Sarah Jane Humphrey’s illustrations of plants and flowers have been described as a unique mix of Victorian-age stylisation with a 21st-century aesthetic. The same, in a way, could be said of her house.
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Owners Sarah Jane Humphrey, a botanical illustrator, lives here with her partner Jon Coleman, who works in educational technology, and her children Harvey, 15, Freddy, 11, and Isla, six
Property A mid-terraced Edwardian house in Falmouth, Cornwall, with five bedrooms and an attic studio
What they did Replaced most ceilings and fireplaces, and replastered walls. The couple sanded, stained and varnished the original floorboards. The family bathroom and WC
were combined into one spacious room and the master bedroom was reconfigured to incorporate an en suite
Just a few streets from the beaches of the buzzing Cornish university town of Falmouth, this smart Edwardian home is an easy-going combination of period elegance and modern comfort or, as Sarah Jane puts it: ‘an eclectic mélange of contemporary and traditional’.
Its three storeys under a steeply sloping slate roof feature gloriously high-ceilinged rooms with timber sash windows, an abundance of period features and no less than 11 fireplaces; but inside is no stuffy, expensive recreation of a bygone era.
Instead, it’s a busy family home-cum-workspace, in which upcycled house clearance bargains rub shoulders with high-street finds, French brocante, vintage pieces and the occasional antique. The result? An instantly attractive and appealing home.
Sarah Jane bought the house almost nine years ago, moving just across town, from a similar four-bed property with a smaller garden. She was looking for more space and the previous owner, who wanted to downsize, fell in love with her house so, conveniently, they ended up doing a swap.
‘I loved that this house felt so spacious, and the original proportions were still intact,’ says Sarah Jane. ‘It was very plain when I bought it, and I could see it had lots of potential, though the first time I saw it unfurnished I remember thinking that it would be one awfully big project!’
She was right. Sarah Jane has, over the years, taken more or less every room back to its bare bones, removing blown plaster on walls and lath- and-plaster ceilings and replacing the fireplaces using locally cut stone.
One of the first steps was to gut the kitchen – in beech effect with a buckled laminate floor – and replace it with cream gloss cupboards and a slate-effect ceramic floor, at the same time installing a solid-fuel Rayburn in place of an old Cornish range that was beyond repair.
She also knocked down the wall between the bathroom and another small room to create a family bathroom, ripping out a plastic 1980s suite in favour of a walk-in shower and roll-top bath.
Another project was to add an en-suite shower room and built-in wardrobes to the main bedroom. ‘As with all period properties there have been times of frustration,’ says Sarah Jane.
‘Probably the worst was fixing a leak on the landing only to find that a structural beam was rotten and had, in turn, rotted the window frame. That had leaked into the WC and rotted a beam in there too. It turned into an all-round expensive project, but now it’s all plastered and restored back to how it should be, it’s good to know it’s sound underneath.’
When choosing paint colours, Sarah Jane opted for shades that reflect the house’s location: colours of sea and sky, from Farrow & Ball. ‘Isla’s room is painted in Mizzle, which we are very used to in Cornwall,’ laughs Sarah Jane.
‘I buy tester pots of paint and try them out on several walls before taking the plunge. It’s amazing how one colour can vary in different lights. I also like natural textures, so I’ve got lots of seagrass and pure wool, wood and granite. Some of my shelves have even been handcrafted from driftwood that had been washed up onto the local beach.’
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Her recipe for mixing old with new and handmade makes the house feel very relaxed. ‘I’ve bought a lot of furnishings from house clearances, then upcycled them,’ she explains. ‘The sideboard in my studio is an original G-Plan that I sanded back and painted. Each bedroom has a chair that I’ve reupholstered, and I made my own Roman blinds – a challenge, to say the least, since they’re striped and so needed to be very carefully aligned.
I source many bits and pieces in France, when I go to visit my parents, and my home is also decorated with my own artworks and cushions, mostly inspired by coastal botanicals.’ Sarah also draws inspiration from her garden, where she has unusual types of agapanthus, echiums and hydrangeas.
The whole family appreciates life by the sea and in the summer, when not lounging in the hammock in their garden, they enjoy sailing, stand-up paddle boarding and sea swimming. In winter, they love coming home from a coastal walk or a rugby match and lighting the fire in the living room.
‘It always feels warm and cosy when the storms are blowing hard off the sea,’ says Sarah Jane. ‘Living here has meant a real lifestyle change for all of us. We’re totally immersed in our seaside location and are all happiest when in or on the water.’
Now Sarah Jane says the house is getting closer to how she wants it – though she still occasionally swaps rooms around, and is planning an outdoor shower (‘in an effort not to bring quite so much of the beach into the house’), a kitchen island and a library – with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a book ladder – in one of the smaller bedrooms. ‘We are running out of space with all my reference books!’ she says.
‘Also, I’ve always fancied an orangery for the rear courtyard. I started the week I moved in, and I’m still going with constantly evolving ideas. It has certainly been a labour of love – but definitely worth it to have a property so full of character.’