Inside the School of Comedy founder Laura Lawson’s Monksmead home
- Credit: Harriet Bailey Photography
Have yourself a colourful Christmas at the happy home of School of Comedy founder Laura Lawson
Down a twisty hedged lane overhung with trees in Milford on Sea is Monksmead, a pretty tile-hung country house. It's typically Edwardian in appearance, although actually constructed in 1913, old signage informs, with materials, including Gothic arched windows, taken from "their Majesties' robing rooms in the annexe erected at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of George V in 1911".
However if you expect this house to have an inherent solemnity you would have to be joking. This is the happy home of funny lady Laura Lawson. As Laura says: "The house reflects me, and I do work in comedy!"
Laura is a former stand-up comedian and founder of the School of Comedy (based in London and, more recently, Lymington) which encourages children to develop improvisation, comic timing and self-confidence. The school's young stars appeared in a comic sketch show of the same name on Channel Four, and alumni include the likes of Will Poulter, who went on to showbiz success. You may have seen him in We're the Millers with Jennifer Aniston, The Maze Runner series or the multi-Oscar-winning The Revenant.
Explaining her methods Laura says: "I feel very strongly that children should be free to express themselves and not boxed-in by society's expectations."
Similarly her home is an expression of Laura's personality - a light-hearted, sunny-natured interior that doesn't follow the usual design rules. Laura wanted her own children to grow up surrounded by fun, colour and pattern in a house that could be a haven for them. Hence this is a home that doesn't take itself too seriously. The interior is a colourful cacophony of all things bright and beautiful, fantastical and magical with cool lighting. Laura is not afraid to clash colours, patterns and styles, and create unexpected arrangements.
Along with lessons on comic performance, Laura's confident instinct for bold interior design could teach the colour shy among us a thing or two. Take the kitchen-dining room - an exercise in exuberance. Open shelves display glasses the colour of fruit drops. Filament bulbs hang from pea green cabling. A stag's head of concertinaed scarlet card hangs on the wall - a quirky reference to the New Forest. Behind the range-style cooker is a splashback of assorted multi-patterned tiles. A curvy sofa is piled with bright tasselled cushions. Old-fashioned traditional column radiators come in modish electric blue. And the fireplace wall is papered in a design of imagined birds of paradise. Everywhere you look something amuses or entrances. Artwork is similarly upbeat - including strings of butterflies hanging in alcoves, graffiti-style canvases, pop art prints, and a delightful heart picture made by Laura's daughter (aged 11) from melted wax crayons.
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In the lounge Laura's cheerful choices are set against classic country elements - painted exposed beams and fireplace with woodburning stove and oak mantelpiece. There's an Orla Kiely stem pattern rug; a big, splashy artwork of a beach scene brought back from a holiday in Costa Rica; shocking pink lampshade; vintage Indian cabinet and Laura's mother-in-law's chaise-longue in petrol blue. Surely this mash-up shouldn't work, and yet it does.
Playful games in colour and style are discovered in every space. The downstairs cloakroom, painted moody dark blue-grey, has a column radiator in hot orange. Upstairs the family shower room is a rich Moroccan blue with a window blind featuring a London cityscape. The hallway juxtaposes modern abstract art alongside impressionist landscapes. On the landing framed comic illustrations of Dennis the Menace and a pendant light of coloured glass bottles are combined with a glam, grand wallpaper in blue and silver. In the guest bedroom, colour is clashed with abandon - a turquoise chest of drawers, a lampshade of ever decreasing circles in buttercup yellow and paintings in pinks, reds and russets. Laura's son's room is a warm mix of darks and brights while her daughter's room is more muted with deckchair stripes and stylised stags head wallpaper referencing Milford on Sea's location between New Forest and coast. Whimsical details include mobiles of clouds and stars, bunting and butterfly cushions.
As for the master bedroom - it succeeds in being both opulent and frivolous, rustic and smart at the same time. The bed is made from reclaimed wood and topped with a sunshine yellow quilt. A panelled wall is actually trompe l'oeil wallpaper. Bedside lights are upcycled vintage soda syphons topped with shades featuring fantastical giraffe creatures with many coloured wings. The effect is heart-warming, comic-rustic and urban-country.
A smoky black and white photograph of Laura on the wall references a very different London life. Laura points to it and comments: "That was taken the day I decided to move to Milford on Sea."
It appears to have been a decision as spontaneous as her interior decoration. Laura never expected to leave London. However one of her best mates, Lucy Rogers, owns nearby Vinegar Hill Pottery (along the road and round the corner), and Laura and her family were regular guests.
She recalls: "We had two kids and were living in a tiny house on a main road, but I wasn't prepared to leave London as it was all I knew. "Then we had a glorious weekend here and went to the beach every day and I realised that I didn't want to go home."
To cut a long story short-ish, they came back the following week, decided to move, fell in love with this property which, tantalisingly, went under offer and then came back on the market, enabling them to snap it up.
"We just did it!" says Laura, sounding surprised. "Milford on Sea is like a secret. It has such a good school, and my husband and son play golf locally, at Barton on Sea Golf Club. He's their youngest star. He's only nine and yet he's acquired all these skills and is having a dreamy childhood that he wouldn't have had otherwise."
Come Christmas and Laura's colourful, eclectic, almost anything goes approach continues through the festive decorations. The table is appropriately theatrical: covered with a vintage tablecloth and laid with a riot of clashing jewel bright glasses, scattered with birds and butterflies in copper and gold and topped with candles in shocking pink. The mantelpiece is festooned with traditional fir branches and quirky decorations such as a festive dachshund. It's all about colour, fun and humorous touches. Like Laura.
She adds: "This house is brilliant for Christmas. We have an hour's walk on Christmas morning and we come back here and have bacon butties and drink Champagne all day."
Sounds fun. And anyone interested in enjoying a bright, colourful, quirky Christmas in Laura's home can book The Bright House as it is otherwise called, through New Forest Escapes at newforestescapes.co.uk. No joking.