A combination of creative flair and carefully chosen collectables create an air of elegance in Gill Lockhart’s Victorian home
There’s something solid about Victorian houses that makes them the perfect canvas for a creative makeover. For Gill Lockhart, this two-bedroom terraced house in Oundle was her third Victorian house project, so she took its complete refurbishment in her stride.
“When I first moved in there was no fitted kitchen – just a sink, a few 19th century plug sockets and a light bulb dangling from the ceiling,” she says. “This was just at the point when freestanding kitchens were coming into fashion and I’d seen one I loved in Habitat. I realised I could buy a couple of oak butcher’s blocks, a range oven and a huge American-style fridge and create my own dream kitchen from scratch.”
Together with her next-door neighbour, Gill extended the kitchen into the side return passage, adding a glass ‘lantern light’ roof in the process. “The extension has almost doubled the size of the kitchen and makes the room so much brighter.”
Ripping out the old terracotta floor tiles and replacing them with pale marble ones gave Gill the opportunity to add underfloor heating. Then, by remodelling her tiny back pantry she created a space-saving utility room for the dishwasher and washing machine.
“Having seen the kitchen completely empty I decided I didn’t want any wall cupboards,” says Gill. “As a result the room looks enormous, but it does mean I have to find more creative ways to store and display things.”
Open shelves, a painted dresser and a ceiling rack for pans mean Gill has to be scrupulously tidy. “It’s also given me lots of places to display my various collections of antique tins, creamware, posy jars and jam pans,” she says.
Gill likes to visit some of the larger local antique shows about three times a year. “I never go with anything particular in mind,” she says, “but these days I do look around vaguely for old watering cans and garden accessories, mannequins and other strange stuff, such as old Bakelite light fittings.”
Gill certainly has an eye for the unusual – including a pair of black mannequin arms. “I found them in an antique shop and tied them together with raffia to display on the kitchen wall,” she says. “I’m also quite pleased with the ampersand. It’s not an antique, it cost about £8.99 from Aldi, but next to my asparagus tin and 1940s box of custard powder, it looks much more stylish and expensive. So much of my style is all about context. Put a cheap lamp on an antique table and it’ll look a million dollars.”
As a magazine Art Editor by profession, there are examples of Gill’s creativity everywhere: furniture is painted and waxed for an antique finish; bunting is made from the pages of an old novel; a feather boa is garlanded around a mirror; shells and pompoms are hung from twisted tree branches. On the walls are collections of botanical prints and engravings, embroidery samplers, seed packets and photographs of London in the 1960s, taken by Gill’s late father. It’s a celebration of the personal, the stylish and the eclectic.
In the dining room Gill has painted an abstract on canvas using gold leaf, grey and white acrylics. “The dining room is probably the darkest room in the house but it has a cosy and intimate feel,” says Gill. “The dining table is a ladies’ card table that flips up for storage. It’s worn mahogany so you feel you can put anything on it without worrying about damaging the surface. The antique dealer used to let his sons play ping pong on it!”
Gill also has a fondness for antiques from India and the Far East. “I collected Chinese willow pattern crockery then went through a real phase of buying anything with fretwork in it,” she says. “Both my father and grandmother lived in India for a time, and I’m fascinated by all things exotic and foreign. I guess my style is a flamboyant mish-mash of travel souvenirs from around the world. They suit the age of the house too: Victorian ladies used to go on The Grand Tour, though of course I’ve only been to China and Hong Kong.”
Interestingly, Gill first moved in as a tenant. “My landlord had already knocked through various walls to make the layout more open plan, but he wanted to sell up after a year and invited me to buy the house. It was an opportunity too good to miss and is probably now worth three times what I paid for it.
“I’ve lived in loads of Victorian houses and have always done them up and added value. I love their solidness, their coving, the deep skirting boards and sash windows. In one of them I had to reroof a turret and in another I refurbished a goat house in the garden. With this one it’s been a real labour of love – definitely worth all the hard work.”
This feature originally appeared in 25 Beautiful Homes. Photography by Colin Poole