When Georgina Sargent and her family moved into the Georgian rectory where she lived as a child, she encountered a delicate, if quite common issue. How do you update the family home you grew up in and make it work for modern life, without destroying its character and charm?

Georgina’s parents had bought the rectory in the early 1980s, when it was in a dilapidated state, having been neglected for several years. “There were windows missing, and you could see from the first floor down through to the kitchen,” she remembers. “It did need a lot of TLC and they brought it back to life.”

Almost 40 years on, however, in 2019, they were ready to downsize, and decided to sell the house. 

“It was never a plan for us or one of my siblings to take it over,” says Georgina, who runs her own travel business. She was living in south-west London at the time with her husband Edward and their two daughters (now 11 and eight), “but my parents said, ‘Before we put it on the market, is anyone interested?’” 

Georgina’s brother and sister had no plans to move to Norfolk, so they declined: “I wasn’t thinking about it either at the time,” she says. “But Edward and I had always had that dream that it would be lovely to move to the countryside, so when this opportunity arose, the move just got pushed forward a bit.”

The fact that it was a private sale made things more straightforward; although, as Georgina points out: “The lawyers still had to do their due diligence and go through the motions, so there were many questions to answer about the condition of the house. But the best thing was having that security of knowing that the house wasn’t going anywhere, and we weren’t going to get gazumped.”

When it came to updating and redecorating the property, they turned to the interior designer Naomi Astley Clarke, whom Georgina had met through a mutual friend, and who understood the sensitivity of the situation.

As Georgina says, “I’d lived here as a child and I adored everything about it. But I was also conscious that, as my husband was going to be living here now too, it was really important that we change it to become our home, rather than my home. Also, I think every generation lives in a slightly different way, and we do live a little differently from the way my parents did.”

While there was no need to extend, Georgina was keen to open the ground floor of the house up a little, to make it more suitable for modern family life. She realised, however, that due to her strong connection to the house, she had a certain amount of tunnel vision on how it could be lived in. Having Naomi on board brought an invaluable set of fresh eyes to the project. 

For example, Edward had suggested relocating the kitchen into a different part of the ground floor, so that it could be a bigger, brighter room that opened onto the garden. “I initially said, ‘No you can’t possibly move the kitchen from where it is, it makes no sense,’ probably because that’s how it always was and so I couldn’t see beyond that,” says Georgina. “Naomi took one look at the plans and said, ‘No, that’s exactly what you need to do.’”

What used to be the sitting room was combined with an adjacent, large storeroom to create what is now the kitchen, which has doors out to the garden, and also opens on to the family sitting room (formerly the kitchen). 

This improved the flow from the new kitchen, where the family spend most of their time, through to the garden, but it has also revealed some elegant period features that had previously been concealed. “The room that used to be the kitchen is architecturally very beautiful, but those features had been covered up by cabinets,” Naomi explains. “By taking those cabinets out, we rediscovered that room, which is now the sitting room, as a beautiful space.”

Naomi also combined two rooms to create one large space that acts as boot room, laundry and log store, which the family also now use as their main entrance into the house. “I feel that the house flows together well for the life we lead,” says Georgina. “We charge into the boot room – the dogs often have to stay there for a while after a walk because they get so muddy – and then on into the kitchen, which is the focal point of everything.”

Elsewhere on the ground floor, there is a separate, grown-up sitting room, a playroom, and a study that Georgina and Edward share. Although there is plenty of floor space, Naomi made clever use of each room to maximise its functionality, installing a custom-built study nook in an unused corner of the family sitting room, for example, where the children can do their homework or art projects. Upstairs, there are six bedrooms that Georgina and Edward have been gradually decorating one by one.

Another important benefit of Naomi’s expertise was in the choice of colours and patterns used in the interior. “I was very conscious that, when we moved into our house in London, every room was painted a different shade of grey, without my even really noticing it at the time,” says Georgina. “This time, because we were moving into our ‘forever home’, we wanted to give it an injection of fun, and to have the confidence to play with different colours to add that bit of character.”

The boot room is painted in a dramatic blue-black – Railings by Farrow & Ball – with antiqued limestone floors. It is highly functional yet also smart and stylish. “I knew it was going to be a very hardworking room where I’d end up spending a lot of time,” says Georgina, “so I wanted to make sure it was a room I would really enjoy going into.”

Elsewhere, there are shots of bold colour and pattern, deployed judiciously. “Georgina and Edward were really open to different things,” says Naomi. “But it had to be appropriate, and it had to look English; we didn’t want to go crazy. A little pop of colour here and there is fine, but nothing too bright or garish, and they didn’t want it to look at all glitzy or bling. It just had to look like it had always been like that.”

Pattern introduces a sense of fun in certain areas, such as what is known as the “leafy loo” off the entrance hall, covered in a William Morris wallpaper, and the study, where the Juliet Travers elephant wallpaper is a fitting nod to Georgina’s company, which specialises in organising travel to Africa. 

The furniture throughout is a mix of old and new, with some bespoke pieces, others from brands such as Oka, and Graham & Green, lighting from Pooky and Jim Lawrence, and older pieces from Georgina’s family that her parents weren’t able to take with them when they downsized.

The original features that give the house its charm, such as the wooden beams and arched doorways, have been retained as far as possible. Where changes have had to be made – replacing old windows to install double-glazing, for example – they have been done like for like, in order to stay true to the building’s original character.

What has changed is that the interior is now suited to the life of a modern family, with fewer formal entertaining spaces, a more open layout, and that all-important flow from inside to out that allows an easier connection with the surrounding landscape.

The family moved in just before the first lockdown, and since then have thrown themselves into their new way of life. “Rather typically, we now have two Labradors, as well as a random chicken that runs around the garden, and four pigs,” says Georgina. “We’re definitely living the country life.”

Although she admits to a few sleepless nights during the renovation, when she worried about how her parents and siblings would feel about how the house had changed, fortunately everyone has been supportive and positive.

“When we first moved in, we had family to stay for the weekend, and it was all very happy but rather chaotic,” she recalls. “My father said, ‘This is what it’s all about; it’s so special seeing the house used the way we used to use it.’ It was really lovely.”


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2023-09-02T08:03:58Z dg43tfdfdgfd