Ideal Home, September 2013
One of my favourite house features has just been published in Ideal Home magazine. Sam Stas’ modern home is absolutely gorgeous – full of colour and character – and she’s got a real eye for a bargain!
Sam Stas and her husband Joseph Ellis were living in a cottage in Steyning, West Sussex that dated from circa 1900 when they decided to move. “It was a pretty little village, but it just a bit too ‘tickity-boo’” explains Sam. “We’d moved from Brighton and we needed somewhere with a bit more life! The cottage also had really small windows and a very overgrown garden. Although it was very pretty, it was dark, so we craved somewhere with a lot more natural light.”
They identified Lewes as “part Brighton, part Steyning,” and started looking for another period property. They quickly realised that the period properties within their budget often didn’t have gardens, were right on the road and weren’t going to offer them the space they needed as a growing family. “We wanted something with a bit more space than the cottage, so you could at least get a buggy in and out,” says Sam. Friends suggested they looked at the more modern estates on the outskirts of Lewes that many families seemed to be migrating to. “We went to have a look and I’m such a convert!” laughs Sam. “As soon as we started talking to people in the area, we realised that so many other families were doing the same thing.”
When they first saw the property they eventually bought, it had been quite neglected – there was even a fridge freezer in the dining room. Despite her husband’s initial reservations, Sam had an immediate sense that it was the one for them. “The house just seemed right. Joe took a bit of convincing, because it was so horrible inside, but I just got that gut feeling; I thought, “We could make this nice.” I didn’t immediately think “wow”, but I think I knew that it could work. On top of that it was a very quiet area and the house felt like it had a bit of space around it.”
Once they were in, they set about opening up the space inside. They knocked the lounge and dining room into one large open plan room. This allowed them to close off what had been the dining room door. Sam explains; “There was a really long hallway, and having blocked off the second door, it didn’t need to be that long anymore, so we thought: “Why have a long hallway and a small kitchen?” We moved the kitchen wall to steal some space from the hall and make the kitchen bigger.” They did a similar thing upstairs to create a larger family bathroom from what had been a separate toilet and bathroom.
“We were keen to do as much as we could ourselves. Joe had never done a house up before, so it was really nice to have that feeling of having done it together,” says Sam. “I would love to have a splashed out on a nice Smeg fridge, but we just didn’t have the space. We were quite practical. I like doing things on a budget, because it makes you more creative. Realising we didn’t have enough space for a freestanding kitchen, but not wanting it to look too fitted, I think we did quite well with the catering unit and the little second hand wall unit and shelves, rather than fitted wall units – I think we achieved that look in the space and for a really good budget.”
Having created the spaces they wanted, they set about decorating them. “Because the light was such a big deal for us, we thought we’d do something we’ve never done before and just paint it all white”, says Sam. “We were very determined to give that a go. We wanted to start with a blank canvas and take it from there, but in the end we really liked it. We had friends who’d used fancy shades of white, but we thought for the time being, we’ll just use plain white. Because it’s so light, I don’t feel it looks grey. Lots of friends ask which white we used, and are amazed to hear that it’s still just the basic white we put up to start with.”
Sam collects vintage toys and children’s books, so using white throughout the house provides a perfect counterbalance for her colourful collections. She says, “When we were in the cottage, I was aware that my love of kitsch didn’t really work, so it was refreshing to be able to revisit all the things I used to love”, says Sam. “We sold lots of things on eBay – a lovely, but rickety Victorian sofa and a round, very ‘country’ dining table, and I got stuck into flea markets, car boot sales and charity shops. You can get some great stuff on the High Street, but that doesn’t give a space much character. Part of the fun of it is unearthing things at car boot sales. If I see something I like, I just buy it. Sometimes I get it home and there’s nowhere to put it, so I’ve come unstuck a couple of times, but it’s not hugely considered. I think people get too hung up about creating a certain look and think everything’s got to be from the right period. If you’re confident enough, just be brave and it’ll work. If it makes you happy, a bit of bad taste thrown in is a great idea! You can be too precious.”
Sam enjoyed the finishing touches most: “The most fun part was definitely when things started going up on the walls. We’ve got a big collection so I liked doing that, and that bit when you start picking out or making cushions.” Sam designs and makes contemporary textiles, prints and cards inspired by vintage children’s book illustrations, design from the fifties and sixties and all things nostalgic, so she made many of the soft furnishings herself.
And now it’s done? “I don’t think I’ll ever feel it’s finished, there’s always room for more! It’s a work in progress and I’m happy to tweak things. For now we’re quite happy with how it is… but if I spot something brilliant, I’ll definitely try to squeeze it in somewhere,” she laughs.
All copy is reproduced here as it was supplied by Katie Treggiden to the client or publication.