Philip and Olivia's All the Fun of the Fair House

House Tour

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Name: Philip Oakley, his wife Olivia, and their two cocker spaniels, Joe and Jarvis
Location: St Leonards; Sussex, UK
Size: 6,000 square feet
Years lived in: Owned 4.5 years, lived in 3 years

Philip and Olivia’s home is a great hulk of a building painted top to toe in gunmetal grey. From the outside, it looks almost hermetically sealed. The front door blends in to the wall, and most the windows are shuttered. From a second storey window, what looks like the statue of an irate wizard glares down at me. It is dark and forbidding. Inside, I stagger around in the gloom until one by one the lights flicker on and I find myself in a fantasy fairground land of merry-go-round horses, gurning heads and eye-poppingly bright illuminations. Welcome to Philip and Olivia’s wonderfully weird world!

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The couple moved into the building, a former seaside pub, three years ago, after spending a year and a half fixing the place up. Downstairs is Philip’s workshop, where he creates and restores illuminations. His interest, or rather obsession, started out with a collection of Christmas fairy lights and progressed to seven foot high illuminated peacocks from Blackpool. Now he designs his own lights, which he supplies to private homes and boutiques.

Philip and Olivia live upstairs with their adored dogs, Joe and Jarvis. The main reception room, formerly a snooker hall in the old pub, is 900 square feet. Towering vintage illuminations, a neon crucifix and a gigantic light up heart are propped up around the windowless walls. The furniture is a mixture of junk shop chic and pieces crafted by artist and designer friends. Bruce Robbins upholstered the sofa and armchair in kitsch tapestries picked up from junk shops for under £5 each.

It is a house full of surprises. Behind the portrait of an elegant lady is a hidden bar. A step ladder unfolds and you climb up into a cozy miniature pub complete with marble topped bar and pineapple ice bucket. Philip is also a man of surprises. He is soft spoken and courteous and when he mentions he might slip on his dog suit for the photos, I imagine a jacket and trousers with a subtle dog motif. Instead he appears in a faux fur Dalamation outfit with floppy ears and clawed feet. Olivia says she loves his style. She lets Philip do what he wants, but keeps a sharp eye on the budget.

In true fairground tradition, there is a darker edge to the fun of the fair. The words on the crucifix are from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. In the kitchen, an old chimney breast has been opened up to display objects found in the cellar; a plastic skull, ancient bottles, a sinister cigar-toking ringmaster and what looks like the skeleton of a squirrel. Even the dazzling primary colours of Philip’s lights sit against a backdrop of sombre grey walls. And next to each installation the words, “Danger of Electrocution.” Enjoy!

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style/ Inspiration: We have tried to keep the building true to its Victorian design, though there were very few original features left when we bought the place. We have chosen to decorate it with our eclectic mix of furniture and lighting made or collected over the years.

Favorite Element: Probably the neon heart I made of the words spoken by the priest at my mother's funeral.

Biggest Challenge: Keeping costs down in such an enormous building.

What Friends Say: Everyone is complimentary, especially when we turn the lights on.

Biggest Embarrassment: Nothing really, maybe the state of my desk in the office.

Proudest DIY: Curing the damp problems in the cellar. There was a river running through it and I dug a trench and a drain to get rid of it. It gives me great pleasure to see the difference now.

Biggest Indulgence: Having a large laundry room.

Best Advice: Do what you want and not what you think other people expect.

Dream Sources: Secondhand shops

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Resources of Note:

ILLUMINATIONS

  • Vintage illuminations: restored by Philip Oakley
  • Original illuminations: designed and made by Philip Oakley

PAINT & COLORS

  • Grey: Philip mixes different paints to achieve the exact shade he wants. He chose the grey colour scheme as the pub was called The Yorkshire Grey for most of its life.

LARGE LIVING ROOM

  • Tapestry sofa: Bruce Robbins
  • Tapestry armchair: Bruce Robbins
  • Matching armchairs: covered in silk velvet
  • Rugs: Persian and Indian
  • Coffee table: old military drum decorated for a theatre show
  • Trompe L'Oeil bookcase: Deborah Bowness
  • Dining table: 1940s operating table
  • Chairs: Eames copies "My worst purchase!"
  • Bell jar: scientific glassware
  • Flooring: beech parquet floor laid by Philip. He also laid pine parquet in the hallway and bathroom, and oak in the small living room and kitchen.
  • Artwork: The neon heart is made of words spoken by the priest at Philip's mother's funeral. "Lots of love mum" is a facsimile of his mother's handwriting. The words on the crucifix are from Edgar Allen Poe's Masque of the Red Death. The neon hanging from the ceiling is is a noose, not a lamp.

SECRET BAR

  • Marble-topped bar: made from an old fire surround
  • Panelling: made from old doors
  • Glasses: junk shop
  • Pineapple ice bucket: junk shop
  • Mirrors: junk shop

SMALL LIVING ROOM

  • Leather sofa: Danish
  • Chaise longue: a gift
  • Coffee table: cast off from a friend
  • Pufferfish: junkshop
  • Boxing and wrestling posters: junk shop
  • Chicken Juggler: Peter Quinnell
  • Shelves: Dieter Rams, Vitsoe

KITCHEN

  • Units: Ikea, cupboard handles replaced with old handles
  • Table: Saarien
  • Chairs: Fritz Hansen
  • Shelves: Vitsoe
  • Knick knacks: junk shops
  • Mosaic: wedding gift from Susan Elliott
  • Objects in glass fronted chimney breast: found in the cellar!

BEDROOM ONE

  • Bed: hand-me-down
  • Hastings poster: National Railway Archive
  • Victory plaque: This is actually a cupboard based on the ship HMS Victory
  • Native American Indian portraits: Paint by numbers
  • Elephant: auction

BEDROOM TWO

  • French bed: junk shop
  • Brass wall lights: junk shop
  • Chandelier: reproduction made in Egypt
  • Armchair: junk shop, recovered in velvet
  • Leopard chest of drawers: 1970s Fornasetti
  • Gilt mirror: junk shop

BEDROOM THREE

  • Bed: 1930s limed oak
  • Chandelier: French
  • Ducks: Blackpool Illuminations

WINDOWS

  • Shutters: made by Philip
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Thanks, Philip and Olivia!

(Images: Rebecca Bond)

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Rebecca Bond is a House Tour contributor at Apartment Therapy. She is an interiors-addicted, design-obsessed, Italian-speaking former TV producer director and mother of two gorgeous kids.

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