ULSTER TATLER INTERIORS features a period renovation project by Thompson Clarke Interiors.
There are three nuggets of advice to bear in mind when making over your home. First, plan every room from the outset; second, buy the best that you can afford; and, last but most importantly, go with your gut instinct. That’s what Lucy and Ben Simpson did when renovating their Victorian townhouse in Belfast. They’d bought the house, in the university district of Stranmillis, for its period detailing, which shone through the otherwise poor decoration and shoddy DIY. If the bones of the structure were strong, they knew, the potential could always be harnessed. Along with adding an extension at the rear, they also knew they’d need help to steer the design in the right direction, so they called on the expertise of Thompson Clarke Interiors.
Led by owners Sara Thompson and Lindy Clarke, the design team quickly got to grips with both the possibilities offered by period living – and its drawbacks. They knew the two- storey red-brick Victorian terrace had all the attributes Ben and Lucy wanted for themselves and their two young children, such as high ceilings, intricate cornices and sash-and-case windows; now it just needed to be appropriately dressed.
Lucy had come across Thompson Clarke’s work for other clients and had liked what she’d seen, as Sara explains: “We found that we were a naturally good fit for the family – they love texture and have an overall appreciation for colour. We formed a bond from the outset that meant Lucy could trust us to make good decisions alongside her. We don’t impose a set style or colour palette; we prefer to be guided by the space and by our clients’ preferences.”
Seeing past the nicotine-stained walls, red ceilings and worn formica cupboards, Sara set about balancing a sympathetic redecoration with a contemporary out- look. “There were to be no mausoleum rooms!” she laughs, mindful of her clients’ young children and the family’s desire to make full use of the house. “Nowhere was to be out of bounds for them.”
An extension was added to create a kitchen-dining- living area that linked to the courtyard garden. Upstairs are four bedrooms, including a master suite with a dressing room, as well as a family-sized bathroom. Thompson Clarke got involved early on, helping with the remodelled kitchen.
“I love a house where one room flows into another, door through door, tone by tone,” says Sara. “The ground floor is a continuation of spaces from the moment you step through the grand front door.
“Lucy showed us images of the sort of kitchen she liked, including some of our previous projects, picking out her favourite colour combinations and room schemes.”
The layout of the kitchen in the new extension had to work around a supporting column retained from the original house. “We exposed the top part of the beam and attached it to the side of the island, painting it off- white to tone in with the rest of the room,” says Sara.
The Shaker-style units, by Ryan Thompson at Function Design Furniture, have a classic contemporary look that is unlikely to date and is neutral enough to be able to withstand the addition of pattern, colour and texture found in the kitchen textiles and accessories. A buying trip to Belgium led to the purchase of the luxe bar stools by Spoinq that complement the bright Poppinjay-covered armchair (by Ian Sanderson) and the impressive French marquetry-topped dining table (found in Paris).
This is a light-filled space, thanks to door-to-ceiling windows, with a pitched ceiling featuring a glass roof lantern and two overhead roof lights. The sitting room, in the original part of the downstairs, is equally bright, with large French patio doors that lead to the garden. “The doors were wonderfully detailed and in good working order,” remarks Sara. “Now, with some reconditioning, they look even more beautiful. They and their newly restored shutters are a great period feature in the room alongside its magnificent fireplace.”
The influence of world-class designers like William Yeoward and Kit Kemp can be felt in this property, both Lucy and Thompson Clarke favouring a refined layering of colours and textures. With natural light flooding through the house from the double bay windows at the front to the kitchen at the back, there are no dark corners to inhibit the use of bold colour. The family’s art collection also helped to inform the design, with works by Irish artists such as Tony O’Malley and John B. Vallely infusing gentle colour into the scheme.
“We enjoy mixing colour and pattern, old and new, to produce a thrown-together look – even if it has all been carefully considered,” explains Sara. “We particularly admire the hotel interiors of Kit Kemp and the Firmdale group, who are true pros at mixing and matching, together with the fantastic colour combinations and draughtsmanship of artists such as David Hockney.”
The sitting room is perhaps the best illustration of this approach. Confident, elegant pattern, like the Zoffany Peacock Garden curtains (a modern take on a traditional Indian temple scene) and the Lewis & Wood Rococo velvet-covered sofa are strong, bold textiles that some might shy away from. Paired with a gentle backdrop (Farrow & Ball’s Elephant’s Breath paint) and classic-shaped pieces (such as the Belgian blue stone coffee table by Dialma Brown), however, the room feels effortlessly styled. The modern interpretation of classic patterns and prints stops the decor feeling prissy or old-fashioned.
“I always say nothing should match, that beautiful things always go together and, in this instance, the casual feel to the rooms works beautifully with all the art and collected items, among patterned rugs and sofas,” says Sara.
The house’s high ceilings are a beautiful feature, but they also presented a challenge, recalls the designer: the fabric required for the 4m drop would have made curtains for every window extremely expensive. The solution was to use roller blinds where possible, which had the added bonus of keeping the look uncluttered.
Restoration work continued in the hallway, where the mahogany handrail and original monkey’s tail end have been spruced up, the spindles have been tightened and all the paintwork has been redone. “As you go upstairs, you pass the striking family bathroom that features Nina Campbell’s Cathay Parade wallpaper, and the bright colours of the children’s bedrooms,” says Sara. “It’s a bright, airy, joy of a house.”
Lucy and Ben couldn’t be happier, with a family home that now not only functions effectively but also looks the part.
Photography by Bradley Quinn.