Hampshire’s prettiest homes: Old Portsmouth townhouse that may have witnessed sinking of the Mary Rose
PUBLISHED: 12:04 26 August 2020
Image supplied by Richard Dewhurst
From the Armada to the blitz, interior designer Richard Dewhurst’s Old Portsmouth home has seen a lot of life over the centuries, as he explains to EMMA CAULTON | Photos: Richard Dewhurst
“I was a complete Londonphile and never thought I’d move from the city!” says interior designer Richard Dewhurst. The catalyst was having a second child.
“My wife’s parents lived in Old Portsmouth and we thought maybe it’s time for a change. So, we’ve spent the last six years in Portsmouth; it has been a good thing in as much as, once you move out of London, the rest of the country opens up to you.”
The house they chose was a big draw, too: a four-storey, four-bedroom period townhouse with three roof terraces and sea views.
“I love old buildings and this is a lovely looking property in a great location. I could see that there was something special lurking beneath the exterior and the work that had been carried out inside.
“It has an early Georgian façade with early 16th century origins. There’s an exposed wattle and daub wall in the sitting room – the gable end of an earlier house that was somehow amalgamated into this one.
“When they discovered that wall in the 1980s, an historian came round from Portsmouth Museum and dated it to 1545. He pointed out that someone would have been living in this house when the Armada was attacking Portsmouth, and probably witnessed the sinking of the Mary Rose.
“In the 18th century a lot of press gangs operated here. So, there’s always been something happening outside the windows of this house.”
Richard reflects: “As a lot of the window glass is still original, the house must have been boarded up well in the blitz!
“It is an interesting house and one of those where more features reveal themselves the longer you stay here. There’s the original staircase, which has 18th century panelling and one of the staircases at the top of the house could be late 17th century.
“However, the main feature that transformed the house was stripping off almost a hundred years of paint from the front elevation. Essentially it was a drab-looking cream painted building. But I could see that there were very fine mortar joints underneath the paint.
“I decided we needed to strip off the paint at the front. When we did, it revealed this amazing brickwork that has lifted the property.
“People kept coming up to us in the street saying, ‘Wow, we didn’t realise this building was here, what have you done to it?’ It changed overnight from being a very plain building that no one had any interest in to suddenly sparking a lot of local excitement. A lot of people say it looks like a London warehouse building.
“When we moved in, everything was painted white. White walls, white woodwork, beige carpets. I immediately ripped up all the carpet to reveal the original floorboards, which I had re-stained to retain the patina and leave the years of history intact.
“I’ve refurbished both bathrooms and the kitchen, and fully redecorated throughout using Paint & Paper Library‘s Salt (in scales of 1, 2, 3 and 4) on the walls and woodwork, Squid Ink on the kitchen units and the beams in the sitting room, Hunter Dunn in the cloakroom and Blue Pearl in the shower room.
“I use Paint and Paper Library as their paint is based on natural pigments and breathable, which is important in old buildings.”
Richard’s choice of colours has introduced warmth and richness. He suggests: “I’ve done a lot of cloakrooms in houses and that’s one of those spaces where I say to clients, if you’re going to throw some money at a room, throw it at the smallest room in the house. It’s the one everyone uses and it’s the one everyone will comment on.
“So, I applied the same principle to our shower room and cloakroom. People think the smaller the space the lighter you need to make it, when actually you can make it a much more interesting space if you treat it exactly the opposite way, using strong, intense colours.
“Other than that, I’ve designed built-in furniture to complement the house. I trained as a furniture designer and use that skill where needed; everyone needs storage and display, and I’m certainly not minimalist.
“I’ve installed bookcases and cabinets in the first floor sitting room and built-in banquette seating with tongue and groove panelling in the kitchen-dining room on the ground floor, and I got my joiner to do the Shaker-style kitchen.
“When I’m working with clients my main aim is always to create a home that is a very convivial space to live in. That is done by not going for a specific look. It’s achieved by tailoring a space to suit an individual or a family.
“That approach has rolled into my own house – creating a home that feels lived-in and not worrying too much about the fact I’ve a couple of kids running round! I like to have battered pieces of furniture – stuff that feels like it has a history even though it might only be 50 years old.
“In the sitting room there’s a 17th century chest, ’60s Stag sideboard; Borge Mogenson early ‘70s leather sofa; pair of Carl Hansen Safari chairs, and a classic Liberty’s dog footrest. In the dining room, the table is a reclaimed school chemistry lab table and has kids’ graffiti scratched into it which is really good fun. That came from Retrouvius.”
Richard mixes these up with a Vitra reissue of French designer Jean Pouve’s dining chairs and retro Beatles Sgt Pepper motif cushions from Andrew Martin. There’s also artwork, lots of artwork, including an evocative abstract pastel and contemporary brass sculptures.
Richard sighs: “The word eclectic has been used a lot, but I do have an eclectic approach. Additionally, I have been influenced over the last 15 years by the industrial chic look: exposed brickwork, metal framed windows, floorboards, concrete. I’ve always been interested in honest, raw, natural materials.
“I like a balance of old and new. That is what is amazing about this house. it has a Georgian façade that makes it look grand in scale, but inside there are Tudor origins. It has beams. It has lower ceilings. It has a winder staircase.
“It has an intimate warmth and gives you such a lovely feeling. Yet up on those roof terraces you feel like you’re in a contemporary home with 360 degree views. We’ve got three roof terraces here including the ‘crow’s nest’ as we call it, where you have the most incredible skyscapes and sunsets.
“There is something to be said about living by the sea. It sounds clichéd, but coming home from a day in London, you immediately feel you can relax. It really is a tonic!”
In a nutshell
Favourite room? “While the sitting room is wonderfully atmospheric, I never tire of the views from our ‘crow’s nest’ roof terrace. The first time I watched a Royal Naval warship slowly disappearing into the sunset was a truly unforgettable experience.”
Best buy? “The French Connection printed rugs in the sitting room; they fit the style of the room perfectly and were amazing value for money!”
Something you couldn’t live without? “The early 19th century first edition etching of Portsmouth Point by Thomas Rowlandson in its original frame and glass. I picked it up locally and absolutely love it.”
Favourite home store? “The Hambledon in Winchester for a well-curated selection of items for the home, and Roberts, Castle Road, Southsea, for interesting local vintage and antique finds. It’s popular with London dealers who snap up any bargains!”
A tip: “With older properties, I always suggest getting a feel for the house and its eccentricities before embarking on any restoration or refurbishment work.”
Richard Dewhurst’s work can be found on Instagram @richarddewhurstdesign and richarddewhurst.com. His Old Portsmouth home is on the market with Fine & Country: fineandcountry.com/uk/south-east-hampshire