Somerset Life visits a Taunton home that exudes peace and tranquillity.
PUBLISHED: 16:48 06 March 2013 | UPDATED: 19:26 02 April 2013
Jemma Hughes Mead and Alex Hillenbrand's subtle modern style proved to be the perfect match for their 90-year-old house.
Cool, Calm and Contemporary
Jemma Hughes Mead and Alex Hillenbrands subtle modern style proved to be the perfect match for their 90-year-old house.
Feature and Styling Annabelle Grundy
Photographs Colin Poole
With its cool colourscheme and pale, painted furniture, interior designer, Jemma Hughes Meads Taunton home exudes peace and tranquillity. At the same time, there are traces everywhere of a busy family life. Jemma shares her home with husband Alex Hillenbrand and children Maximus, 7, Amlie, 5, Enzo, 3 and Dulcie, 9 months.
We have a lot of things around, like photos, mirrors, accessories and of course, the childrens bits and pieces too, but theres an orderly, calm feel, because I dont like clutter or visual noise, explains Jemma, Everything thats on show has been thought about.
Jemma and Alexs first son Maximus was just a few months old when they bought the house, in 2006 and it has evolved over the last seven years as the family has grown, with the arrival of daughters Amlie and Dulcie and second son Enzo. The propertys potential was a major selling factor,
Alex and I had renovated a small house nearby and were ready for another project that would help us move up the ladder a bit, recalls Jemma, We looked at lots of places around Taunton, but this one was ideal. It was built in the 1930s, and is in a great position near town, but plenty of green space nearby. It was structurally sound and we could see how the living areas could be opened up to let in the light.
However, Jemma and Alex faced a huge challenge. The house had not been modernised since the 1960s, so it needed rewiring, and a new boiler and central heating system. The metal windows were draughty, tatty carpets covered the floors, and the kitchen and bathroom were worn and inadequate,
On the plus side, as it was untouched, lots of the original 1930s features had been preserved, says Jemma, The panelled doors had all been boarded over and there were picture rails, deep skirting boards, tiled fireplaces and wooden floors. The amount of work could have been a bit scary but we knew we had the skills, and we make a good team, so it was actually quite exciting.
As the previous occupant had died, the house was empty, so Jemma and Alex were able to visit quite frequently and finalise ideas before the purchase was completed. Besides the new heating and electrical systems and complete redecoration, they visualised amalgamating the small kitchen, dining room and adjoining sunroom into an open-plan, family-friendly kitchen, dining and living area. Once the house was theirs, the family moved in with Alexs mother for about eight weeks, while Alex, who runs his own decorating and renovation business, (alexhillenbrand.com) tackled the most disruptive tasks, including fitting new plumbing, heating and wiring, altering doorways and removing a wall and old-fashioned sliding glass doors to reconfigure the space,
Alex did all the messy work first, with some help from my Dad and brothers, says Jemma, We painted the rooms white and once the place was liveable we moved in properly. We didnt have the money to do everything immediately, but that gave us the opportunity to live in the house and decide exactly how to use the space.
The couple then spent the next year steadily working through each room as time and funds allowed,
It could have been done in a couple of months but we had to save up for each stage, says Jemma, It was exhausting too, because Maximus was very little and we were both working, and then doing things on the house in our free time.
Alex grew up in Taunton and both his parents and Jemmas mother live close by. Having relatives and friends to lend a hand proved to be a big bonus, helping to keep costs down and spirits up. When it came to tackling the overgrown garden, Jemma decided to harness goodwill by inviting everyone over for a big dig ,
I laid on beer and curries and in a single Saturday we dug over the whole garden, ready for turf and planting, she says, It was really fun, and the job got finished without too much hard work, because everyone did a bit.
With the basic layout and facilities in place, Jemma could turn her attention to the look. As trained interior designer running her own business, (colourandspace.net) her understanding of colour and light proved invaluable. A pale, neutral palette was key to her plan of promoting natural light and a peaceful atmosphere and she has used a gentle off-white in several areas,
Working in interior design Im often surrounded by colour, so I like my home to be very subtle and quiet, she explains, Plain white walls dont work for me, though. The room seems flat and incomplete, but as soon as you add a real colour, however understated, it feels finished.
Despite several friends advising caution, Jemma went ahead and painted the heavy wooden surrounds of the typically-1930s tiled fireplaces in the living room and dining room. In each case, the dark wood had dominated the room, but a coat of white paint minimises the effect and brings out the pretty, carved details,
They were a bit of a challenge! says Jemma, Some people thought painting them wouldnt look right, and suggested we just rip them out, but I liked the tiles, particularly the pale grey ones in the living room,
Against the low-key background, Jemma and Alexs mix of high-street and salvaged furniture, and quirky, individual items brings a relaxed mood. The dining table came from a house clearance and there are chests, chairs and cupboards, many of which Jemma has painted, that have been rescued from garages, bought in charity shops or given by friends and neighbours,
I think people are sometimes a bit scared of painting old furniture, but it can give it a whole new life and youll have something unique, says Jemma.
Although a move may be on the cards in a few years time, for now Jemma and Alex are enjoying their home and young family,
Were in a great location with the coast and hills on our doorstep, and I can easily get to London for work when I need to, says Jemma, Weve put a lot of work into this place, and it really feels like home.