FH: stories | Graft + Found

Avril O’Neil and John Nussey swapped London for seaside life, taking on a renovation project to turn a run-down Victorian house in Folkestone into a thoughtfully designed home.

Their decision to up sticks came two years ago when, after living in London for 12 years, the couple found themselves in the habit of travelling out of the city to the coast whenever possible.

Having been involved in the Folkestone Triennial in 2014, John knew of the area but recalls a very different Folkestone back then to the one he knows today.

“When we decided to revisit Folkestone for a refresher, we weren’t holding out much hope. But fortunately, we couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a beautiful summer’s day; the town was bustling but not busy and we sat on the end of the pier drinking Champagne with Avril’s family. We simultaneously decided that this was the place for us, and we moved here six-months later.”

The house-search inspired a major project, “We looked at some beautiful properties, but you pay such a premium for those that are already renovated. We also wanted to put our own creative stamp on it and didn’t want to be wasteful.

“We chose an old Victorian town house which hadn’t been touched for a while. It would take a lot of work but as designers, we knew we had the skills to take the project on. It was also a good investment project for when we do come to sell, as our dream is to build our own home from the ground up in Folkestone. We’ve properly fallen in love with the area and don’t see ourselves being anywhere else in the country.”

Asked why others should move from London to Folkestone, they say, “Folkestone is really well connected compared to other coastal towns, and if you are missing the city, you can easily visit from time-to-time and be there in under one hour.

“Making the move is also a big change to your lifestyle; from the quality of life and change of pace to the mental health side of things. Folkestone has a great creative hub and there is something really raw, honest and diverse about what it is doing.

“You can get to know people quite well and recognise them when you’re out and about. Whilst you have a lot of choice in London, you always feel that you’re missing out on something. In Folkestone everything is accessible, and you have a decent amount to experience, from public art to performances, but not so much that it is cluttering. The food scene is also really good! There are many pop-up restaurants and options in the area. We would have missed the food offering in London if we didn’t have that here.

“Folkestone is a really special place to be, especially at the moment when we are so restricted in going out to places, we have a lot of freedom compared to others. We often walk by the coast and visit spots like The Leas, The Warren and the cliffs by Capel le Ferne. We feel really privileged to be here.”

John and Avril are chronicling their renovation journey on Instagram @graftandfound. “This is our first home renovation and it’s been quite a challenge, but we’ve managed to do most of the renovation in one year. Avril took a year off work to dedicate to it, which is how we’ve managed to go so fast but there’s still lots to do and a couple of rooms we haven’t even touched yet.”

As with every renovation project, you can expect to find surprises, as they share, “It was in a pretty bad state. We had rotten joists, crumbling plaster and a concrete roof to fix. I think the main challenge though was living in the property while renovating. If we did it again, we’d definitely rent somewhere to avoid all the dust and grime! The whole renovation process is such hard work, back breaking at times, both physically and emotionally but transforming something into a home whilst renovating a piece of history is so rewarding.”

Alongside renovating their home, John and Avril also run their business, ONN Studio, out of Folkestone. “Our consultancy focuses on product design and new technologies, including high-tech smart home products, wearables and interactive art exhibits. This is all quite niche, so through Graft + Found we’ll be focusing on the interior of the home, showcasing our own furniture and lighting products.

“We’ve enjoyed our renovation journey so far and are looking forward to incorporating the products we design into our home.”

www.instagram.com/graftandfound

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