A look inside the Dorset bungalow inspired by Cape Town
PUBLISHED: 15:37 11 May 2017 | UPDATED: 15:37 11 May 2017
The light airy design of a Cape Town house transformed a Dorset bungalow into a special family home for a couple whose life is infused with colour, as Claire Bowman discovers
When Londoners Melissa and John Nicholson moved down to West Dorset more than 13 years ago, they had a simple search criteria: to find the ugliest house in the best possible location. As luck would have it, their dream home presented itself in the form of an unlovely sixties farmer’s bungalow close to Broadwindsor. With nothing to commend it other than the breathtaking views, it was, admits Melissa, love at first sight.
“Before we went to view the house we had a look on Google Maps and saw that it was in a good high spot, so it would potentially have beautiful views over Dorset. We drove down the lane, got out of the car, walked straight past the bungalow and just stared out across the fields. It was a lovely spring day, and without a moment’s hesitation, I said: “This is it – this is our spot. We knew that this was the place we wanted to be.”
Having lived in the bungalow for two years without changing a thing – “We wanted to see what would work for our lifestyle,” says John – the couple then discussed their ideas with an architect. Inspired by the fashion shoots they had done in South Africa for their online fashion company Kettlewell Colours, they wanted to create a house that would reproduce the light and airiness of the Cape Town homes.
“Once a year, we spend a week in Cape Town shooting our Summer catalogue, as the summer sunshine really helps to lift the colour off the page,” enthuses Melissa. “The houses there have amazing light and many of them are open plan, that’s what we wanted to recreate in our own home. In fact, our house is more like something you might find in South Africa than in Dorset.
“When we first bought the house it was two dwellings, so we knocked them together, opening the whole thing up. Then we clad the external concrete walls in wood and changed all the windows. It really was quite a transformation.”
You might expect the owners of a fashion company that sells clothes in 150 colours to be liberal with the paint pot, with vivid accent walls in every room; but instead the walls are painted shades of white throughout. As Melissa explains, this has created a clean, light and airy space, providing a blank canvas on which to add their favourite vibrant pieces.
“John felt strongly that the interior needed to flow and there had to be continuity. The white walls have the effect of bouncing light around the room; we added in the colour through lamps, soft furnishings and artwork.”
The latter includes paintings and portraits by Melissa’s maternal great-grandmother, Olive Snell. “She went to Hollywood and painted the screen stars of the time, such as Bette Davis and Ava Gardner. Olive also sketched portraits for newspapers during the Second World War.”
My eye is drawn to a large colourful canvas which resembles a Toulouse Lautrec. “I found that at Lots Road Gallery 25 years ago, and paid £50 for it,” says Melissa. “It was on the floor, facing the wall, and nobody else wanted it. It caught my eye because of the riot of colour.”
Colour is something that infuses John and Melissa’s life. Knowing what colour “season” you fall into is key at Kettlewell Colours as their clothes span Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter palettes, and the couple’s respective seasons are reflected in the way they’ve approached their home decor.
“People don’t tend to realise that identifying your colour season is much more than just knowing that you suit red or blue – it extends to the way you decorate your home, the textures you go for – even the colour of car you choose to drive. It’s all-embracing.”
And if you are different seasons they can still work together in your home décor. “John is a Summer, and I’m a Spring, so we both have lightness and delicacy in common in our choice of interiors, and we both love order and light,” reveals Melissa. “I’m naturally drawn to bright, fresh shades such as flamingo pink, turquoise, buttercup, oatmeal, coral and apple, which is reflected in the choice of different coloured cushions I have dotted around. I am a typical Spring so I always surround myself with bunches of freshly cut flowers.
Today, Melissa and John’s five-bedroom home - which they share with their children, Tasha, Trixie and Tom - is a great showcase for their love of colour. It also brings the vibe of a Cape Town summer to West Dorset. “It’s a brilliant space for a family and a lovely place to entertain friends. And the aspect is just spell-binding – you can watch the seasons change in front of your eyes. We knew from the second we saw it that this is where we always wanted to be. It’s our special corner of Dorset.”