Through the keyhole: in East Malling

The huge family kitchen

The huge family kitchen - Credit: Archant

Behind the grand exterior of Belvidere House in East Malling lies a thoroughly contemporary home that one Kent family has made utterly their own

On the edge of East Malling village lies a splendid early Victorian house set within landscaped grounds and approached via electric gates leading to a sweeping drive.

Belvidere House was once home to a Captain Edward Baldock, whose regiment was the Royal Bucks King’s Own Militia, but it is unlikely the original owner would recognise the interior once he was through the grand pillared entrance.

Much has changed here over the years, including some substantial structural alterations and extensions, but no family has put its very personal stamp on it quite like Keith and Jenny Meekins.

The couple, their three children Matt, Izzy and Abbi and four dogs moved here in April 2010 and the improvements haven’t stopped since, from replacing the heating and joining an annexe to the main house to extending the kitchen and turning the basement into a stunning home cinema.

But although Jenny says “the minute Keith and I came through the gate we loved it, although we knew there was so much to do,” not everybody was a fan at first.

“We moved from our previous house in Tonbridge that we’d had built for us and where we’d lived for 12 years, it had everything we wanted and the kids really weren’t keen to leave it,” explains Keith, ceo of an investment bank in London.

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“We’d seen this one being advertised at £2.8m, they sold if for £2.75m and I paid £1.9m for it. I sold my other house for £2.25m, so we did a really good trade.”

Jenny adds: “The day we moved in we took up all the carpets and put new ones down and immediately the kids walked in they all said, ah, that’s better! The entire house has now been re-carpeted three times in four years.”

I can vouch for that third time – taking off my shoes in the breathtaking hall, I sank into that deep, unmistakably brand-new pile of freshly-laid carpet. And the fitters had only finished at midnight (now, of course, I shall demand this level of preparation at every house I visit …).

I’d expected something dark and gloomy and a little bit intimidating once through the front door, so I couldn’t have been more surprised by the immediately welcoming feel, the sheer light and space.

“We like a light, warm house and I love angles too,” says Keith, as I admire how white-painted woodwork and neutral walls enhance period features such as the cornicing and lofty ceilings,but are cleverly offset by stylish features such as modern chandeliers and unexpected colours.

The entrance hall itself is grand indeed, but in a very contemporary style, with a small but elegant dining room leading off to one side and enough space for a baby grand piano, stylish zebra print armchair and a handsome fireplace.

Most splendid of all is the central staircase, which has been completely reconfigured and is now perfect for wafting down from the upper floors to greet guests.

That happens a lot: this is a big house, but it’s very much a party house and I’m not surprised to hear how few days they’ve actually spent on their own as a family; the children have their friends round all the time and mum and dad love to entertain.

Nor am I remotely surprised to find project manager/builder Nick Duffill looking very much at home drinking a cuppa in the kitchen. “I’ve been on site three and a half years on and off,” says.

“A mutual friend who owns an electrical retailer introduced us as Keith and Jen needed a TV put up, and that’s how it all began. Every time Keith has a new plan, we get a call.”

Keith agrees: “We showed you around and you added the extra spin to our ideas, you told us you could literally do anything – so we have really pushed the limits, all thanks to Nick.”

The tile-floored kitchen is glorious – big enough for a fat, squashy armchair, family-sized sofa and bar stools (all in vivid red, the accent colour for this room), the latter dotted around a huge central work island.

Overlooking the patio and landscaped grounds, it really feels like the heart of the home, yet for Keith his favourite room is the snug (so-called because it was originally much smaller with a dividing wall across it).

It certainly has a lovely feel about it, with its large, very comfy grey sofas and splashes of lime in cushions, rugs and artwork, and how could you not love a room that is not only a garden room, but also leads directly to the indoor pool?

This, I am told, is not fit to be looked at or photographed and is next on Keith’s very long list of projects still to do (looks fine to me, but apparently it needs updating).

But there’s no time for lolling on inviting seating, there are many, many rooms still to explore, from the quite extraordinary media room in the basement with its giant movie screen to the new sparkly red and black guest bathroom and the children’s own highly individual bedrooms.

Abbi’s is pink and princessy with its own lovely balcony and skylights, Izzy’s has a purple and silver theme and Matt’s is just a seriously great boy’s room, if suspiciously tidy (that mum again). Every room comes with a massive TV. No wonder this is the most popular family in town.

But the pièce de résistance has to be Keith and Jenny’s huge master bedroom, as big as three average-sized bedrooms, featuring a bed on a raised platform, lime green accent walls and light oak furniture, including wardrobes and a gloriously curved bespoke unit made by Nick.

“It was a really old-style 1960’s bedroom before,” says Jenny. “We designed the new version ourselves. I wanted a really bright lime and we went for the brightest we could find – it’s called Lime Explosion.

“It was quite citrusy at first coat then it went greener; we love the colour lime and we have tons of it. There’s a hanging fireplace still to come in, which means we’ll have to lose one of the sofas.”

Jenny tells me: “When I was a little girl I had a fixation with drawing plans for houses, I used to put the doors and windows in – the lot.”

Now she has had a chance to put that early keen design eye to excellent use. Belvidere House certainly lives up to its translation as ‘beautiful view’ – it has that from every room, but every room is beautiful in its own right: quirky, stylish and utterly original. n

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