At Home With: Nicola Gill

This interior designer’s quirky converted pub is a riot of colour and pattern. It’s impossible not to smile when you enter The Old Stout House.

Photography by Emma Harries

at home with Nicola Gill Stout House

The house’s exterior is weatherboarded in a New England style

Tell me about your home The house was built as a pub in the 1700s (hence its current name, as it used to be called The London Stout House). It’s a traditional, timber-framed building and typical of the East Sussex style with its New England-style weatherboarding. It had been hanging around unsold for some months when I saw it. While inherently beautiful, it needed a lot of work and wasn’t for the faint-hearted! I bought it as a three- bed, one-bath property, but while it looks like a modest cottage from the street, inside it’s a bit of a Tardis as there’s another floor (and the original pub cellar complete with baker’s oven) below it, backing onto the south facing garden, plus an original two storey extension at the back. By expanding that rear extension further along the ground floor, and with some layout juggling elsewhere, it became a very spacious four-bed, three-bath townhouse with a generous kitchen, separate dining room and a huge living room!

I understand it was quite the renovation project… The house had been lived in by a lovely Irish singing teacher for 25 years, it was decorated creatively in bright colours with a really warm, bohemian atmosphere. But there was no heating, the wiring was, to be polite, dated, the gas had been disconnected for decades and the very leaky shower left unfixed. The layers of dust were actually holding the house together in some places I think, and when all the furniture was moved out and the house was laid bare, the scale of the challenge became clear.

But you had experience on your side? I had renovated many brick-built Victorian, Edwardian and late Georgian houses before, but never a timber-framed property. I just hadn’t considered that when you take the layer of plaster off the inside of a timber-framed house it’s basically a shed! And when you take the weatherboarding off too, you’re just left with the supporting oak beams. Terrifying! Somehow the original roof, despite being very wavy, was absolutely fine, so that was something. Several deliveries of Celotex later, the house was insulated for the first time in its history, and everything was doused in wood worm killer for good measure while it was all exposed.

At home with Nicola Gill Old Stout House

How would you describe your interiors style? I take my cues from the house itself and a large part of the fun is adapting my style and trying out new things with each project. Rye is a treasure trove of vintage, bric-a-brac, charity and antiques shops, plus high-end interiors boutiques, so rummaging around for things was a big part of the fun. Although there’s a real mishmash of eras and styles in the house, overall it definitely feels ‘period’, even if it’s not a defined one! Apart from the kitchen, which I deliberately wanted to feel modern in contrast to the rest of the house. So, I guess my style is ‘colourful eclectic’ which sounds clichéd but is accurate.

Tell me about your use of colour People have woken up to the joyfulness of living with lots of colour in their homes, so I really went for it. I was terrified I’d overdone it for a while when the paint was on and no furnishings were in (and the builders kept saying the colours were awful!), but now I love the way it’s all come together. At one point I couldn’t get down to the house for a couple of weeks and had to let the builders make decisions. There was a tsunami of paint pots to choose from and I had labelled all up as clearly as possible but in the general chaos of a big refurb things got muddled – and rather than stop they just took a punt in a few places! But it looks great and there was only one room where I had to tell them to paint over their choice. Once I had the wallpaper up, choosing clashing bedlinens and then building up the rest of the styling was a joy. It’s impossible not to smile going into the different rooms with all the uplifting colours.

at home with Nicola Gill Stout House

Talk me through your furniture choices, do you have any particular go-to brands? I’m a bargain-hound! I love Dunelm, Wayfair, Maisons du Monde, H&M Home and Zara Home. Also Habitat, eBay, Vinterior, Etsy and Facebook Marketplace for designer and quirky things. Also Graham & Green, Atkin and Thyme, and Amara. I’ve just discovered Kave Home and The Masie. I’m always checking out the Anthropologie sales, and the Freemans designer collections from Abigail Ahern and others are brilliant, too. La Redoute has some great interiors things now as well.

Tell me about a few of your favourite pieces I love the huge modern chandelier light in the living room, a bargain from Made, now sadly no longer in business. It looks incredible against the April Mawhinney Lords and Ladies wallpaper in penicillin pink, and the super talented April herself is just the loveliest person to deal with. And the tiger throne chair. I found this on eBay for just £90. A lady who bought old chairs and reupholstered them for fun had made it, but her husband hated it and wanted it gone! It’s a total one-off. There’s also a solid wood African carved head light which I bought off eBay. Someone had converted the head into a lamp and drilled a hole for the flex through it, but I bought it with no shade and added the black raffia one – it’s bonkers but works! I also love the way the blue/green moth wallpaper clashes but blends with the blue/green bedding and green shutters in the twin room. I’d intended to send that bedding back as didn’t think it would work, but I ran out of time, and when I actually put it all together, I couldn’t believe how it looked so right. Then there’s the big picture on the mantelpiece in the living room, which is from a local junk shop. There’s an artist name on it but Google threw up nothing, sadly. It shouldn’t work against the wallpaper, as there’s no relationship at all, but somehow it just does. I’m also very fond of the art deco velvet folding cinema seat in the top bathroom. It’s screwed into the floor to prevent mishaps as of course it would have been part of a row and wasn’t very stable standing alone, so it’s now part of the house!

The Old Stout House is available for holiday letting through Cabins and Castles (