Spying the potential in the faded elegance of this Georgian terrace is one thing. Coaxing it back to life is quite another. Textile artist Jessie Cutts talks to Rosalind Sack about the slow and thoughtful renovation of her beautiful seaside home
(LEFT) THE LIGHT REFLECTS OFF THE SEA BEYOND THE WINDOWS INTO THE LIVING ROOM TO BEAUTIFUL EFFECT; (RIGHT) THE DOOR BEHIND THE BED, ORIGINALLY IN THE OPENING BETWEEN THE DINING ROOM AND KITCHEN, IS PAINTED IN JONQUIL BY EDWARD BULMER TO MATCH THE BARE PLASTER WALLS. IMAGES: JESSIE CUTTS
Special houses deserve special custodians and this handsome Georgian terrace in the seaside town of Ramsgate has been granted just that. Over the past three years Jessie Cutts, Founder of textile company Cutts & Sons, and her husband Ivo, a designer, have gradually rekindled the romance of this once decaying house.
With rotten windows, no heating in parts, holes in the walls, peeling wallpaper and buckets under the roof collecting rainwater; taking on a top-to-toe renovation of this vast five-floor house would have been too daunting for most. “The house was too big, really broken and we were going to have to spend an absolute fortune on it,” says Jessie, who was initially adamant that it wasn’t for them.
Not so for Ivo, who was gripped by its faded charm and lofty proportions, its bewitching light and sea views; they can see France from the window on a clear day. For him, relocating with their two young sons from London to a seaside town in Kent had to be worth the upheaval. Ivo didn’t want to settle for ordinary; he wanted an amazing family home.
(LEFT) THE PERFECT SPOT TO DIVE INTO A BOOK, BASK IN THE LOW WINTER SUN AND GAZE OUT TO SEA; (RIGHT) THE BEAUTIFUL ORIGINAL FIREPLACE IN THE DINING ROOM. IMAGES: JESSIE CUTTS
Eventually Jessie capitulated and four months after that first viewing on a rainy February day, it was theirs. Jessie and Ivo’s spirited renovation of this incredible home, known as Townley Terrace after its architect Mary Townley, is now documented on Instagram to an engrossed audience.
Designed and built in the 1820s, it is one of just two whole houses left in the sweeping white terrace – the rest having been divided into flats. “We have such an interesting mix of neighbours, every sort of person. It’s kind of wonderful,” says Jessie. Little is known about its previous owners, aside from a roll of paperwork they discovered in the wall, dated 1846. They included a holiday let agreement, as well as receipts from work done to the house and from grocery shops and milliners, all made out to a Miss Minter. Many years later the building had been used as NHS offices and been linked by a door to the neighbouring house.
Prior to Jessie and Ivo, it had been owned by a local antiques dealer and his wife who had put their unique stamp on the building during their 20-year tenure. Not least in the kitchen, where the island and all the shelving was reclaimed from a chemistry lab, complete with Bunsen burner marks. Limestone wall tiles used in the same room were salvaged from the Maharaja of Jaipur’s London residence.
(LEFT) KITCHEN SHELVING FROM AN OLD CHEMISTRY LAB AND LIMESTONE TILES FROM THE MAHARAJA OF JAIPUR’S LONDON RESIDENCE; (RIGHT) A GHANAIAN MERMAID FROM THE PREVIOUS OWNER’S ANTIQUE SHOP HANGS ON THE DINING ROOM WALL GAZING OUT TO SEA. IMAGES: JESSIE CUTTS
In more recent years, the house had fallen into disrepair. “The ground floor kitchen and dining room were OK, but as you went up it got worse and worse. Some parts were uninhabitable, almost derelict. There was just one bedroom you could sleep in, so we all slept in there for the first six months,” recalls Jessie.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to throw money at everything in one go, the only way to tackle a house of this size is to prioritise. So one of the first jobs Jessie and Ivo undertook was redecorating the basement flat so that it could be let out on Airbnb. Since then they have had to go slow.
“I mean, we are really slow!” laughs Jessie. “But that’s all part of the fun. And now, I wouldn’t do it any other way. We didn’t have the money to do a full job on it in one go and I think, with a building like this, you would lose its charm if you did. You’d be in danger of not making it feel like an old house anymore,” says Jessie.
Jessie and Ivo’s ongoing renovation is guided by their sensitivity to the history of the building. With the lightest touch they have worked around and enhanced its original features, such as the Baltic Pine floorboards which have been gently sanded and simply left unvarnished. Elsewhere, the cast-iron radiators deliberately remain scuffed and chipped, telling the story of the house through their rough charm.
(LEFT) JESSIE’S HOME STUDIO PAINTED IN FARROW AND BALL’S SETTING PLASTER; (RIGHT) JESSIE STITCHING ONE OF HER BEAUTIFUL QUILTS ON A CHAISE LONGUE SHE FOUND ON FACEBOOK MARKETPLACE. IMAGES: JESSIE CUTTS
When it comes to furnishings, almost everything is second hand; hunted down at car boot fairs and on eBay, or inherited from family. “This is a big house to furnish, so you have to be super creative and a complete obsessive, like I am, who enjoys finding random sh*t for not much money,” says Jessie.
Both she and Ivo hail from families who revel in the challenge of fixing and building: “When I was a kid we were always picking up odd things from the side of the road and fixing them up,” says Jessie, who grew up on a farm just outside Brisbane, Australia. Jessie’s Dad restored vintage cars and self-built several houses. “Ivo’s Dad was similar; they moved into a half-built house when Ivo was younger and then his Dad finished building it,” she adds.
Following their parents’ can-do attitude, Jessie and Ivo are doing as much of the renovation as they can themselves. Jessie recalls the time Ivo pulled all the plaster off the walls on the top floor of the house: “I’ve never seen a dirtier person – I literally had to scrub him three times in the bath, it just wouldn’t come off,” says Jessie. “A friend came round and said, ‘I just could not do this, I just couldn’t’. I think most of the houses I lived in as a kid didn’t have a proper wall when we moved in; there was always something being fixed up. We’re used to it.”
(LEFT) A FEW INEXPENSIVE CHANGES IN THE BATHROOM, INCLUDING THE HOMEMADE STRIPED SINK SKIRT, HAVE MADE IT LIVEABLE IN THE SHORT TERM; (RIGHT) THE BOYS’ BEDS WERE FOUND ON FACEBOOK MARKETPLACE AND THOUGHT TO BE ORIGINALLY FROM THE SERVANTS’ QUARTERS AT WINDSOR CASTLE. IMAGES: JESSIE CUTTS
It’s fair to say that Jessie and Ivo certainly don’t fear change. Disillusioned by the hectic and unrelenting pace of their city life, it was their yearning for a shift of gear that led them here.
“We wanted to live a bit more quietly,” says Jessie. “I used to work for a London design consultancy which was very full on. We had to leave the house at three minutes past eight every morning to have the seven-minute walk to nursery to then get the 8.22am train to get to the office. We were always running and it just wasn’t filling us with joy.” An extended trip to Australia during Jessie’s maternity leave afforded them the time and distance to reassess.
“We came back and thought, screw this, this isn’t how we want to do things,” says Jessie. “Moving here has completely changed our lives. I hate saying things like that because it’s so clichéd, but it really has.”
Much like their new life by the sea, this renovation is gentle, soulful and all the better for it. In resisting the urge to rush, Jessie and Ivo have allowed themselves and their home, the time and patience to rediscover a certain lost magic.
“It’s lovely to be bringing a place back to life that has been neglected. And now there’s enough of it done that we can start to enjoy it,” says Jessie. “I woke up this morning, opened the curtains and looked out over the sea and that diminishes the stress of the renovation. It really is a very special house and our lives are just so much better here.”
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