#10MINSWITH: JENNIFER HAMILTON OF THE VAWDREY HOUSE

Jennifer Hamilton lives and breathes interior design. One-third of The Vawdrey House, Jennifer established the interior design company in 2012 after leaving her position as Director for a leading design consultancy. Along with her business partners, Jennifer and her partners use their combined experience to create homes and public spaces that are unique and deeply personal to their clients.

The Vawdrey House project  – Niki Jones’ house. As featured in Rockett St George: Extraordinary Interiors (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99) Photography by Debi Treloar.

One of Jennifer’s projects was the home of Niki Jones (read Niki’s #10MINSWITH interview here) and it was featured in the Rockett St George book: Extraordinary Interiors. Together The Vawdrey House and Niki undertook a significant design challenge of restoring Niki’s Victorian Home (which had been divided into two dwellings in the 1950s) to its former glory. So to find out a little more about Jennifer we sat down with her to hear more about her projects and her favourite RSG pieces…


The Vawdrey House project  – Niki Jones’ house. As featured in Rockett St George: Extraordinary Interiors (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99) Photography by Debi Treloar.

1.Let’s start at the very beginning. How did you first get into interior design?

I wanted to do interior design from about age 13, I think – while decorating my bedroom with frills and borders from M&S Home in the early 90s. My mum found a GNVQ Advanced in Art & Design for me to do instead of A levels, as this was a fast track route to a design degree – much to the chagrin of my quite academic school. Then I did my degree at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication (interestingly where two of my Vawdrey House colleagues also studied a few years later) and from there got my first job at MoreySmith where I stayed for 10 years, becoming a Director. It was here I really learnt everything I know about the construction industry by working on multi-million-pound refurbishments for global clients like Sony Music, EMI and Cadbury. College can only teach you so much, it really is through experience you either make or break it.

The Vawdrey House project – Nevill Park

2.You established the interior design company, The Vawdrey House, in 2012. What inspired you to start your own business?

I began with just one residential project in 2011, which came to me just as I was finishing my maternity leave and moving out of London to the seaside. I knew I would struggle to fit my new life around my work schedule at MoreySmith, so I decided to do this freelance project while I looked for a part-time job in Sussex. But I never found one! By the time I had finished that project, I had two more on the go, and I saw that I could transfer the kind of holistic, professional approach that I practised with MoreySmith to the residential sector. By the end of 2011 I decided to make things official and started to get organised and design my brand.

3.Explain the process from when you and your team first embark on a project to the finish?

We begin with a high-level and strategic design for the whole building, looking at everything from the approach, use and flow, to the general look and feel. We sketch up lots of options to ensure we have explored every possibility for the spaces. Once the preferred options have been identified, we obtain planning permission for the external works, and then work through all the detailed design elements with the client, drawing it all up for tender to several builders. We then run the project on site and help with all the last details to get everything right.

 

4.When designing a home how do you ensure the client’s home remains faithful to their personal style?

We love working in the way that we do, because it is never a one-way street. Many clients come to The Vawdrey House because they understand good design and want to create something special – but don’t know how. We work with them to understand their style, what makes them comfortable, and what will make them go ‘Wow – is this really my house?’

Once we have a feel for what they like, we design the house the way they would – if they had our training and experience. So, we collaborate by standing in our client’s shoes, developing their own their style, but with the benefit of our expertise.

5.What is your favourite part of your job and what do you find the most challenging?

I love all aspects really, in their right places, and I enjoy the cycle of a project. Just when you have had enough of high-level thinking, it’s time to get into the detail, just when you have had enough of scheduling and budgeting, it’s time to build something. Just when you are tired of the urgency of the building site – a beautiful house emerges and everyone is happy! Of course, that is probably my favourite part … and then you start all over again with someone new!

The Vawdrey House project  – Niki Jones’ house. As featured in Rockett St George: Extraordinary Interiors (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99) Photography by Debi Treloar.

6.You were commissioned by Niki Jones to overhaul her home and we have featured the finishing result in the Rockett St George Book: Extraordinary Interiors. The Victorian house had been split into two dwellings in the 50’s. How did you overcome this design challenge?

All the period rooms in the house were still stunning if dated, but the main hall was marred by the awkward overhanging boxed-in staircase, which was added when the stairs were divided. While walking upstairs visitors had to duck in and through the main supporting wall via several low ceilinged ‘doorways’, which felt dark and oppressive.

Niki and Kenton initially asked us to help them design a rear extension to provide a kitchen and large entertaining space. At that point, I think they felt the stairs represented an unavoidable compromise inherent in the way the house had been split – but they loved the rest of the house enough to live with this. We soon saw that if we solved the issues with the circulation spaces we could give the house back the grandeur it deserved, and thereby lift its value – meaning every penny spent on extending and renovating would go that bit further on resale.

On the top-floor stair core we removed the dividing wall and opened the roof up to the pitch, adding a roof light to flood the stairs with daylight. In the main hall, the boxed in stairs have been concealed within joinery panelling, which also hides a mirrored drinks cabinet, a door to the cellar and masses of storage. Set into this panelling is a recessed daybed and bookshelf. This has transformed the space, restoring its grand proportions, while creating the perfect winter sitting room, with log fire, dramatic dark paintwork and huge chandelier. More crucially the hall now works as a room, rather than just a circulation space.

The Vawdrey House project  – Niki Jones’ house. As featured in Rockett St George: Extraordinary Interiors (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99). Photography by Debi Treloar.

7.When styling or redecorating a room in your home, what is the first thing that you do or plan to style the room?

The layout is key – and leads everything, and you build up from that. Once you decide where the main things go and take into account any constraints or existing elements you need to work with, this leads you towards a solution. There is often one element or item which leads the look too – if you have a Chinese antique, for example, this might provide your inspiration. You just need to decide if you want that item to stand out and contrast (think crisp white space with dark floors and one elaborate Chinese antique) or envelop you completely (think chinoiserie wallpaper and deep teal velvet sofas) and go from there.

8.Give us three top tips for creating a beautiful home?

Be honest about your own style, you might like one look in a bar or hotel, but would you feel happy with that look long term? This follows with tidiness and storage – the key to being tidy is having a place for everything to go. A well-designed space should still look good with a bit of day-to-day mess in it! Look at where stuff gathers now and design a place for it in that location rather than trying to retrain everyone to go down the back stairs to put things away somewhere else.

How do you want a space to make you feel? Happy? Invigorated? Relaxed? At home? Organised and ready for anything? Pinpoint how you want to feel in different areas of your home, and the look of these areas will follow.

Most of all – think and plan and plan some more before you start ANYTHING. We usually spend around six months with a client before work starts on site. This ensures the design, planning permission, costs and all the details and fittings are in order before you put a spade in the ground. This minimises surprises and stress later, ensures our clients enjoy the process with us, and that projects are finished within their budgets.

The Vawdrey House project – Sterndale Road

9.What’s next for The Vawdrey House?

 We are currently working on our first new-build project and are also designing 183 apartments for the high-end rental market, alongside more fabulous private houses like Niki and Kenton’s across London and the South of England.

10.Finally, name three new RSG products that you love?

Only three? Ok, I will categorise into three…. ish!

1. We are using the Eight Orb Ceiling Light and Molecular Ceiling Lights in a London project which goes on site soon. The client loves vintage and reclaimed lighting and is regularly scouring vintage and mid-century suppliers. But we both love the look you get from this without any of the potential wiring/dimming/lamp issues you can have with genuine vintage fittings.

2. Bring back the grey flannel wing chair back! We used it several times on a project a few years ago and it was supremely comfortable, the perfect size and a great price.

3. We have recently specified the ‘black and white jungle print cushion’ and ‘artist’s cushion’ in pink, along with the ‘botanical ferns canvas wall hanging’ for another house in Tunbridge Wells.

4. Oops! I adore all your new bed linen and all the throws.

5. Double oops! I also love the various brass and marble coffee and side tables you have – a style and size for every requirement.

Black & White Jungle Print Cushion £24.00 Eight Orb Ceiling Light £549.00 Lisbon Soft Linen Duvet Cover – Rose Pink from £135.00

Quick Fire Questions

  1. I am happiest when… by the sea.
  2. My favourite magazine is… Livingetc
  3. My dream holiday would be…  Morocco. We have been but would love to go back
  4. My ideal day would be spent…. drinking coffee somewhere sunny, having lunch somewhere delicious, walking somewhere beautiful and ending at a country pub by the fire.
  5. My personal motto is… Keep going until it’s perfect (This only applies to things I am good at – for things I am not good at, I tend to give up in a huff!)
  6. My guilty pleasure is… dark cooking chocolate from the packet and getting my feet done.
  7. The last film I saw was… ‘Flushed Away’ with my children!
  8. My favourite book is… ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith, a lovely old-fashioned English countryside kind of book.
  9. In five years’ time, I want to be… sitting in my own extension – or hopefully sooner than that!
  10. The three things I can’t live without are… my husband, my children and my team at The Vawdrey House!

 

 

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