On the hottest day the UK has ever experienced, there was no cooler place to be than Sophie and Talbot’s glorious Southsea home.
Their spacious garden flat with subterranean rooms below was cool in every sense. Crisp white walls teamed with an uncluttered approach to living and a confident sense of style, make for a perfect combination.
Far from being too clinical in their approach, Sophie and Talbot have embraced the original features of their home and ramped up the glamour to create a home that perfectly marries the best of Victorian craftsmanship with a contemporary feel.
Built in the 1880s for the architect who designed it and several other homes in this stylish corner of Southsea, he certainly didn’t stint on the finishing touches.
Ornate plasterwork on the ceiling of the sitting room and a gorgeous over the top fireplace underline that this was an important home for an important man.
Sitting in the dining area, chatting to Sophie, my eye is continually drawn to the Lincrusta Walton raised relief wallcoverings that are the mark of a fine Victorian home. The detailing is delicate and sublime —a true mark of quality.
Looking at Sophie’s petite frame it’s hard to imagine her navvying but that’s exactly what she did when she and Talbot took on the task of developing the basement area —where originally the servants would have slept.
“When we bought the flat, we could see the potential to extend the living space and were able to do so by opening up the ‘other half’ of the basement, with the creation of two more rooms. When the house was built this area had been backfilled with rubble and debris —I can’t tell you how many bags I took out, or how many bags of ballast I took down there,” she laughed.
Having moved in 22 years ago, the flat has evolved over time. The dark wall colours have gone, valuable storage has been added and a real flair for design has seen the flat become the beautiful space it is today.
Sophie happily recalled how she, Talbot and their two children lived in the front room at one stage and what some would have seen as a challenge became an adventure.
Unafraid of tackling structural work, the couple reconfigured the ground floor space to create a grand bathroom, hallway and spacious kitchen with bi-fold doors to the beautiful garden.
“It’s all about opening up the space and not being afraid to think big. When it comes to things like doors, we went big and upscaled,” she said.
An extension meant they could create a kitchen that sits over the footprint of the original conservatory with a delightful encaustic tiled floor. Marble with wispy, grey veining is included in the kitchen and bathroom to great effect.
Being such large rooms, Sophie explained it called for a confident approach and larger pieces of furniture.
“We’ve got used to the size and scale of the rooms but it does mean you need to upscale and position furniture, so you are making a bit more of a statement,” she said.
Listening to Sophie, it becomes clear there is a clarity of purpose behind the design she and Talbot have created for their home.
“Obviously there are endless external sources of inspiration —architects and buildings (Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe —Barcelona Pavilion), Grand Designs, Elle Decoration and Living Etc; but what I feel has been most important is the internal (personal) inspiration in terms of how one wants to live —to be and do; what one finds beautiful; and the transformation and elevation of the day-to-day to make all days a bit of a holiday —a source of joy and inspiration, and an adventure in terms of its undertaking and creation. “Hence the neutral palette for the backdrop and need for storage – to ensure spaces are light and airy, decongested and uncluttered.
“So what’s in those spaces (objects and occupants) can breathe -like my trees (Sophie thinks nothing of climbing into her trees and ‘decluttering’ there too with some judicious pruning so the tree can breathe and be beautiful too).
“I truly believe that a thing of beauty is a joy to behold, and I have wanted to create, and share, a lot of joy -we have had so many beautiful parties through the years with children’s birthdays, Christmas and Easter and dinner parties,” she said.
When it comes to choosing her favourite room, Sophie admits to being torn. She loves the kitchen and garden with the in/out vibe and very green view; and the lounge is undoubtedly spectacular with its huge, fixed mirrors in the alcoves, moulded ceiling and carved Italian marble fireplace.
“But I also love our bedroom -it has a calm beauty and is a sanctuary-like quiet space away from the world (literally -being in the basement) -with the gold panel backdrops to the wall lights and a wall of mirror behind the bed.”
“I also love the four reclaimed columns with carved heads that we used to frame, and so match, the mirrors in both the bath and shower rooms; and all our urns and mirrors.”
Summing up what her home means to her, Sophie added: “I count myself very fortunate to have worked part-time since having children (a tough choice financially but for us a no brainer in all other respects).
“And so, my family and home, rather than career, have been/are my life’s work -providing a much-needed creative outlet and opportunity to make our own thing of beauty -our own bubble/world within the world (something that I have appreciated and enjoyed all the more these last 12 years whilst working from home).”
“And while I like to think that I have ‘put the heart into our home’ -and it has been me doing the talking in this interview -it has obviously been very much a collaboration with Talbot. It has to be said, he is equally appreciative of and driven by good design, is very ‘handy’, has made things work, and is the very best painter/decorator out there.”