In Eridge Green, East Sussex, just five miles south of Royal Tunbridge Wells, lives Katy and John Maskell Bell, their son, Wilfred, and two cats, Monty and Tibbs; and their home, Stitches Farm House, is as dream-inducing as the name suggests. In a rural village surrounded by ancient woodland, farmland, streams and lakes, this bucolic idyll became the couple’s reality in October 2019 after living for nearly two decades in London’s bustling Camden Town.
“Our move felt like a natural step for us as we both grew up here, so we felt well prepped mentally for the shift in lifestyle,” says Katy. “But we knew we were leaving a dynamic and cultural London life, and a flat that we loved. You soon realise how many emotional ties you have to a building, a home when you prepare to leave it; the place we lived when we started a new business venture, when we got married and when our son was born.”
As partners in both life and business, Katy and John founded LPOL – formerly known as Lost Property of London – as an independent design brand where the pair are responsible for the design and production of zero-waste, upcycled and sustainable goods. Having studied and met at Central Martins College of Art & Design in London, their creativities as individuals is what bonded them as pair.
Now in their red brick Victorian home, the couple’s creative yearnings have been channelled towards their life in the countryside. “When we viewed the house for the first time, we fell in love with its history and period charm, and the gorgeous setting with views. The fact that it was a blank canvas was hugely appealing. We had no major structural work to do, apart from knocking out a wall or two to create more open plan living,” says Katy.
Their home, built in 1883 for the farm manager of the Neville Estate, has traditional patchwork brick and pinnacle rooflines, pointed arch windows and ornate timber detailing to the gables, with three outbuildings, one of which they have converted into an office and studio. “It’s a house that we can design and develop gently and considerately over time, revealing and adding more character as we go,” Katy adds.
“We designed our studio to be a practical space to do design work, admin, leather work and prototyping, so there’s a 7-metre-long desk running down one wall of the studio. The desk has sections, so we can move up and down the desk depending on what task we’re tackling at the time. We also designed storage under the eaves, so all of our product inventory and material stock is stowed away neatly. We love working there as it’s got a cabin-like quality to it.”
The couple’s vision as designers permeates their home where antique finds are offset with carefully selected contemporary pieces and their love of reusing, reimagining and renovating the things they find around them are values echoed in their interior styling.
“Aesthetically, we gravitate to strong geometric lines and elegant curves, which often leads to surprising and pleasing combinations,” explains Katy. “We find that if we’re struggling with a design project for LPOL, spending a bit of time thinking about interior design solutions helps with motivation and inspiration, and vice versa. It’s a very valuable dynamic.”
The couple are drawn to a mix of second-hand finds, design-led pieces and inherited items, such as the Victorian pine refectory table from Katy’s parents. “It has so many memories of meal times growing up, and it’s nice to know we’re adding to those memories in our own home,” she says.
“There are so many high quality, desirable and useful products, fabrics and furniture already in existence, so I feel passionately that they should be given a chance before buying anything new,” adds Katy. “This is how we design products for our brand and how we source and design our home interiors. I find myself connecting much more with things that have history and have already lived a life.”
In the master bedroom is an eye-catching brutalist armchair design by Muller van Severen made of welded steel and leather, and a black painted French bed that has followed the couple’s every house move. In the entrance hall is a vintage French settle painted in bright green and unusually designed to fold out into a daybed. One of their favourite items is a large modular console they designed and constructed using individual sculpted timber blocks and salvaged beams.
Elsewhere there is an original antique mahogany linen press given by Katy’s aunt and uncle as a house warming gift. “It’s now John’s wardrobe,” says Katy. “It has fantastic proportions, an amazing patina to the wood, and it also bears small brass accents, which just goes to show the attention to detail and quality materials used in its making.”
Their interior style is honed from years of happenstance, where the items which have found their way into the couple’s lives tell a unique story, shaped by memory and emotional affection; a style Katy describes as ‘collected’. “We love the idea that they are all connected through stories of our families and our own hunter-gathering crusades,” she says.
“We’ve learnt over the years that instead of designing for the space, we are far happier and freer collecting pieces that we love and then finding spaces for them to live. This way you end up with an interior that tells a hundred stories, which looks and feels like you.”
Photography: Michael @ Saltwick Media