The idea of a comfortable life in the country may conjure up a quaint rural idyll and a slower pace of life. For cabinetmaker and furniture designer Alex Willcock, however, 16 years of family life in a Grade II-listed property in rural Sussex, UK, proved instead to be the catalyst for a new business venture – one that has put any notion of a gentler pace of living firmly on the back burner. For it's from here that Alex, together with his eldest son Felix, created a luxury furniture brand that purports to make the comfiest sofas in the world. And the starting point for all that comfort? Kemps House, one of the world's best homes.
‘In many ways, the house is the third founder of our company, Maker&Son (opens in new tab),’ says Alex. ‘Comfort has always been a real priority to us as a family, and it’s the house that has enabled this way of life and given birth to all that we do.’
Having returned to the UK from a stint in Australia, where he met Felix’s mother, Sophie Conran, Alex headed up the creative, buying and marketing departments at The Conran Shop before launching his own design agency in London. Kemps House was the perfect retreat at the end of a busy day.
The house and how it functions as a family home has become an integral part of the brand identity with rooms used as spaces to test the designs, and paint colours changing on a whim to showcase a new fabric colourway.
Kitchen ideas here include a classic butler’s sink and Shaker panelled cabinets that all give the room a modern country feel. A large rustic wooden dining table is teamed with a mix of vintage wooden chairs and classic Eames DSW chairs from The Conran Shop for a relaxed modern vibe. Felix’s bentwood ceiling light makes a striking focal point above the table. The cabinets are painted in Breakfast Room Green, Farrow & Ball.
An old butcher’s block is used as a central island. There's also plenty of shelf and display space for treasures and artwork collected over the years, plus vintage cookware and kitchenalia that Alex picked up at nearby Ardingly antiques fair.
The classic cream Aga – no country kitchen is complete without it.
Living room ideas in this home need to be fluid and adaptable, as Alex explains. ‘We’re forever changing things around. For instance, the main living room might be the set of a new sofa photoshoot one day, then the next it’s being rearranged for a family event at the weekend,’ says Alex.
The sofas are the Marnie in Malachite Linen and a Song Large sofa in Sunstone Linen, both from Maker&Son. The cushions are from The Conran Shop.
Snug – the second living room
Maker&Son furniture is dotted throughout the home. The generously sized rooms lend themselves to the long, deep and wide proportions of the sofas, chairs and beds. At the same time, the period backdrop of centuries-old floorboards, the fireplaces in the living rooms and the original 17th-century staircase provide a distinctive contrast to the designers’ modern style.
In the snug, sophisticated tones of olive, mustard and rust create a warm and cosy scheme against the backdrop of gray walls. Green sofa, Song sofa, Maker & Sons. Walls painted in Manor House Gray by Farrow & Ball. The cushions are from The Conran Shop. The coffee table is from Maker & Son.
‘We’re always doing something new,’ says Alex, ‘and in a funny way, the juxtaposition of an old house and lots of newness seems to really work.’ This is evident, too, in Felix’s contemporary bentwood lighting designs, which loop dramatically down from the ceilings, and in Alex’s artwork and carpentry, including his handmade wooden candlesticks in the windows of this second living room.
Bedroom ideas for the main bedroom feature dusty pink walls that perfectly complement the varying tones of wood, including an antique elm bench, vintage shoe lasts and a side table made by Alex from branches and sawn wood surrounding the house. The Song King bed (without footer) in Coconut Linen/Cotton from Maker&Son sits comfortably within the sizeable proportions of the room. The large wooden and adjustable floor lamp was made by a friend. Walls painted in Setting Plaster from Farrow & Ball.
In this smaller bedroom a Song single bed with footer, from Maker & Son, is covered in luxurious teal velvet. Traditional toy skittles, wooden soldiers and a metal racing car make a charming display on a vintage cabinet. The walls are painted in Dix Blue by Farrow & Ball
Bathroom ideas have been kept pretty and elegant, with period-style bathroom fittings, brick tiles and an uplifting shade on the walls that allow the beautiful multi-paned window to remain the room's focal point. The antique jug and bowl were sourced by Alex on his travels. Walls painted in Nancy’s Blushes by Farrow & Ball.
With its elegant proportions, symmetrical placing of period casement windows and a hipped roof with a tiny dormer window hinting at the characterful charm inside, Kemps House is in many ways a quintessential English country house. But it also bears the signs of historical changes. The original 1660s timber facade was replaced at some point with local red and black brickwork, and several side windows were filled in to avoid the window taxes introduced in the late 17th century. Not that this deflects from the property’s appeal; rather, it cements it as a house that has evolved to suit its inhabitants’ needs and wishes over time, something that is apparent to this day in the way it inspires the designers who live there now.
Maker&Son (opens in new tab), Kemps Farm Business Park, London Road, Balcombe RH17 6JH
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