Interiors: Take a glimpse inside the gorgeous Dorking home of Philippa McFarlane
PUBLISHED: 15:37 15 October 2020 | UPDATED: 18:52 21 October 2020
Copyright Eddie Esdale
The mum of three, who runs Sandrock House interiors store in Dorking’s West Street, was given the Best Eye for Interiors prize at the 2020 UK Interior Awards
When Philippa McFarlane and her husband Al first saw Sandrock House in 2012 after a two-year search for their next property, they knew it had stacks of potential.
Philippa was captivated by the character and period features in this already an imposing Victorian seven-bedroom family home. Describing its condition as ‘perfectly functional but a little tired’, she says, “We were immediately drawn to the original fireplaces and cornicing, plus its grand proportions. The rooms felt so big, but mainly we fell in love with the welcoming soul of the house.”
Already Dorking residents – Al had grown up there and Philippa moved to the area when they got together – the couple were also drawn by the fact the house was just a short walk into town.
With an appetite for a project, the pair wasted no time in getting stuck into the structural and cosmetic overhaul, which would take the best part of the next seven years. Philippa had always had an eye for interior design, having studied for a degree in Interior Architecture in her late teens, and her natural instinct for interiors and styling was ever-present. But it was a passion that had been largely left on the back burner until the renovations at Sandrock House took off.
Describing her style as timeless but eclectic, Pinterest became a “full-blown addiction” as Philippa gathered inspiration for the décor by looking through thousands of images.
This was no simple spruce up though. In fact, there were some epic structural challenges that the couple had to face. First up, the distinctive turret feature at the front of the house that defines the property needed some attention. With a fair amount of compression causing the framework to sag, plus draughty windows, it needed fixing urgently so they could use the inside space as a nursery for the youngest of their three boys.
One of the biggest concerns with the house was that the levels were out of synch on the ground floor. Knowing that they wanted to open up the downstairs to create what would become a magnificent open plan kitchen and orangery, they had to align the floors to make things flow. Knocking out internal walls and a prominent chimney breast also meant a huge amount of steels were required, but it’s arguably this area that gives the house such a wow factor.
Outside, not a single square inch got overlooked either. The ground level was originally six foot higher than it is now, and home to a vast collection of trees and overgrown shrubs. A whopping 200 tonnes of material was excavated, a task Philippa recalls as particularly difficult and time consuming - not just getting all that material off site but also working out how to transition the eight foot up to the garden from the courtyard. “We made that bit up as we went along,” she laughs.
The solution ended up being a hefty retaining wall with a couple of steps up to a patio area and then sweeping steps up to the garden with a landing in between. The cast iron railings were an “un-budgeted, bespoke and expensive” late addition to the project, then finally, Al made the furniture out of old pallets and clad them in the floorboards from their old kitchen. The result is a fabulous Mediterranean outdoor courtyard that Philippa admits was well worth the effort.
Staying true to the character of the house and preserving the Victorian character of their home throughout the renovation process was something Philippa was unwilling to compromise on. While the window openings were lengthened to accommodate the new, lower internal floor level in the kitchen, the single-paned frames were replaced with double glazed timber framed sashes, whose profiles matched the original ones exactly.
Likewise, the kitchen floor is finished in solid wood blocks using traditional methods but contrasted with a poured concrete floor which extends from the orangery out to the terrace. “I wanted to make sure everything flows, but also has warmth and character,” Philippa explains.
Despite its generous proportions, there’s no doubt Sandrock House has a warm and cosy feel to it and Philippa’s self-confessed obsession with dark colour palettes plays its part in creating this mood. In fact, she even won an award for ‘Best Use of Dark Décor’ at the UK Interior Awards last year.
While Philippa is a big fan of dark tones, she does insist it has to be balanced. “Don’t go overboard,” she advises. “Dark colours add strength to an interior, but I always try to contrast with a pale tone or detail.” Favourite colours, which Philippa has used around her home include Farrow & Ball Railings, Dulux Noble Grey and Little Greene Basalt – “the most gorgeous navy blue”.
When asked which room she is particularly proud of, Philippa references the family bathroom – a beautifully serene Victorian inspired space that combines traditional elements with a contemporary sense of functionality. Victorian-style floor tiles from London Mosaic are coupled with a statement Crittal shower screen and a copper slipper bath of dreams. Dark panelling and a tiled border that runs around the edges of the room and shower screen complete the look.
Philippa has charted the entire renovation process on her Instagram feed @sandrockhouse and not only built up an impressive count of over 25,000 followers, but also a genuine respect from the interiors world - so much so she was won the prestigious ‘Best Eye for Interiors’ prize at the UK Interior Awards this year.
She admits it’s partly this sort of recognition that gave her the confidence to set up her own antique and interiors brand late last year, named after the house itself. Situated on West Street in Dorking – a location famed for its independent and antique shops, she sources statement lighting, mirrors, seating, storage and decorative accessories using her discerning eye. With her talent for interior style, she also offers insight and advice on how to put together a successful interior scheme.
It’s hard to pinpoint just one aspect of the house that stands out. Every single room is sprinkled with statement pieces and design details that make you swoon. But, one particular talking point that has really got Philippa’s Instagram followers buzzing is the built-in wine cellar. Added almost on a whim, Philippa recalls a trip to a kitchen showroom where one was installed. “We hadn’t planned on having a wine cellar, but we are both wine lovers and when we saw this one, we just said, let’s go for it.” Dug over two and a half metres into the ground and with its own spiral staircase, it has a hinged opening, lights and holds up to 1,250 bottles of wine. A total wine-lovers dream.
You’d think that after completing such a successful renovation, but also creating the most incredible family home, Philippa and Al would be staying put. But in fact, the couple are shortly moving onto another project, just around the corner and equally ambitious in its vision - another Victorian property but this time Grade II-listed.
Philippa admits she’s desperately sad to be leaving Sandrock House, but also relishing the prospect of starting the journey again and conceiving something perhaps even more spectacular next time around. “I’ve learnt so much, “Philippa reflects, “there are things I’ll definitely do the same again but I’m also looking forward to taking some things to the next level.”
Will it include another version of that remarkable wine cellar? We’ll just have to wait and see!
Philippa’s shop, Sandrock House, is at 5 West St, Dorking RH4 1BL. Follow her Instagram feed @sandrockhouse