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A Home with a History: an interiors maven’s Georgian house in Kent

As a highly respected PR consultant in the interiors world, Katharine Howard knows a thing or two about good design. No surprises, then, that the home she’s fashioned for herself and her family is a masterclass in the art of decorating

Grace McCloud
Elliot Sheppard
A Home with a History: an interiors maven’s Georgian house in Kent

Katharine Howard is in the business of beautiful things. As a PR consultant, her little black book of clients is a bijou roll call of the designers and makers that don’t just reflect current tastes, but shape them: Jamb, Flora Soames, Raoul Textiles among others. Lately, Katharine has begun representing not only those responsible for enriching our houses, but the buildings themselves too; in 2022 she founded Country House Locations, an agency for exquisite houses in Sussex and Kent, where she lives, available for hire for photo shoots and filming.

Her own home, a white-weatherboarded Georgian house that she shares with her husband, James, and two children, is among them. It’s not hard to see why someone might want to use it as a backdrop for their campaign. In fact, many reading might like it as a backdrop to their lives too, such is the air of comfort and luxury Katharine has coaxed into being here. It helps, we suggest, that she knows where to look when it comes to doing up rooms (prior to setting up on her own, Katharine was a publisher at The World of Interiors magazine). “It’s a curse!” she laughs. “I am constantly being introduced to so many wonderful things – and it’s so hard not to want to bring them all home.”

That said, the rooms here are settled. There have been some minor tweaks in recent years – but they’ve been little more than that; changing the colour of the woodwork in the drawing room is about as major as it’s been. It seems as well as having willpower, Katharine has good instinct too. “I’m not a ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ decorator, the type with a hundred samples pinned to the wall. I know what I like.” It’s a statement that feels superfluous once you’ve seen Katharine’s bedroom and en-suite, both covered and curtained in swathes of Soane’s ‘Scrolling Fern’.

She has, she says, “adored” filling this house – and it shows. As well as things by her clients, there are long-loved sofas and well-thumbed books – as well as some jolly good eBay finds. Everything we ask about has a story, from her Bennison curtains (“Gilly Bennison was the first person I sold a promotion to when I worked at The World of Interiors”) to the Raoul Textiles fabric that now covers her drawing-room sofa, which she saw being hand-printed in Santa Barbara, having zoomed down the 405 highway to get there. After all, stories are why she does what she does, she tells us. “I like the magic behind things – and making sure other people discover that too.”

“We moved here from London in September 2017. I’m a city girl, really; I grew up in Beckenham, but my sisters live in Kent and James’s whole family live on the other side of the Sussex border, so it felt like a natural place for us to go. It was agony trying to find a house, though, because we wanted exactly what everybody wants: a Georgian rectory hidden down a track, with beautiful country views. Even if we had been able to find such a thing, it would have been out of our budget.

“Once we realised we had to compromise on that, the interior of the house became the most important thing; not the decoration, which we knew we would redo, but the spaces. I wanted great proportions and a good layout, which this house has. The rooms aren’t necessarily huge but the ceilings are high.

“Downstairs, everything is laid out very symmetrically, which is lovely, while upstairs things get a little higgledy-piggledy – partly because we made some changes up there when we moved in, turning one bedroom into our bathroom, and another into a Jack-and-Jill shower room for our daughters.

“As well as the spaces, it was the façade that really winked at us. It’s such a pretty house, wrapped entirely by the garden, with a walled section at the back. And while we don’t have views – which James still longs for – you can see the garden from every single window, which is such a delight. Importantly, the house has room for us both to work from home, which we’ve been doing since before the pandemic. James runs Pemberton & Sons, his family door-furniture business, which had stopped trading until he found the archive and revitalised it, and I do all my desk work from home, with lots of trips to London. Having our own offices was crucial.

“It’s a fabulous house for parties – both for us and for the children. There’s a fireplace in every downstairs room except the kitchen, which is lovely, but there’s also masses of breathing space – you can spread out and not be on top of one another. That sense of openness is quite rare among Kentish houses, which typically have low beamed ceilings. That was another thing that made it hard to find a house – I didn’t want beams. The estate agents, who are normally bombarded with requests for cottages with beams, thought I was mad.

“The house was very plain when we bought it and not to our tastes at all, but we knew it had good bones. Things had to change – the orange pine, the carpets that smelled of cats! – but we were conscious of waste, so we recycled as much as we could. Having taken out the kitchen, which was quite new but not what we wanted, we managed to sell the whole thing. That was rather satisfying. Luckily, James is very practical – he used to have a construction company and, before that, a landscape gardening business – and he’s brilliant at coming up with solutions. When we redesigned the kitchen, for instance, he had the idea of installing panelling to hide the pipework, which meant we could move things around without having to replumb.

“We did things room by room, starting with the pink sitting room – painted in Edward Bulmer’s ‘Jonquil’ and with Bennison curtains and a ‘Montford’ fireplace from Jamb – and lived here while we did it. I remember the first night I slept here. James was away, so me and the girls slept in sleeping bags in what’s now our bedroom. There was wall-to-wall carpet in there, which eventually we pulled up, but I remember thinking how lovely it was to have it that night!

“I love the kitchen. I knew we wanted a big island – I love the idea of it being the centre of family life. This one definitely is. We eat around it, the girls can sit and do their homework while I make supper, we hang out in here a lot. And then when you want to retreat, there’s space for that too. I’ve never really gone in for the whole open-plan thing. I don’t quite understand why you’d want to see everything all the time. I like cocooning spaces.

“I have been seduced by the whole world of interiors since I started working in it and feel very lucky that my job is to help with the storytelling of it all. I think that’s what unites my clients: stories and integrity. Everything they produce is done with such care and commitment and passion, which makes it so easy for me to get excited about them.”

Further reading

Katharine Howard Style

Country House Locations

Katharine on Instagram

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