Rug, Ebay. Coffee table, Ercol

(Image credit: China Cooper)

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.


More project advice:

Ellen Finch
Former deputy editor

Formerly deputy editor of Real Homes magazine, Ellen has been lucky enough to spend most of her working life speaking to real people and writing about real homes, from extended Victorian terraces to modest apartments. She's recently bought her own home and has a special interest in sustainable living and clever storage.