With forty years’ combined design experience between them, Gemma Aylesbury and her partner Pete were brimming with creative ideas to put their unique stamp on their new home. Along with their daughter Kitty, and a small menagerie (oriental cat Louie, three Indian runner ducks, and two guinea pigs) they moved into their 1930’s semi-detached in Colchester, in 2017.
“We had grown out of our previous home after living there for ten years,” explains Gemma. “It was a lovely house but as is the way with a lot of town houses, it had a small courtyard garden and being a Victorian mid-terrace meant there was no space on either side to allow for home expansion in the future. We’d reached the limit of how much more we could improve the property, and wanted something with more space and potential,” she explains.
Both Gemma and Pete have creative careers, and their love of colour and fresh design have brought the property to life. Now working as a retail manager, a twenty-year career as a visual merchandiser has honed Gemma’s eye for colour and composition, whilst Pete has worked as graphic designer for two decades – now running his own design studio and a second business, The Designer’s Nursery, selling his prints on Etsy. “Our style is an eclectic mixture – we lean towards mid-century, Scandi, industrial and rustic. We’re not too worried about having things that all match – we both like white backgrounds with pops of colour. Some of our favourite finds have come from charity shops, car boot sales, Etsy and eBay.”
Thankfully for the family, their new home was in good condition and did not require major refurbishment. “Most of the work we have done has been cosmetic so far. The house has a lot of natural light, which we benefit from by having the open plan living/dining room area. It also has a lovely big garden, which allowed me to finally get my pet ducks after wanting them for ten years!” laughs Gemma. “We’re all quite creative in this house but my main passion is gardening. Since moving in, I’ve spent countless hours outside with the ducks (Margo, Ponyo and Nova). Next year, I’m planning on us being more self-sufficient and will be adding some raised vegetable beds in the garden.”
A kitchen update was a priority, which the couple resourcefully pulled together not long after moving in. As the room is fairly small, Gemma and Pete were determined to get the most from every inch of space. “We included a large range cooker, which I love, and matched it with a stainless steel look on the doors of our units, to keep it simple. The kitchen units were all from Ikea and the tiles were a bargain from Homebase at £1 per pack, and were perfect for creating a clean white backdrop,” she says. “The shelves are all made from reclaimed wood – Pete made them from the leftovers of a rotten old shed we dismantled in our garden. But the biggest expense was the oak worktops – we wanted something that was hard wearing and would get better looking with age.”
Vibrant floral wallpaper by Borastapeter decorates the hallway – a joyful explosion of colour that lifts the spirits. “We went to town with the hall décor as we didn’t have a hall in our previous home. We replaced the door and added more glass panels to allow more natural light, and I had wanted to use that particular wallpaper for a long time – the hall seemed like the perfect place to make a statement. We went for a clashing patterned tile floor which is both practical and fun!” Gemma describes.
Upstairs, the couple’s own bedroom is designed to be clutter free and calming, with soothing warm colours and rust tones. Kitty’s bedroom was very much designed with her input, “She knew exactly what she wanted and gave us a list of requirements – she loves all things Zen and calm, her favourite shop is Muji. She’s very creative and has a lot of stationery, art supplies and sketch books, so one of the main requirements was storage, in a minimalist fashion. We decided on large Ikea Ivar cabinets, and the plain wood finish works well with the calm feeling she wanted.”
The living areas were re-decorated with white to brighten both ends of the room, and Gemma and Pete added Ivar cabinets from Ikea to keep the rooms clutter free. Art, illustration and graphics are a big passion that the couple share, as does their daughter and budding illustrator, Kitty. Their collection of contemporary prints injects interest, colour and energy to every room, including a gallery wall in the living room. “We like to collect art prints from independent artists and designers. And Kitty is a really good illustrator, we have a lot of her work on the walls,” Gemma describes.
Another collection of note is Gemma’s curated displays of beautiful green pottery and glassware that can be seen adding character to the kitchen. These are often filled with flowers from the garden, “I’m inspired by nature and love to display seasonal flowers in the house. Being a visual merchandiser for so many years influenced me in the way that I enjoy changing things around. I love Pinterest and interior magazines and follow some brilliant interior accounts on Instagram.”
With generous proportions, the house still has scope for the family to model it to their evolving needs, “The biggest surprise was the size of the loft space. Currently unconverted, the space is huge and will make a great bedroom or a chillout room for our daughter when she’s a teenager,” Gemma says.
The couple’s eclectic mix of new and vintage furniture and objects is skilfully blended, and treasured finds take pride of place, “My favourite possession is our Ercol dining table and chairs,” says Gemma, “it extends to fit loads of people, which is great when we have family gatherings. I like to mix up the styles of my Ercol chairs as I don’t like it to be too matching.”
Though Gemma and Pete’s home is charming just as it is, it’s clear that their space will happily remain an evolving project, as more pieces they love come along: “We like to take our time when choosing pieces of furniture, we’re not too influenced by trends and tend to invest in something more timeless,” says Gemma, “And we’ve found that just adding soft furnishings can transform a room by adding a splash of colour and warmth. These can be changed seasonally without costing a lot of money, this is especially good if you like to change things regularly – like I do!”