Alabama native Ambrice first visited England aged 20 and it made a lasting impression on her, which is why three years later she willingly accepted a work transfer to London. ‘I remember being blown away by how much of a true melting pot London was and from then on I was always pining to go back,’ she says.
Ambrice met her future husband Ben four years later. ‘We rented a flat in north London, which was a comfortable commute, but when the landlord decided to sell, it felt like the right time for us to buy a house. We wanted a place that we could grow into with some outbuildings for our hobbies.’
Both were keen to move to the country and so they set their house search within a 50-mile radius of the capital so they could still travel into London for work. ‘We weren’t tied to any specific location.’
Ambrice and Ben weren’t familiar with Suffolk, but they knew their 11th house viewing would be special. As they approached the property and saw the ivy-covered façade, which had deterred other buyers, Ambrice and Ben were charmed by the idea that the property had history.
Admittedly on paper ‘Chap’, as the house is now fondly known, didn’t look great. The owner had rented each room out to lodgers and it was in a state of disrepair. The décor consisted of carpeted flooring in varying shades of blue-green and orange embossed wallpaper.
Parts of the house date back to the 1650s, with sections added in the late 19th century. It was originally built for a malt master in the brewery trade.
The couple moved into the house in spring 2017 began working on their kitchen ideas, removing the units and linoleum floor. To date the couple have completed all but one of the bathroom refits themselves.
Throughout the property they’ve tiled, sanded and painted surfaces, refinished floors, repaired walls and replaced lighting to a brilliant standard for novices. All the work they’ve done means they now have the perfect backdrop for their art collection.
The kitchen is a delightful mix of old and new, with some salvaged and some custom-made fittings. The cabinets were custom made by a local carpenter, with Jim Lawrence (opens in new tab) handles added. Ambrice bought the Lacanche range cooker secondhand from the manufacturer. ‘It’s my favorite thing in the house because it will cook a 20-pound turkey in two hours,’ says Ambrice.
‘We added the carrara tile backsplash, using marble tiles instead of sheets to save money. Ben made the cooker hood and I added the beading to give it a more traditional look.’
At the heart of the kitchen is an island that Ben and Ambrice made with a stainless-steel kitchen tabletop from a seafood restaurant mounted on an old carpenter’s bench that they found on Ebay. ‘What we saved on doing a lot of the work ourselves we spend on finishes and quality of materials where it matters,’ says Ambrice.
The reclaimed Belfast sink in the utility room is the perfect size for bathing muddy dogs, says Ambrice. Ben built the units, which are painted in Valspar’s Blue Fedora (opens in new tab) satin finish. The cabinet handles are solid brass reproductions of the iconic Georgian Bloxwich design.
Hallway ideas that really catch the eye include the hall tiles, which are the Victorian originals, with a few replacements sourced from a reclamation yard. Ambrice likes the juxtaposition of the contemporary Italian Sputnik-style chandelier and the traditional artwork and furniture in this space
Ambrice has filled this drawing room with wonderful living room ideas – some of her most beautiful pieces of furniture and artworks. The chandelier came from Paris, and was the first thing she and husband Ben bought for the house. The room was previously used as a dining room and had a maroon carpet.
‘Other than that it was quite bare and lacked inspiration,’ says Ambrice. ‘We’ve gone for a neutral base palette to let the art and decorative items add the color.’ The farm-grown flowers were supplied by Our Pretty Wedding (opens in new tab), Bradfield.
‘We especially love finding pieces from artists of under-represented heritages for our home and hopefully can bring those to the mainstream one day,’ says Ambrice.
She and Ben have used their home as an experiment, where each room has a different theme or aesthetic. Somehow, each room manages to reflect them perfectly. ‘Given my African-American heritage and Ben’s English-Welsh heritage it makes for some interesting designs of traditional versus modern,’ she adds.
Ben chose Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab)’s Military Blue for the snug. ‘It echoes the artwork and helps achieve the cosy feel we wanted,’ says Ambrice. The couple took up an old carpet, then sanded and stained the floorboards. ‘We spend most of our time in the snug when it’s just the two of us. It’s the room that makes me smile every time I walk into it,’ adds Ambrice
Ambrice and Ben didn’t have to do much to the dining room as it had been used as a sitting room. They painted the walls and kept the original features, including the fireplace and the striking lacquered black ceiling beam. Ben built the table, which extends to seat up to 20 people.
Ambrice wanted this bedroom to be an ‘explorer room’ and designed it around a silk suzani tapestry, which she found in Istanbul, with other accessories collected on her travels around the world. ‘We bought this Victorian sofa at auction. It is in excellent condition and is still upholstered in the original velvet fabric,’
says Ambrice. ‘The walls feature embossed wallpaper and I love the delicate design but I changed the color from peach to deep green and it works much better’
At the back of the house is the secret garden, which Ben and Ambrice used to call ‘the graveyard’. ‘It was all tarmac and old stone so we had it dug up and removed. There were no plants aside from a beautiful hedge,’ says Ambrice.
They designed the new space to have a Mediterranean, Italian-villa style, with built-in seating, potted olive trees and a formal pond. The couple’s friend Andrew Howarth is
an artist and a gardener and he helped to bring the garden back to life and create the couple’s dream outdoor space.
There’s also space for a homemade potting table in the back garden
The studio was converted from an old garage and is where Ambrice runs her art and antiques dealership, Relic. Ben replaced the mezzanine flooring and Ambrice cleaned and painted the walls and ground floor. She also designed the steel-framed chairs after being unable to find exactly what she wanted for the secret garden. Ambrice’s ‘Toscana Lounger’ chairs are suitable for outdoor or indoor use and are available through her website Relic Interiors (opens in new tab).
Original feature / Ife Adedeji
This house is taken from H&G's sister brand, Period Living magazine
Subscribe to Period Living for more inspiration (opens in new tab) Period Living is the UK's best-selling period homes magazine. A subscription provides you with all you need to know about caring for and improving a traditional house and garden.
Karen is the houses editor for homesandgardens.com and homes editor for the brand’s sister titles, Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors, and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. She loves visiting historic houses for Period Living and writing about rural properties for Country Homes & Interiors, and working with photographers to capture all shapes and sizes of properties. Karen began her career as a sub editor at Hi-Fi News and Record Review magazine. Her move to women’s magazines came soon after, in the shape of Living magazine, which covered cookery, fashion, beauty, homes and gardening. From Living Karen moved to Ideal Home magazine, where as deputy chief sub, then chief sub, she started to really take an interest in properties, architecture, interior design and gardening.
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