You could say that Jennifer and Helmut Gorlich have downsized, although their smart red-brick village house is hardly of cottage proportions. The couple, who ran a successful hotel at Romney Bay before moving to France ‘as an adventure, as it was Jennifer’s first time living abroad’ first restored a classic manoir, running their luxury bed and breakfast business in it. They became thoroughly immersed in local life via tennis and golf, and explored the many interesting bars and restaurants from Le Touquet to Montreuil. Once the ‘big house’ was sold the couple, who describe themselves as semi-retired, did what many of us dream about and bought an 1850s village presbytere (the French equivalent of a vicarage) near Montreuil in the north, and a house near Uzes in the south. “We love the easy trip to London and Kent,” says Helmut. “It is the best of both worlds, and because the Uzes house required little work we could focus our energy on the presbytere, which needed serious elbow grease.”
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Having gone through many guises and latterly been used as student accommodation, the house was full of loos and basins, partitions and long outmoded services. The pretty, traditional staircase and some of the old tile floors were luckily intact, but virtually everything else needed to be replaced during the eight month building project, including a new set of front steps and all the external shutters. “An elderly neighbour came to visit when we had finished the work and was, I think, amazed to find we had returned the house to its original layout,” says Jennifer. “Time seemed to have stood still, apart from in the kitchen, of course, which was a primitive affair.
In fact, the kitchen was the most difficult space to get right with a fireplace in the middle and a door and large window at either end which left little wall space for cupboards. Prior to their years in the hospitality business, Jennifer owned and ran an antiques and interiors shop in Tenterden, Kent where she advised clients on colour schemes. “From very early on, I was attracted to all-cream and off-white rooms, long before the look went mainstream,” she explains. “But I still love to create calm spaces against neutral white or pale grey walls, relying on the colour and texture and occasionally the pattern of the furniture, accessories and fabrics to add character.”
ONE OF A KIND
There is character a-plenty to be seen, from antique furniture and china to collections of hand stitched samplers and canine paintings which grace the staircase. “Mind you,” says Jennifer, “we had a very large house from which to choose almost everything we have here.” Some things were bought or made specially though, from the dramatic black linen curtains in the sitting room — “a complete change from old white sheets that I love in country houses” — to a pair of wood and cane chairs which the couple found at an English country fair and painted their favourite grey. “Funnily enough they originally came from a French hotel,” muses Jennifer, realising that many of their favourite things have crossed the Channel more than once. Doors from both the hall and the kitchen, a lovely sunny open plan space with a breakfast table and old bread oven still embedded in the fireplace, lead to a broad, brick-paved terrace across the back of the house. Helmut has planted a narrow border along the bottom of a majestic retaining wall while on top are box hedges, roses and climbers that will drop over the edge rather than clamber up the wall. Upstairs, the master bedroom and large guest room face over the garden. The twin room is at the front but the village is a quiet place with the ancient Abbey opposite, just a few houses and cottages and one restaurant a short stroll from the gate. Adding to the country charm is wall-to-wall seagrass matting which covers imperfect floors and adds a soft and cosy feel. Like every home the Gorlichs have owned the presbytere is once again a welcoming place for their many friends to visit.
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