Worlds Best Homes

This elegant English country rectory's floral motifs are as prolific inside as in its stunning gardens

A passion for gardening inspired the sensitive update of a former Victorian rectory and its formal grounds overlooking the East Sussex countryside

Victorian country rectory
(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

Little by little, Christopher and Lillie Edgar have been working their way further south. It was the magical setting and the open views that first drew the couple to their beautiful country home. 

Their house, not far from Hastings and the south coast, sits on the crest of a hill, with its grounds and meadows dipping gently down towards the valley below. From here, one can see for miles across the open countryside and farmland of East Sussex. It truly is an idyllic spot for a family home. 

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sofa and floral wallpaper in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

‘We used to live in London and then Tunbridge Wells, so we have been gradually migrating further and further south,’ says Christopher. ‘When we found this house it was a bit of a wreck and the garden was really just a boggy field – the grass had been cut but nothing else had happened for years. So it was almost starting from scratch, especially with the garden, but we could see the potential and knew it could be wonderful.’ 

outdoor seating area in Victorian rectory garden

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

The grounds provided the perfect challenge for Christopher, who is a garden designer (Christopher Edgar Garden Design). He has spent many years planning and shaping the terraces. Around the house itself, the gardens are more formal but become more natural further down the hill, where the Edgars have also created a swimming pool and pool house. Beyond the boundary of the garden walls, there is an open meadow of grasses and native flowers stretching down towards woodland below. 

swimming pool and back of Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

‘Working on the house and garden helped me to realise that gardens are my passion,’ says Christopher, who used to work in the City before retraining at the Inchbald School of Design and in Christopher Lloyd’s gardens at Great Dixter, also in East Sussex. ‘I love being outside as well, so for me it’s the perfect profession.’ 

front door of Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

The oldest parts of the house date back to the 17th century but it was rebuilt at the start of the Victorian period, serving as a grand rectory for the nearby church. During World War II the house was used by the RAF and, more recently, served time as a vegetarian hotel. By the time Lillie and Christopher bought the property, in 2010, it was in need of some love and attention. 

kitchen in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

‘It hadn’t really been touched for 35 years so needed a lot of modernising,’ Christopher says. ‘A service wing to one side had been pulled down at one point, so we decided to rebuild that wing with the kitchen on the ground floor and the master bedroom and bathroom above it. There was also an annexe with half a dozen little rooms and not much life left in it, so we replaced it with a new conservatory and opened it up to the library, which helped bring the house together.’ 

Christopher concentrated on the planning and structural work, while Lillie focused on the interiors in both the new and older parts of the house. The early Victorian living rooms are blessed with big windows, high ceilings, generous proportions and original cornices and mouldings, which were carefully preserved and restored. 

sitting room in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

‘We work well together, so when we did the house Christopher would take charge of the shape of the rooms and how things flow together while I would do the interiors, wallpapers and dressing,’ explains Lillie. ‘I love the ceiling heights and the sense of calm and space here. I inherited some beautiful chandeliers from my grandmother and great-grandmother, and it was lovely to be able to put them in spaces that really deserved them, like the living room.’ 

living room in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

For many years the Edgars had admired De Gournay’s handcrafted wallpapers and, at last, found themselves with a house and setting that suited them perfectly. The garden shades and floral motifs of the living room wallpaper tie in beautifully with the rural views. 'With those sage green colours, it's a lovely room to relax in with stunning views out from the bay window. It does make you feel as though you are outside, even when we are very much at home,’  says Lillie.

lamp and floral wallpaper in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

The dining room features another De Gournay design that seems to bring the garden inside. ‘I enjoy entertaining and having friends over for dinner, and the dining room is such a lovely space,’ says Lillie. ‘The wallpaper sparkles at night and brings the room to life.'

dining room in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

fireplace under a window in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

Working together from home also helped spur the idea for the Edgars’ new venture, Lavender & Lillie (Lavender and Lillie). With its fresh range of scented candles, diffusers and bathroom products, the new company – which is sold at Fortnum & Mason and online – combines Lillie’s love of design and interiors with Christopher’s gardening background. The collection features many botanical ingredients while their names also reference Lillie’s love of the Seychelles, where she was born, and India, where her grandparents lived. 

bedroom in Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

The house renovation took more than two years to complete and it’s now not only the family home, with the Edgars’ three young children, but also the base for both Lavender & Lillie and Christopher’s garden design business. The garden, meanwhile, is an ongoing labour of love. 

gothic entrance to Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

formal garden of Victorian rectory

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

‘I don’t think a garden is ever really finished,’ says Christopher, ‘and there’s certainly a lot more work to do. This year I’m planning to add a bridge across the duck pond and a bell tent for the meadow. It is certainly a beautiful home with amazing surroundings, and it’s a wonderful place for us to bring up the children.'

Words / Dominic Bradbury

Karen Darlow

Karen is the houses editor for 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.