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A heavenly home on the Suffolk border

PUBLISHED: 12:24 24 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 February 2013

Miles and Nanna could hardly believe it when the frame and pair of ornate teak doors that had found and brought back from India exactly fitted the opening between the sitting room and kitchen

Miles and Nanna could hardly believe it when the frame and pair of ornate teak doors that had found and brought back from India exactly fitted the opening between the sitting room and kitchen

Nanna Lay and Miles James have created a beautiful home in a former Mission House on the Suffolk/Norfolk border and furnished it with stylish and eclectic pieces collected on their travels

Nanna Lay and Miles James have created a beautiful home in a former Mission House on the Suffolk/Norfolk border and furnished it with stylish and eclectic pieces collected on their travels

Story and styling: Jane Graining Photography: Polly Eltes

In 1870, a well meaning rector in the parish of a little village near Bungay raised the funds to build a Mission House, a home to be run by nuns and provide help and support for girls working in the local silk mill. The building is in sturdy red brick, a single storey structure with a slate roof and windows and doorways with distinctive gothic arches. The silk mills closed in the early 20th century and by the 1920s the building was being used as a youth club.
Later it became neglected and little used until it was finally converted into living accommodation several decades later. When Nanna Lay and her partner Miles James moved there in 2004 it was in a pretty sorry state. The previous living conversion in the 1950s was really basic. They had put in false ceilings, and wafer thin partition walls, covered the floors with lino, bodged up the wiring system and installed inadequate plumbing, we had to completely gut the interiors and start again, Miles recalls.
Fortunately he and Nanna were well placed to give this period building a new lease of life. Miles is an osteopath but he has always enjoyed large scale DIY projects and is very experienced having restored several old properties in the past. Until recently Nanna had her own business with a large warehouse/shop in Lowestoft selling furniture and an extensive range of accessories imported from Europe and the Far East, so furnishing the interior was not a problem.
Once they had ripped everything out and were down to the bones of the building, they worked out a new configuration for the layout of rooms. They needed two bedrooms, and a good size home office, a cloakroom and bathroom as well as a sitting room and kitchen/dining space.
The conversion began with an extension, a new porch and front door on the side of the building with a bathroom to the right of the door and a cloakroom to the left. Smart grey slate tiled floors and steps lead up to what was the original front door now its a gothic shaped archway which frames the entrance to a corridor. Miles removed the ceiling and put in velux windows in the roof to access more natural light with a new dividing wall between corridor and sitting room, which has box-shaped niches to display a couple of sculptures kings heads in painted stone mounted on wooden bases which come from one of his and Nannas trips to India.
The Mission House is small, and there was not much storage space, so Miles created a galleried shelf in the pitched eaves of the roof above the corridor. The gallery is accessed by a metal ladder and provides a good area for items of occasional use like suitcases and out of season clothes and shoes.
All the original materials which were salvageable were saved and used. The terracotta tiles and floor pammets in the kitchen were cleaned and varnished and old pine floorboards in the bedrooms and office were sanded and waxed. Original doors with arched frames, found discarded in an outhouse, were re-instated.
The kitchen, which opens off the sitting room, was extended and the archway between the rooms was found to be a perfect fit to accommodate the frame and a pair of ornate Indian doors. We could hardly believe it, the doors came from what must have been a grand old house of the Raj period, made in teak with beautiful inlay, and they just fitted in this house of the same period but much more humble! Nanna explains. They put in new glazed doors, which lead to the garden, neat new cupboards and kitchen fittings from Ikea and an oak dining table with Arts and Crafts chairs. Its an eclectic mix, but it works.
The walls are all painted white, but there is lots of warm colour in the framework of the Mission House in the brickwork, terracotta floors and natural pine floorboards. Rich, colourful pattern is introduced in the block printed Indian throws on sofas and cushions. Window treatments have been kept simple with drapes and blinds in soft creamy tones of porcelain and stone, decoration is provided instead with flowers, candles and little hearts the kind of accessories Nanna specialised in in her shops. Deeper shades have been added with kelims and other traditional eastern rugs and runners on the floors. Nanna and Miles love to travel and they have collected lots of their accessories, pictures, rugs and lamps on trips to places like Thailand and Eastern Europe.
The house has been sympathetically converted to work as a 21st century home and Nanna and Miles have become devotees of one level living. Neither of us had lived in a single storey house before but its wonderful everything is so accessible and convenient, no rushing up and down stairs to collect things you have forgotten.


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