IN A world where trends change quicker than you can take down your curtains, designer and furniture-maker John Lewis has taken four decades to restore and perfect his 18th-century home. His six-bed Hampshire property is more than just a house — it is a moving artwork, an intricate jigsaw of design and an homage to his passion for vintage classic cars. It is also a 40-year labour of love.
John discovered the house in a quiet corner of Andover in 1980 when he was on the hunt for a home for his young family. He went to see it three times in 24 hours, the last time returning with his chequebook.
‘I knew I had found a forever home and I have had a love affair with it ever since,’ he smiles. The property -an extension of a manor house dating back to the 11th century, once frequented by poet Geoffrey Chaucer — had been neglected and was almost uninhabitable. But using the creative and bespoke ethos that drives his award-winning furniture company, John Lewis of Hungerford, John saw it as a blank canvas on which he could paint something truly unique.
‘This house is a 1,000-piece jigsaw and I fell in love with all the different components. You can’t go to a club on a Saturday night and expect someone to fall in love with you because of your jacket. It’s the little things, how a person moves, speaks, smells — that’s how you fall in love.’
The house could be a slice of Spanish colonial revival in Monterey, or a rustic villa in Sicily. Grapevines hang from rustic wooden beams as you enter a delightfully ramshackle gated courtyard, which is home to the 1985 Alfa Romeo Spider that John bought new. He is not one for throwing things away.
His classic cars are his passion. In 2010 he and a pal drove the Hillman Hunter from London to Sydney to re-run the rally of 1968, crossing Europe, Iran, Pakistan, India and Malaysia. The 15,000-mile trip took 16 weeks.
Two painted Ford trucks also share the courtyard, a dreamy space that serves to bridge the gap from exterior to the interior. It is used for business meetings over a large table crafted from a repurposed Coca-Cola fridge that John picked up in New York.
Step through the white wood arches of the hallway and you’re entering Provençal France, where bunches of lavender hang from the ceiling. Every wall and ceiling in the house is painted with Farrow & Ball Pointing, which jams with pops of colour from the bespoke furniture he has created. One such piece is the red Performance 70, a range-like/cupboard creation. If you are wondering what it is… it has a Bang & Olufsen stereo hidden inside. It was inspired by his love of classic cars and features Lotus Elan hinges, bonnet hooks from a Ferrari Testarossa and Jensen Interceptor lights. It’s finished with 30 coats of Ferrari Rosso Corsa paint and is from his pontjago.com range.
‘It’s a whimsical world of paradise,’ says John. ‘The fundamental thing was to make people who enter feel happy.’ The overall style is colonial and inspired by a trip to Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West. Furnishings are complemented by dark walnut window shutters that filter the light beautifully.
John has spent years mastering the lighting. ‘You can make or break something with the lighting,’ he says. ‘I like lots of sources of light. In one room there are six table lamps. The trick is to keep lighting low — you want to have a magical quality.’ John mostly shuns modish design shops, instead collecting accessories on trips abroad or making them by hand. ‘I don’t want anything to be predictable — I want to wow people.’
A happy obsession with flags adds splashes of colour, bespoke shoes also act as design accessories on surface tops. The reclaimed and limewashed wood in the study was once the ceiling in a scientific research building on the Royal Windsor Estate. In the living room, exposed woodwork and nautical references adorn the bright and airy space with splashes of pastel blues and pinks. But it’s the kitchen that has the best story to tell. When John was just eight he stayed in a holiday home in Whitstable and fell in love with the kitchen design. It was called English Rose and sparked the flames of what would become his famous furniture business.
Fifty years later he finally found an old original unit in a reclamation yard, copied it and created his own version called Crème de la Crème, which not only stands here but has been sold all over the world. The kitchen tiles come from Mexico and were seen in New York during a trip on the QE2 — John bought them before he’d bought the house and kept them for a year. A large glass-fronted dresser is filled with an assortment of crockery and family memorabilia.
John is 76 now and the house is finally finished. It is, in many ways, John’s life in bricks and mortar. ‘I had a dream and carried it out,’ he says. ‘A lot of people say they would love to do it but don’t. I’ve seen it through to the end and realised my vision.’
The fantastical world of John Lewis
Think outside the box