Known for their breezy and accessible style, interior designers Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote’s rambling home is a perfect blend of comfort and creativity, says Jessica Jonzen
THE SITTING ROOM AT FOSTER HOUSE. ATLANTA HAS USED THE MANTLEPIECE SHELF TO DISPLAY HER ‘TREASURES’ AND CHANGES THE OBJECTS DEPENDING ON HER MOOD
Think of an all-white home and you’ll often imagine something minimal, modern and possibly rather austere. You certainly wouldn’t automatically think of a welcoming and rambling family house filled with children and pets. And yet, that is precisely what interior design husband and wife team Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote have managed to achieve at Foster House, their gorgeous weather boarded cottage in the heart of the Kent countryside 10 minutes from the coast.
“People worry about white but it’s actually very easy. Before we had the children, our design motto was ‘it has to be party proof’ – if it can’t stand a party then don’t put it in. Of course, that changed to ‘it’s got to be kiddie proof.’ Now our motto might be ‘it’s got to be teenage party proof!’” Atlanta laughs. “It’s all about mixing styles – if it’s all matching and perfect you feel like you can’t sit down. If it is a bit ‘wrong’ almost, it instantly makes you feel at ease.”
Kent has attracted artists and creatives for centuries, beguiling and inspiring them with its vast open skies, painterly landscapes and distinctive architecture. So the county was a natural draw for Atlanta and Dave – known for their characterful and light-filled interiors – when they decided to move out of London with their two eldest children nearly 15 years ago.
THE 1850’S COTTAGE IS WEATHER BOARDED IN THE TRADITIONAL KENT STYLE AND HAS A NEW ENGLAND FEEL
Now with four children aged 18, 17, 14 and seven, a Great Dane – the brilliantly named Mouse – and two Tonkinese cats, Atlanta and Dave’s home is “a whirlwind – a lovely, bubbly melting pot” she says affectionately. “I think much in the same way as when Dave and I met we influenced each other, I think the move down to this part of the world has massively influenced our style. I’m a great believer that all these things combine.”
Having started her interiors styling career at Homes & Gardens, Atlanta met her husband in the mid-nineties at the 100% Design show how when it was at the Chelsea Barracks where Dave was exhibiting some of his designs. “Creativity is what our relationship is based on, it’s what attracted us to each other in the first place. It’s just what and who we are – we design everything together and it’s wonderful.”
Together, the couple have written two books – Keep it Simple and Pale and Interesting, which both celebrate the easy, accessible and timeless interiors they are known for. Since moving to Foster House, Atlanta and Dave have also launched Beach Studios, a shoot location business; Pale and Interesting, their beautiful interiors shop in Rye which also has an online store, and Pale and Interesting Holidays, their holiday let business – all three properties near Rye, of course, decorated in their artfully undone style.
VINTAGE FINDS FROM RYE’S ANTIQUE SHOPS AND FRENCH BROCANTE’S ADD CHARACTER TO THE ALL-WHITE CANVAS
“I suppose we are interior designers but we have found a way to make it make a living for us without being jobbing interior designers,” Atlanta says. “We love doing people’s houses up but we just like to have projects where we have carte blanche, and those aren’t that easy to come so the locations and the shop and the holiday lets allow us to be true to our creativity.”
Built in the 1850s, Foster House’s white weather boarded exterior has a New England cabin feel. The three acres which surround it offered Dave the opportunity to build wonderfully atmospheric cabins which the couple let out for photo shoots or for lucky weekend guests. Over the years, the couple have changed and extended their home, adding in extra French doors onto their beautiful garden. “Coming down here, we really wanted the outside to feel like it was part of the inside – blurring the boundaries was a really important factor for us.”
Atlanta estimates that 65 per cent of the house is now new build, which puts paid to the idea that only old buildings have character. “What is it that makes an old house beautiful? It’s texture, so with a new building you need to add it in.” Atlanta suggests panelling, tongue and groove and lime wash paints to add texture and character to your walls and ceilings: “never forget the ceiling. We’ve often done panelling on the ceiling, or put in beams depending on how low or high the ceilings are. Quite often new houses don’t have any cornicing but putting some in can help, those sorts of details really make a difference.”
“PLENTY OF SEATING” IS KEY TO CREATING A WELCOMING INTERIOR, SAYS ATLANTA. THIS ROOM IS IN OPEN VIEW BARN, ONE OF ATLANTA AND DAVE’S OUTBUILDINGS USED FOR PHOTO SHOOTS OR LUCKY HOUSE GUESTS
This attention to detail is key to achieving Atlanta and Dave’s ‘pale and interesting’ look. Floorboards are stripped back and painted white, and the walls are painted simply in Dulux Trade white paint. “It’s a nice white – not too cold, not too warm. We like the simplicity of this blank canvas that we then add stuff too,” says Atlanta. Antique and vintage pieces add character and texture while mirrors maximise daylight. “Mirrors work wonders and we’re obsessed with chandeliers – they don’t have to be perfect,” says Atlanta. “It’s the twinkle I love. I also have an obsession with disco balls – they just bring light and life to the place.”
While the couple love sourcing vintage and antiques (they now have an vintage emporium on the Pale and Interesting online store) they’re also advocates of the less is more approach to decorating. “In my mind, everybody has a different threshold to clutter,” Atlanta says. “For me, there are certain objects that make my heart flutter every time I walk past them: a vase or a teacup or a cushion – there are certain things I see and I think ‘oh, that made my day better’. If there was too much clutter around it then I wouldn’t be able to appreciate it, so there is an element of giving things space to breathe.”
A long mantlepiece shelf which spans a whole wall is the perfect place for Atlanta to display the objects which make her heart sing. “It’s packed with my treasures – one intense, encrusted area of decorations and things that I love and it has lots of white space around it. You have the contrast of cleanliness and emptiness and a strong shot of decoration. Only keep the things you love and make a home for them, honour them,” says Atlanta.
ATLANTA DISPLAYS CLOTHES AND JEWELLERY ON THE WALLS OF HER HOME, WHILE CHANDELIERS ADD SPARKLE AND MIRRORS MAXIMISE THE DAYLIGHT
Atlanta also adds colour to her home with a clever mix of storage, from concealed cupboards to freestanding armoirs and open shelving. “All our crockery and glasswear is on open shelves and that’s part of the decoration. It does mean you’ve got to be disciplined about what you show and not have that nasty old mug you bought with your petrol tokens on display, but it does mean you’re using nice things day to day.”
And how does she keep her home looking so gorgeous with such a busy household? “Goodness knows I’m like every other mother saying ‘oh my goodness, pick up your socks, pick up your shoes!’ There are rugby boots and kit bags all over the place and it doesn’t look perfect all the time, that’s for sure, but that’s what it’s all about,” says Atlanta. “My children make my house a home. It’s what our life is all about.”
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