When Gemma Lewis and her family moved into their home in a leafy lane in Haslemere, Surrey, five years ago, she painted the entire house in grey. What has followed is nothing short of a colour revolution, discovers Rosalind Sack
A PATINATED METAL SHEET FOUND IN AN OLD BARN MAKES A BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF WALL ART. IMAGE: GEMMA LEWIS
Meandering through Gemma Lewis’ atmospheric Edwardian house in Surrey is much like prizing open a well-used artists’ paintbox, filled with rich and earthy colours that wash beautifully into each other. Nestled in a pretty, leafy street in Haslemere, room after room of this characterful family home reveals layers of carefully considered colours and textures that truly sing in their surroundings. It is the product of a constantly creative mind, the evolving canvas of someone who thrives on change.
This home has the feeling of a space that has developed over many years, so it’s a little surprising to learn that Gemma, her husband Gary and children Erin and Sam have only called it home for just under five years – yet it has probably seen more change in those years as many family homes see in 20.
KITCHEN WALLS PAINTED IN SAGE GREEN BY LITTLE GREENE AND CABINETS IN SULKING ROOM PINK BY FARROW & BALL, PENDANT LIGHTS BY TK MAXX, SHELVING REPURPOSED FROM WOODEN PACKAGE CRATES, TILES ON KITCHEN ISLAND BY FIRED EARTH. IMAGES: GEMMA LEWIS
“I was looking through old pictures of the house the other day and I have at least five other pictures of my kitchen in different colours over the five years we’ve been here. It’s definitely an evolving house,” says Gemma, who runs Wattle and Daub interiors store and creative hub in nearby Godalming. “I just love change, I really do, which is why I suppose the house evolves so much, because I just get so bored,” she laughs.
Almost unbelievably, the starting point for this radical colour transformation was a ubiquitous Farrow & Ball grey. “When we bought the house, I thought we could keep the bathroom for a bit, and keep a few other things, but on the day I got the keys I was walking around and realised I couldn’t keep anything as it was in too much of a bad state.” So she started by painting everything in Purbeck Stone and even had a grey carpet fitted. It represented the calm after the storm of moving in, when the builders they’d hired to rip out the bathroom and square off the kitchen with a side return, left them in the lurch without completing the job.
“We were left in utter disarray. We’d just moved in, so we basically had to live upstairs while some other builders finished it off. I don’t know how we did it at the time,” recalls Gemma.
I had to just embrace the darkness and now the house really comes alive at night.”
Since that neutral starting point, Gemma’s design scheme has been a layering process and one that has involved plenty of trial and error. While she has decorated room by room, Gemma approaches the house as a whole in terms of flow. “The grey carpet was ruining everything because anything I put on the walls had to mirror this grey tone. It just didn’t work, so that had to go,” she says. “The green room was painted at least four different looks before I settled.
“The house is really dark, so I could have painted it all in light colours, but it just would have felt cold and distressing; it wouldn’t have worked. So I had to just embrace the darkness and now the house really comes alive at night, it has a beautiful ambience to it after dark.”
Indeed, you can imagine that it feels rather magical in the evening, curled up with Gemma’s beloved whippets, Ludo and Lemmy, in cosy lamplight in the deep chocolate living room, enlivened with touches of mustard and terracotta and rich textures.
It’s only since living here and leaving her City career working in HR in investment banking to open her own interiors shop – Wattle and Daub – that Gemma has discovered the extent of her passion for colour.
“I didn’t appreciate how much I loved colour until I started experimenting and that’s thanks to the shop,” says Gemma, who regularly paints its walls in different colours to compliment her changing homewares collections.
“I move things around and I always think they look better, then within a few days I’ll move it again and think it’s never looked as good.”
“I advise other people to sit and think about how they use a space and how it will work for them before redecorating, although I’m the opposite! I just dive in and don’t think anything of changing up a room at the drop of a hat. I’ve had nannies in the past who would laugh because I would literally change everything on a Sunday and they’d come in on a Monday and the house would look totally different.
“I move things around and I always think they look better, then within a few days I’ll move it again and think it’s never looked as good. I constantly need to feel like things are evolving and they’re not stale. It’s my happy place.”
(LEFT) DAUGHTER ERIN’S BEDROOM PAINTED IN DORCHESTER PINK BY LITTLE GREENE, (RIGHT) SON SAM’S BEDROOM FEATURING A PRINT OF RUSS LEWIS’S PORTRAIT OF LUDO THE WHIPPET. IMAGES: GEMMA LEWIS
For Gemma it’s a mindset that has extended to the location of her houses as much as to their décor. Living almost a nomadic lifestyle across London and its fringes for a decade prior to moving to Haslemere, Gemma has rarely lived anywhere longer than a year. In fact, when she found this house, she and Gary had sold their previous place in Thames Ditton, were renting in Weybridge and were ‘in a real tizz’ with offers in on three different houses all over the South East.
“I think what made me want to move so much was to do with location,” she explains. “I like finding new places to visit and new people to meet. I used to change jobs a lot as well, I’d resign on the spot without anything to go to. This is the longest I’ve ever been anywhere, but actually it’s not as bad as I expected it to be! I’m now building upon things and it is definitely the nicest place I’ve lived in, because I’m allowing it to be mine.”
(LEFT) WALL MURAL IN ROOM TO THE LEFT FROM WOODCHIP & MAGNOLIA, (RIGHT) LUDO FINDS A COMFY SPOT IN GEMMA’S TRANQUIL BEDROOM. IMAGES: GEMMA LEWIS
Alongside Gemma’s eclectic collection of vintage homewares, discovered for a steal at car boot sales and on eBay, sits creatively repurposed items, including shelving created from old packing crates from the shop and a sheet of patinated metal found in an old barn which makes a stunning wall hanging. Her wonderfully diverse art collection features some treasured works by her artist brother, Russ Lewis, a piece by ceramicist Daisy Boman – a 40th birthday gift from Gary – and a particularly ‘special’ painting of a Chinese man on velvet bought at a market for the princely sum of ten pounds.
“This is the first time that I’ve been able to continue to tell a story within a house. It sounds a bit trite, but it’s definitely happening. It’s not that there’s more stuff, it’s that it feels more embedded. It feels more like a home than I’ve ever had because I was always so quick to arrive and quick to leave.”
Feeling inspired? Discover other beautiful homes here. If you like what you see, share with your friends, family and followers using the buttons at the top of the page.