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Bespoke watch business in Lyme Regis

PUBLISHED: 11:55 27 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:55 27 November 2013

The cottage was originally a terrace of five artisans’ cottages built around 1730

The cottage was originally a terrace of five artisans’ cottages built around 1730

(C)2008 Peter Booton Photography, all rights reserved

An enterprising couple chose a terrace of renovated artisan cottages in which to launch a bespoke watch business - and drew design inspiration from a famous literary relative.

Until around 1980 Ned and Marianna du Maurier Browning’s cottage was an ale-house; in fact a number of people in the sleepy West Dorset hamlet, near Lyme Regis, in which the cottage is located, can still recall what it was like in those days.

Originally a terrace of five artisans’ cottages built around 1730 the property was later converted to three dwellings, and more recently to a single dwelling. Half of its roof is thatched and half is slate-tiled, giving the impression that it is more than a single property, but the tiled part is the oldest; the thatched section was added following bomb damage done to the roof during the Second World War.

After remaining empty for some time, and approaching dereliction, the cottage was restored and converted into a family home. Its present owners, Ned - who is the grandson of the celebrated novelist Daphne du Maurier (Lady Browning DBE) - and Marianna, bought the house in April 2010. Though it was structurally sound the house was in need of largely cosmetic updating. Having totally renovated their previous home near Bridport the couple were familiar with such matters, and they loved the area. “The reason we’re here now is that we wanted to stay near this bit of the West Dorset coastline,” says Marianna. “When we came to see the cottage we realised that its layout was perfect for us, because we didn’t want to knock down any more walls.”

The biggest task was to improve the layout of the kitchen. First they removed the old Rayburn stove. “It felt like ripping out the heart of a home,” Marianna admits. “We thought it only heated a couple of radiators, we didn’t realise it heated half the house until winter arrived.” “So that was a little bit of central heating budget we hadn’t planned for.” Ned adds.

“The new wooden floor was a major job, too. We started in the kitchen and dining room by taking up the existing lino and carpet because these are the most important rooms for us.”

With Marianna devoting a lot of her time to bringing up their two young daughters, Daisy and May, and with Ned working in London during the week, this left little time for work on the cottage and so they used local contractors. Before the girls were born Marianna had been a cook and so she was able to earn ‘cake money’ to help pay for redecoration of the house by baking flapjacks for the Hive Beach Café at Burton Bradstock. However, when the local decorator said he was busy for the next two years, Marianna added a tasty incentive. “I said ‘I’ll bribe you with baked goods. Please come and look at my house.’ And he did,” she laughs.

After years of working in London and only returning to West Dorset at weekends, Ned began discussing with Marianna what kind of business they could run from home. The solution was hatched whilst relaxing on their local beach, with the initial idea being to open a watch shop in Lyme Regis, “because I’m obsessed about watches,” Ned confesses. Further discussions led to the idea of creating a du Maurier watch brand, its pedigree inspired by the life and literary works of Ned’s grandmother.

Marianna recalls, “We said, ‘let’s find out how much it will cost to do this’. Luckily we didn’t know then how much that would be or we would never have started. We went two feet in at the deep end, with eyes shut.” Ned adds, “My field was brand and marketing in computer games, so I know how to market and launch a brand, but with a huge budget. When you’re doing it yourself it’s all about cash-flow. I made models, put together a brand plan and started looking at ways we could cobble the money together.”

Whilst working in London Ned spent long evenings doing research and created designs for the first two watches on his laptop during long rail commutes. These he named ‘Maxim’ and ‘Rebecca’ after the two main characters in Daphne’s famous novel Rebecca. Ned explains that his design for Maxim was based on everything he knew about the character from the book and Hitchcock’s film. “The watch had to be clean, classic and understated, not too big or ostentatious,” he says. “It was the same with the ladies’ watch. Although you never saw her in the film Rebecca was obviously very beautiful and would have worn gold, diamonds and mother-of-pearl, and so that’s what we put on the watch. Marianna was involved in making it more of a piece of jewellery than just a watch.”

At present there are seven other watches at the prototype stage, including ‘Sportsman’, inspired by Ned’s grandfather Frederick who competed in the 1928 Olympics, and ‘Daphne’, which bears the writer’s signature on the case. “Although the back story is historic, we’re trying to create a style that doesn’t feel dated,” explains Ned. “The look and feel has 1940’s and ‘50’s styling and earlier, but we’re not going to make an ultra-modern watch. They have to be classic but with contemporary tones.”

“‘Daphne’ is based on what I remember her wearing,” continues Ned. “Since we were very young my two elder brothers and my sister and I spent every summer with my grandmother at her home in Cornwall, pretty well until she died in 1989. We went to the beach, visited Fowey (where she lived) and played cricket on the lawn. Daphne had two West Highland terriers that she adored and when she took them for a walk every morning we’d take it in turns to go with her. It was a lovely, lovely time. I think she’d be over the moon about the watches and be very excited that her literary characters were making their way into new areas.”

As well as being proud possessors of the writing desk used by Daphne’s father’s secretary, Ned and Marianna also have an unusual wooden television cabinet that came from Ned’s parents. Masquerading as a bookshelf, the cabinet displays hand-painted spines of books bearing the names of members of the du Maurier Browning family, along with names of their pets and favourite sayings by friends of the family.

Ned and Marianna’s delightful home contains a wonderfully eclectic mix of both attractive and useful items which Marianna says she has mostly found on eBay. “I also love going around little antique centres. Bridport is amazing,” she enthuses. A few items are custom-made, such as the very practical, space-saving shoe rack that Marianna designed, and the blue painted storage cupboards that sit either side of the cooker. Understandably she is very passionate about cooking. “I don’t feel quite grounded unless I’ve been in the kitchen putting something together. It’s my hobby and my relaxation,” she adds.

The colour scheme throughout the cottage is refreshingly different. Wimborne White from Farrow & Ball has been used for the walls and ceilings, with Skylight Blue (also Farrow & Ball) for all the woodwork, including the doors and door frames, skirtings, window frames and even the stairs. May and Daisy’s bathroom is painted pink and has a ‘strawberries and cream’ theme purposely reminiscent of a 1950’s ice-cream parlour.

“West Dorset is a great place to live and bring your kids up. The schools around here are fantastic,” says Ned. Marianna adds, “And it’s so easy to make friends with like-minded people. There are lots of things you can get involved in locally, if you want to. It’s just a really lovely place to be.”

For more information about du Maurier watches, visit dumaurierwatches.com

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