It wasn’t Deal beach or the pretty back streets that made Miria and Tom Harris decide to buy a house there, but the butcher, fishmonger and delicatessen of the city of Kent.
“We searched forever, mostly in Whitstable, but nothing felt right,” says Miria, a garden designer. But she knew the grocery stores would be important to her husband as a chef and restaurateur. A few virtual tours later, they stumbled upon a tiny Georgian fisherman’s cottage in the old town of Deal, between the beach and the main street of independent shops.
The house was rented for years. “It had been tampered with and was in a sorry state,” says Tom. But many features, including inglenook fireplaces and the original staircase, were preserved. The staircase winds around an old ship’s mast, which runs through the house like a spine. “It’s an incredible use of the tight space: the entire staircase is almost sculptural, and you can see where the linden and horsehair trim were sculpted by another human hand 300 years ago,” he says.
The renovation of a listed property is associated with challenges. “We were allowed to update the kitchen and bathroom, but there were weird things we couldn’t do, like the 1990s baseboards,” says Miria. One of the couple’s main goals was to create a ‘healthy’ home: they abandoned ‘modern’ materials such as PVA glue, cement and MDF and instead used locally sourced wood and lime.
“We did not interfere with the proportions, the original features or the building fabric. Where we had to repair or add something we used things like lime putty instead of plaster. We wouldn’t have bought a Georgian house if we weren’t interested in looking at and loving all the old parts,” says Miria.
Concrete had been laid in the living room at some point, with a cheap ready-made parquet floor over it; the lack of air circulation had caused dampness. “We laid Georgian pitch pine planks, with gaps to allow air to circulate and moisture to escape,” says Tom.
Where new items have been added, such as Bespoke kitchen paneling and handrails by designer David Blair Ross add a contemporary twist to existing features. “The handrails are cylindrical and made of oak, reflecting the wooden mast, while the paneling is of similar dimensions to the fragments of the existing paneling that survive,” says Tom. “The wooden shutters are simple and unfussy in classic Georgian style.”
The couple took the same approach to color, opting for flaxseed and water-based products and whitewash. “It’s about avoiding plasticy colors and letting the house breathe,” says Miria. The whole house has been whitewashed in ‘Mallorca’, a light gray from Bauwerk that serves as a foil for the colour-blocking the couple applied throughout – each room being given its own touch of colour.
“The sun rises over the sea creating a stunning morning light here in Deal and the colors we ended up choosing reflect the sunrise on the coast: teal, coral, orange and yellow. It really connects you to what’s happening on the beach,” says Miria.
Not only is Tom co-owner of the Marksman Pub in east London, with a new central London restaurant in the pipeline, but he is also the main chef at home, so he had a clear idea of the cuisine he wanted. He has abandoned the fitted kitchen format in favor of a freestanding island and shelving unit from Italian modular kitchen company Fantin. The old corner fireplace now houses the pantry and household appliances behind paneled doors. The dining area features a custom wood table, also by David Blair Ross, with a banquette designed by Miria and made by a local carpenter. “We wanted an open social space. Food and food are central parts of the home for us,” says Tom.
Many houses in Deal Old Town don’t have outdoor space, but this one has a small courtyard garden. “It makes such a difference,” says Miria, “even though the beach is our most important outdoor space.”
Miria’s father was New Zealander and she was fascinated to discover that Captain James Cook, returning from his Antipodean voyage, disembarked at Deal bringing with him countless new plants which were collected by a group of passionate botanists on board. Drawing on her own heritage and Deal’s history, Miria has planted vintage and handcrafted pots with species from the southern hemisphere, including tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica, Grasses and a Cordyline Palm tree which gives the house its name, Cordyline Cottage.
While the couple wanted to celebrate the age of the home, they also wanted to add some modern touches with furniture and lighting from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s — like dining chairs by Bruno Rey and a lamp by Vico Magistretti — as well as contemporary pieces like the brothers’ sofa Bouroullec.
The healthy living feeling extends to the smallest detail, with wool-filled pillows and bed linen made from organic cotton. “We wanted wellbeing to be more than just a gloss here; it had to be integrated at all levels. Being here is a relaxing experience.”