An historic rectory in Sussex that deftly brings together the old and the new

Never one to rush things, Emma Milne-Watson has gradually breathed new life into a centuries-old rectory in Sussex, respecting its history while creating a distinctive home for her family by effortlessly mixing classic and contemporary elements

When Emma moved to the house, she had an image of a French chateau with shutters and tall ceilings. ‘It’s not a chateau, of course,’ she concedes. ‘But I tried to bring a little bit of all the different architecture and styles that I like into it.’ In the vaulted kitchen, sleek Bulthaup cabinets topped with pale Carrara marble and a matching island on metal legs are next to a weathered refectory table repurposed from an old oak door. Wooden herringbone parquet – originally from a chateau and sourced by Emma from a French reclamation yard – leads through to a floor of worn terracotta tiles in the enviably well-organised pantry. The equivalent of a walk-in wardrobe for the kitchen, it has everything needed for cooking and eating in one room. Emma designed its glazed floor-to-ceiling wall cabinets to display her collection of glassware.

Vintage wall lights from Retrouvius and pendants from Hector Finch complement a convex mirror from Ardingly Antiques Market, where Emma also found the wooden potato sieves displayed above the fireplace.

Paul Massey

The most contemporary part of the renovation is the coach house, built carefully from the outside in so as not to disturb the heritage rat-trap brickwork or footings. ‘I added the ceiling beams, as I was trying to do more of a mid-century Belgian thing in this space,’ explains Emma, who works from home, dividing her time between interiors and a new creative venture – jewellery design. She started this in lockdown and now sells a range of handmade beaded pieces through Cutter Brooks.

Explaining her progression from working in fashion magazines to interior styling and design, she says, ‘I get huge joy from the curating and styling of rooms.’ She describes her aesthetic as ‘classic with splashes of boldness’ and, not one to follow trends, she avoids buying furniture on a whim: ‘I prefer a more enduring style – I like a home to look and feel comfortable, decorated with items that have been chosen to last.’ As if to reinforce this point, the pieces that have been in the house since day one are the two elegant sofas in the sitting room, upholstered in a pretty pale pink linen from Pierre Frey, and selected specially by Emma to recreate the effect of the one that made such a memorable first impression.

Emma Milne-Watson: @emmamilnewatson