December 10, 2023

You can tell someone’s heart and soul has gone into this busy but beautiful family home in Brighton. “I love collecting things, I love shopping and I love clutter,” says owner and designer Kate Powell. She admits these are some of the reasons she opened a shop, after running out of space at home. Upcycled, restored, reclaimed, inherited are all key to her distinctive style.
Kate and her husband, Toby, bought the dilapidated listed Regency townhouse 10 years ago, with its “big, square imposing rooms, which are easy to make look beautiful”. The couple loved the area and proximity to the beach, plus the house rare find of a propertyhad a garden and drive. However, they hadn’t realised the enormity of the project, the house being “pretty grotty and in need of a complete overhaul. We got the survey and I almost had a nervous breakdown looking at it.” A team of builders moved in for a long eight months while the family remained at their old home round the corner, “a huge stretch financially”, so that everything from flooring to fireplaces could be restored. A basement flat was renovated and re-introduced to the main house, which now has five bedrooms and two bathrooms.
On entering the hallway, a mural of foliage and exotic birds gives a taste of what lies ahead. Kate had the Anthropologie wallpaper split into two and framed so that, with the ornate cornicing, they look like original wall paintings. Light floods in from the bay window in the kitchen, a room she describes as “a mishmash, with everything freestanding”. Almost every fixture and fitting in the house has a provenance – the wooden worktops were fashioned from original pottersware boards from Stoke-on-Trent, which would have been used to carry ceramics to the drying room; and a pair of French armoire doors picked up from Ardingly antiques fair front a custom-made cupboard. Kate describes how she worked with Pawel, her builder brother-in-law, on each room. “He’s brilliant at making things, so together we could be creative, rather than buying off the shelf.”
The dining room, with its long antique table, is “perfect for entertaining and long Sunday lunches when we have a house full. Toby cooks and I make the table look beautiful with a few pineapples sprayed gold, and antique lace doilies.” One wall is covered in old wooden drawers that house collections of china, tiles and various family objets, including a diary written by Kate’s parents when they drove overland to India in the 1960s. “I’ve got lots and lots of trinkets on the walls and inherited boxes of things from my mum and grandma all over the house.” The mismatching florals in the patchwork-style wallpaper, from Eijffinger, complete the bricolage look.
Many of Kate’s finds are from India, such as the hearth tiles from Jaipur and the blue handpainted antique sideboard from Jodphur. Having lived and worked in Bali and India, Kate and Toby met at a trade fair 25 years ago. Working together in fashion and homewares has meant they can share their love of travelling. “It’s the perfect job for someone who loves to shop and loves beautiful things.” Aside from the couple’s thriving wholesale business, Powell Craft, Kate is design director at 5025 Lifestyle and owns a shop, Bluebelle and Co, in Brighton’s North Laine. The retail acts as a showcase for the product range she’s been involved in designing, including ladies’ nightwear, childrenswear and home accessories.
The grandiose elegance of the drawing room belies its daily use by the whole family, who stretch out on the chaise longues. Having loved the faded grandeur of Italian hotels, Kate was given Domus: A Journey into Italy’s Most Creative Interiors by Toby, which inspired her to create the ornate plasterwork trompe l’oeil on one wall and a mural of cherubs with roses around the fireplace, resembling wallpaper from a bygone era. Meanwhile, the floor-to-ceiling bay windows are adorned by the period trellis and ironwork on the balcony outside.
Another, more contemporary, mural, by fine artist Natasha Kissell, covers the main bedroom walls. It’s the most recent addition to the house – painted after the lockdown. Natasha and Kate worked together searching for images of tropical flora and fauna for inspiration. A four-poster bed with a multi-coloured Indian quilt from the shop and a newly upholstered chaise longue from Bali complete the lavish boudoir look. The couple clearly appreciate the fact that they can pick up interesting pieces on their travels as part of their wholesale business, although not everything is shipped in. “I’ve got piles of antique lace,” Kate says, “one of my downfalls in life! One of the lace curtains in our bedroom is from a brocante, but the one in the bathroom is a patchwork I made up of my great-grandma’s old hankies and doilies.” The bathroom has a free-standing bath in the centre, while a marble sink from reclamation yard, Salvo, dropped in to an old iron kitchen table.
Kate’s inspiration clearly comes from her love of travel and antiques and the house is the expression of her creative tastes, “where every piece has a story to tell”. So what do the rest of the family make of the maximalist decor? “My teenage daughter, Ruby, would love to live in a minimalist white box, so she’s quite embarrassed. Luckily, Toby likes it.” He also loves a Churchillian drawing room with dark wood furniture so this is the style in two of the rooms. “But when I look at the pictures for this shoot,” Kate admits, “I realise our house is very floral.”


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