We meet block print-maker Molly Mahon, the designer behind one of our beautiful rooms at The Swan, Ascott-under-Wychwood, and take a tour of her bright and beloved forest home in East Sussex.
The importance of a home that reflects its occupants and truly makes your heart sing when you need it most should never be underestimated. Deerhyrst Cottage, the home of designer and block print-maker Molly Mahon and her family, tucked down a lane on the edge of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, does exactly that.
This is a “perfectly imperfect” home that’s bright, fun, creative and unmistakably hers. It’s where her son was born and where she returned to heal after gruelling cancer treatment. It’s where her business is based and the place she considers her haven.
“Eventually a house stops being just bricks and mortar and it becomes part of the family,” says Molly, who lives with her husband Rollo, three children, Lani, Algernon and Orlando, and their dog. “I like to think our home reflects the whole family; so it’s colourful, it’s playful, it’s relaxed, it’s informal and it’s functional.”
Yet it took considerable foresight on Molly and Rollo’s part to imagine what the house could be when they first bought it eight years ago, after relocating to the area from London. Gloomy and damp, with a higgledy-piggledy layout and low ceilings (not ideal for 6ft Molly), they initially discarded it, before returning six months later for a second look.
“I’m one of those people who’s never dreamt of my dream wedding, but I’ve always dreamt of the houses I was going to live in,” laughs Molly. “And this wasn’t it. So when we bought it I felt a bit disappointed.”
But nothing else had piqued their interest and it was in a wonderful location, so they bought it with a plan to make good of its potential, sell and then buy the dream house.
They lived at Deerhyrst for a year before starting renovations, during which time came the arrival of their youngest son, Orlando, fittingly born within its four walls – in the bath. “It’s had quite an impact on him; he’s very, very connected and loves home more than anything else,’ says Molly. “He’s very happy here and still so proud he was born in the bath!”
If anything, Orlando’s arrival spurred Molly and Rollo into action and so began their Famous Five-esque adventure; moving out of the house and setting up camp in the garden for seven months while the builders got to work.
“Rollo and I had wanted an adventure and we got one – right on our doorstep! It made life incredibly simple and basic and we slowed down; it was a good time,” recalls Molly. They had one tent for their belongings, one tent to sleep in and turned the garage into a temporary kitchen. “I found it terribly exciting seeing all the building work going on in the house, so I remember it being really wonderful, although I’m sure there were times when it was quite stressful. It did end up getting quite cold and damp and eventually we moved back into the house and there were bits that weren’t finished, and they have still never quite been finished!”
The house was reconfigured with muddy boots in mind – among other things – with a relatively open-plan layout that works for the whole family and a classic live-in kitchen. “We do everything in the kitchen; from homework, to my sewing at the kitchen table. We do a lot of our craft things in there, as well as eating our meals, the dog lives in there and we have a soft area where we can sit and spend time. I wanted the kitchen to be a really happy place, so we’ve used lots of yellow and fun colours to feel energised. That was really important to us.”
As with the rest of the house, Molly’s beautiful blockprinted textiles are showcased all over the kitchen, from the table cloth, to the seat pads, the rug, lightshade, splashback and even on some pretty scalloped trimming along the open shelves.
While Rollo’s Grandmother’s white dresser stands proudly against one wall housing bright crockery, children’s artwork and invitations. “If there’s anything that tells you about a person in their home, it’s must be dresser, because that is a moving piece of art in my mind,” says Molly.
Next door, the sitting room (or play room, depending on who you ask) is filled with more bright and beautiful textiles, stencilled cupboard doors and a wonderful decorated stone fireplace in Bloomsbury style, inspired by their country outpost at nearby Charleston – all Molly’s handiwork, of course.
“The fireplace is ridiculously large and made from great heavy stone and I was Charlestoning everything I could so, much to my mother’s horror, I painted it, which really softened it and took away that cold look. It was quite an eyesore before and now I love sitting by it, I find it really pleasing.”
When it comes to colour, the decisions are made not just by Molly, but by her children as well – who, she says, are very good at picking out happy colours. The result is an emotional impact, not just an aesthetic one.
“If you hold up five colour cards, I’m not going to pick the grey one, I’ll pick the pink one! Colour brings me a feeling of joy, sometimes to the extreme; I can feel euphoric when I see certain colours together. I can’t explain it, but I definitely make my decisions with my gut.”
At no point has the positive effect of her colour and print choices become more apparent than when Molly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, just as her new-found passion for block printing was starting to become a viable – and in-demand – business. She endured six operations, chemotherapy and losing her hair, during which time her home took on even greater significance.
“Having a cosy, welcoming home to return to every time I came back from my chemotherapy was the best thing ever. I was always so pleased that I had wallpapered the walls and made my fabric curtains, because hospitals are really scary and sparse and not your space, and every time I came home I felt OK.
“Home was my rock during my treatment; I felt that I was in a really nurturing environment and was grateful for it then and I’m still grateful for it now. It made me realise how important one’s home is and that it’s OK to be a bit obsessive about it; because it’s a really important part of my world.”
Having a cosy, welcoming home to return to every time I came back from my chemotherapy was the best thing ever.”
Now, Molly’s printing studio is housed in the former garage at the end of the garden, while the office – where Rollo works within their team – is a short stroll through the woods. “My home and work life definitely merge. I’m creating for my home and my home is inspiring my creations; it’s one big circle,” says Molly.
“It’s really important that my kids see me working, especially because I work with my husband as well. So it’s good for them to respect and understand that we’re all in it together; this is a family thing.”
Molly’s artistic talents certainly run in the family; her mother is the artist Celia Lewis, her sister, Emma Lewis , is an interiors photographer and her other sister, Henny Tate, is Co-Founder of artisan rug boutique Tate and Darby.
“It’s a bit like how I was brought up, there are pens and paper and paint always available all over the place and on a Saturday afternoon, I’ll be painting some cupboards and the kids will be there with me, so it’s going to be quite inherent in them I think. That was just the same as my Mum with us; she was always marbling or creating something and we played nearby or got involved.”
From a dull and disappointing beginning, Deerhyrst has now become far more than just a home to Molly and her family. As the eminent German writer Johann von Goethe once wrote, “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” And Molly has done just that.
“My home is my everything; it’s the one part of the whole confusing crazy world that makes sense to me and it’s that one place that is ours and it’s safe and we can do what we want with it,’ she says. “It is mad out there in the world right now and this does feel like our safe place.”
For more, visit mollymahon.com