As co-founders of luxury furniture business Maker&Son, Alex Willcock and his eldest son, Felix Conran, use the beautiful historic home they rent in West Sussex as their company’s showroom. Kemps House, as it’s known, is a Grade II-listed, countryside house in South East England dating back to the 1660s. “It was one of those things where you instantly fall in love with the house the moment you see it,” says Willcock of the six-bedroom home. “I walked in and just knew I wanted to live there. I loved the light and the spaces.”
His design mission from the start was to create a home his family would enjoy spending time in. “Over the past 16 years of living here, the spaces have proved extremely flexible, and each room is constantly evolving,” he adds, explaining that they have used the home as a photo studio for the business. One room in particular that has changed over the years is the kitchen. “When we first moved in, the kitchen was not really a kitchen — it was a second living room and then a small scullery kitchen,” Willcock says of his picture-perfect cooking space. Now, the eat-in kitchen is much larger — and even holds a long dining table perfect for his big family — including five children.
Inspired by the home’s beauty and Willcock’s personal mission, we took the tour, and found three design lessons worth stealing! Come along, and let’s take a peek!
1. Repurpose old furniture in a surprising way.
Here’s a tip straight out of Willcock’s playbook: Buy an old piece of furniture and repurpose it to be used in a new way. He explains, “Take it out of its original context and try putting things inside of it where they may not usually go.”
Take, for instance, Willcock’s answer to kitchen storage. The large, paneled cabinet (shown above) was made by Willcock himself from antique shutters and a reclaimed kitchen countertop. The cupboards are painted in Breakfast Room Green by Farrow&Ball. “It looks like it has been there forever, but really in the grand scheme of the house, it is very new,” he says.
2. Celebrate objects that have been made by hand.
Just as he handcrafts his own furniture line with natural and sustainable materials, Willcock says he tends to appreciate items that are handmade because it adds so much character to the home. “Choose objects that have clearly been made by someone, a craftsperson, because you can really feel that in a room — the story it tells is reflected in some way,” he says, pointing to the dining table he made himself. “When objects are made with love and care and attention to detail, something changes the way the room feels.”
His most prized handcrafted possession in his kitchen is a portrait of a young boy from the Russian Constructivism period hanging on the wall of his kitchen cabinet and surrounded by his collection of ceramics. “It’s very calming to look at,” he says.
3. Don’t be afraid to change things up.
Willcock strives to give his home a lived-in feel, so that it’s not only beautiful, but also functional. “You see, we’re always doing something new — in a funny way, the juxtaposition of an old house and lots of newness seems to really work,” he says of his home’s modern rustic vibe.
Because Kemps House is also his company’s showroom, Willcock is constantly replacing sofas and color palettes on the regular. “Nowadays, a room can change its entire look from one week to the next as we do different staging for our various photoshoots,” he says. “Sometimes it is quite odd,” he explains of the shuffle of furniture. “Notebooks and tools that I can’t find turn up a few weeks later.” Still, Willcock loves that the home is always evolving as it changes to suit the family’s needs.
Of course, you don’t have to change things up as often as Willcock does, but the appeal is the same. Playing with different vignettes in your home allows you to have the freedom to be creative and to feel inspired. Don’t be afraid to mix and match and figure out what truly works — and, more importantly, discover what you really like.
Are you inspired by these smart ideas? Tell us what you love about this kitchen in the comments below.