Trea Eilkes Latham swapped the city for the East Sussex seaside and her dream Victorian home, full of light and space.
Notting Hill might have worked for Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the eponymous movie, but for young mum Trea Eilkes Latham, it had begun to lose its charm. ‘London is a wonderful, energetic city with so much happening, but with two young children aged just six and three, it was no longer the big attraction it had once been,’ she remembers.
In 2002, Trea decided that a breath of fresh air was exactly what she and her family needed, and focused her property search on the East Sussex coast. She quickly realised there was so much more house to be had for her money, not to mention a healthier lifestyle for her children. ‘I liked the idea of living close to the sea – I think it’s great for kids to be able to play on the beach – and Brighton meant we could have the best of both worlds, as it’s not too far from friends in the capital either,’ Trea says.
It was during one of her trips to the coast – combining a family excursion with the opportunity for house hunting – that an estate agent’s magazine captured her attention. ‘I’d always dreamed of living in a traditional, double-fronted property, and there was such a house pictured on the cover – the image I’d always had in my mind’s eye,’ she remembers. ‘I think most people have some kind of romantic notion about their ideal home, whether it’s the white picket fence or the roses round the door. For me that ideal had always been a white house; traditional and bursting with period features – and there it was, looking up at me from the brochure.’
The generous semi-detached property was just around the corner from the sea, and, being on the outskirts of the city in Hove, had a lovely sense of community with great schools nearby. ‘I booked a viewing straight away, and I’m so pleased I did. The children loved it as much as me – there is so much space to charge about and the walled courtyard garden at the back is a real suntrap,’ Trea says.
The previous owners had already knocked through two reception rooms to create one large living room, flooding the downstairs with light and making it ideal for modern family living. All of the rooms had been well looked after and – happily – were already decorated beautifully.
‘I was incredibly lucky that almost everything in the house suited my lifestyle and tastes, from the style of the bathrooms to the galley kitchen,’ she explains. ‘With young children in tow, I really didn’t want to have to take on a project. In fact, the only major work I had done was to have a new floor laid in the living room to replace an old, tatty carpet. The original wooden boards beneath weren’t in great shape so engineered oak was the best option. It was expensive, but I won’t need to do it again.’
Trea’s dad was then brought in to help her update one of the two bathrooms with inexpensive metro tiles from Homebase, which they cleverly paired with dark grout to accentuate the brick pattern. Once those renovations were complete, Trea still wanted to bring an element of her own personality into the other ‘near-perfect’ rooms, and with that came a little trial and error.
‘The one big mistake I made was painting the lovely bright kitchen, which benefits from two windows at either end, cappuccino brown. It was terribly fashionable at the time, but I never really got used to it and quickly learned that I’m most comfortable with a plain backdrop – usually white,’ she says. ‘You can’t really go wrong with pale walls and, indeed, if there’s anything in the house I’d change, it would be to introduce even more of them.’
Far from sparse, the swathes of white act as a foil for Trea’s collection of mementoes from her time in New York, Singapore and her childhood in the Netherlands. ‘There are reminders of my past all around; I think these are the things that make a home,’ says Trea, who describes her style as eclectic. ‘I try to not get hung up on a “look”; my motto is that it’s my house, so I’ll fill it with what I love – not what someone else tells me is right.’
Trea also has a strong creative streak and isn’t afraid to turn secondhand finds into features. ‘Half my furniture is from charity shops, which I’ve upcycled. The result is a real mix, but somehow it all comes together,’ she says. ‘My only rule is that the decor must calm me. I can actually feel quite claustrophobic if there’s too much going on. I see redecorating as a beautiful challenge.’
The move has also enabled Trea to simplify her working life, as the numerous bedrooms and bathrooms are perfect for paying guests. ‘Hosting students from nearby Brighton University and Airbnb holidayers means I can now work from home and be here for my girls as and when they need me,’ she smiles. ‘Our relocation was all about looking for a better quality of family life, and I’m happy to say that’s exactly what we found.’
Photography: James French