Words: Sian Lewis/Narratives
Photographs: Julia Toms/Narratives
The design influences are global, but after a life lived around the world, this very English house feels like home for its South American owner.
It’s clear from the first glance through the front door that this home belongs to a citizen of the world. Exposed brick walls in the bathroom at the end of the hallway hint at years spent living in New York. The earthy tones of the sitting room and study just to the right suggest South America. However, although she is clearly a traveller Laura’s favourite style is vintage English. She is also a home lover at heart, never happier than when she’s in her kitchen cooking up a feast for gathered friends and family. In fact, it was the basement kitchen that sold the house for Laura, or rather the wall in the middle of the room. “The exposed brick around the wood burner reminded me of my mother’s kitchen on our farm in Argentina,” she says with her soft South American lilt. “I thought, ‘I need to have this house’. Nothing else mattered. That wall felt like the heart of the house.”
That was in 2000; Laura was looking for a renovation project in Brighton having relocated from America, and back then the house looked very different. “The outside was yellow with a navy front door – it looked like the Swedish flag,” remembers Laura.
Inside wasn’t much better. The walls were blue, the entire house was carpeted in red and dado rails had been painted bright yellow. Even the original fireplaces had been painted crimson. “That’s why I got it so cheap,” she laughs. The previous owner had lived in the house for 25 years, and since its construction in 1896 only four families had called it home. This meant that everything needed complete restoration, but it also brought some unexpected treasures.
When Laura initially looked under the carpets, the first Christmas after moving in, she was thrilled to find original floorboards in near perfect condition because they had always been covered. Throughout the house, only five boards needed replacing and Laura sourced them from a house demolition nearby so they fitted in perfectly.
In what is now the red bedroom, she found 1912 William Morris wallpaper when stripping the walls, although sadly its condition was too poor to be saved. To begin with, Laura painted every wall white. “I do it every time I move in somewhere new,” she explains. “I like to let the house breathe, then it can tell you what it needs. After that, whatever you create is done with love. It takes longer but it always looks better in the end.”
When Laura wanted to bring colour back into the house, she started with the blue and red bedrooms. Once stripped of paint, their original fireplaces were in good condition. Laura bought striped bed linen, then chose Toile du Jouy wallpaper, which she hung. “It was tricky getting the patterns to line up, but I was really pleased to have done the rooms myself,” she remembers. The rooms quickly filled with her collections of cherubs and pictures, and a special place was reserved for the push-along horse Laura has had since childhood.“My parents, who are Italian, bred polo ponies in Argentina,” she says. “My sister and I were in the saddle before we were out of nappies and rode to school every day. My father bought me this little horse on one of his trips to England, and I asked my mother to bring it back when I bought this house. She carried it all wrapped up as hand luggage.”
For the ground floor main bathroom, Laura called in a local builder. Things got off to a bad start when a gentle tap of the ceiling caused it to collapse on his head, requiring hospital treatment for him and a new roof for the bathroom. “But we are still friends,” says Laura. “He came for two weeks, and ended up working here for a year. One project just rolled into the next.”
In the ground floor sitting room and study, Laura chose darker tones to create what she calls, “my Argentinean heart.” “My friend’s laughed at me when they saw it,” she remembers. “They said it looked like a cigar room for a gentleman’s club. But it’s my secret place, the only room in the house that isn’t feminine. It’s where I go to read in the leather chair.”
In 2009, Laura decided to convert the loft into a third bedroom with en suite bathroom. The previous owner had used the space as a darkroom, so even though it lacked stairs, the floor was boarded. Working with a local building company Laura designed a loft conversion that doesn’t feel like one. “I wanted big windows on one side to avoid the typical triangle shape,” she explains. “Adding the Juliet balcony really opened up the room, and means I now have views across the park to the sea.”
The kitchen was the last project – and possibly the biggest. “I had no cooker for two months,” says Laura. “That was very hard because I love cooking.”
Laura wrote ‘kitchen closed’ on her little blackboard during the work, then the builders replied with ‘Laura’s kitchen is open’, when they had finished. Now, just as she imagined when she first bought this house, the kitchen is its soul once more. l
AT HOME WITH…
- Laura Padovani, her three-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel Rosie and Pippa the cat, who is 12.
- A four-storey townhouse which dates from 1896 is one of only two houses on the street that has not been converted over the years into flats or studio apartments.
- Kitchen, sitting room, dining room, three bedrooms, one bathroom, one en suite, study.
- Brighton, East Sussex