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Tips for restoring a Georgian gem

Tucked away on the Kent coast is the historic seaside town of Deal, described by Dickens as ‘gloomy’ and by Samuel Pepys as ‘pitiful’. To our modern eyes, however, the towns’ rickety streets of Georgain cottages and Victorian villas are a history-lovers’ dream. Today the listed houses in the central conservation area (the first in Kent) are in great demand, challenging designers and architects to adjust their listed interiors to modern living. One company excelling in this fine art is Settle, an interior design studio based in Deal and run by Martin Wharton. Martin’s schemes excel in creating a modern sense of comfort and convenience while staying true to the handsome bones and simplicity of these old buildings. “I’d always been interested in interiors,” says Martin, originally a magazine publisher, “and, even as a child, I was addicted to interior magazines (especially if a floor plan was involved!) and loved nosing around other peoples’ houses and stately homes.” We caught up with him to ask for some tips on restoring a Georgian gem for modern living.

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You have worked on a number of Georgian properties – what appeals to you especially about these buildings?

“I love Georgian architecture – the proportions and simple aesthetic. The cube-and-a-half rule, where the long side is one and a half times the shorter one, is nothing short of genius and provides perfect proportions whether applied to a window, floor plan or facade. Those Georgians really knew a thing or two and this rule has created timeless elegance. Beyond that, the adornment and decoration tends to have an essential quality. It’s almost minimal, and certainly works well with a minimal interior treatment, which I love.”

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How do you try to balance the historic feel with modern living? Any clever tricks you have developed for merging the two?

“Each project is different and very much informed by the building. Good storage is essential though – people have so much ‘stuff’ now – but it must be discreet and/or sympathetic. For instance a wall of built-in wardrobes can easily be designed to look like Georgian panelling or more rustic tongue-and-groove boarding, and an antique housekeepers’ cupboard in a kitchen can hold the equivalent of at least eight meters of modern wall cupboards. I don’t like to see too much ‘media’ either – a linen press, for instance, can hold quite a large television.”

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How do you work on selecting a colour scheme for a home? Are you careful about being historically faithful with colour?

“Not at all. I believe that if Georgian designers had more modern colours to work with they would have embraced them. And I apply the same philosophy to materials when creating something new (but not when restoring). I’m not a slave to history and enjoy mixing periods in colours and furnishings, which tends to result in an evolved look rather than one where the designer just left! Colour is subjective so this is very much a collaborative approach with clients and it starts with what they love, and (more crucially) what they don’t. After agreeing a general direction it’s informed by room types and sizes, features and details and, crucially, light.”

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Old cottages can be dark – do you have any colour tips for dealing with this?

“I tend to embrace darker colours where the natural light is not going and only use whites where there is an abundance of light. It sounds like an oxymoron but it works.”

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Have you got any colours you return to again and again – a perfect historic white for example?

“Not really although I am a fan of both Wimborne and New White, I love creamy whites.”

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Find out more about Settle and view the full selection of their projects here.


Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

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