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Sarah Fortescue | Restoring Boconnoc House

Interiors /

Sarah Fortescue | Restoring Boconnoc House


Appeasing ancient spirits in Hong Kong and restoring her family home.

How did you get into design?
I began with Barrett Lloyd Davis Associates, an architectural practice, which gave me a thorough insight into the construction of buildings, where I began to develop my fascination of the structure within them. Following that I moved to Cape Town to work for Condé Nast House and Garden. This time was enormously influential for me, working alongside a plethora of amazing South African designers, in particular William Yeoward, who worked closely at the time with my editor. During this time ‘my love of style’ grew and I realised design can elevate a space in a magical way.

Working on Boconnoc House was the turning point and, once completed, I moved to Hong Kong where I set up my own interior design business. Having completed Boconnoc, it enabled a wider variety of projects in Hong Kong. One in particular, Honi Honi, a cocktail lounge, that was inspired by the Hurricane Club in New York allowed me to apply my love of textiles, finishes, colour and particularly, designing wall paper which we produced for its bathrooms.

Inspiration behind your work at Boconnoc House?
My father, Anthony Fortescue, spent 12 years restoring a house that had stood empty for over 30 years. It was no small task, and one that required courage and much patience. Growing up through its restoration was eye opening and, when the bedrooms and library needed a coat of paint, I could only accept completing the interior design of the house with immense gratitude.

The Victorian bedroom at Boconnoc House

The Victorian bedroom at Boconnoc House

Boconnoc has had a fascinating and colourful history; home to three prime ministers, one being the Governor of Madras in India. I wanted that to resonate through its corridors and light bedrooms over-looking the naturalist parkland.

The surname Fortescue comes from the latin Fortescutum, meaning strong shield, which came to England as William the Conqueror’s shield bearer. With slight humour I have played on many aspects of its drawn out history and the figures within it. Some of the wall coverings are French inspired, we have a Governor of Madras bedroom and there is an influence of the Orient in the Victorian bedroom. Kings Charles I would stay at Boconnoc so a room is known as the King’s Room.

Most unusual project?
My first project on touching down in Hong Kong was a bachelor flat in Central. Weeks later I found myself among the rubble with a Feng Shui master laying out a ritual of tea lights, tea mugs with wine and water, kneeling side by side, chanting. The apartment block was in a very old area of Hong Kong called Sheung Wan with a lot of burial grounds. The ritual was done in order to inform the existing spirits that a new energy (my client) was moving into the apartment. The spatial layout was also significant, in-keeping with the Feng Shui within the flat.

Most prized possession?
My Africa on a silver chain around my neck.

Where do you source pieces?
Anywhere, I look on a global scale. I travelled to Zambia this year to source textiles; for me, every culture is portrayed through its textiles, which I love to use in my work. The vibrant weaves of Central and South America, the tribal wonder of Africa, and purity and strength of the silks produced in India and the Middle East.

Wherever I can use local materials I try to as it’s so exciting to produce bespoke pieces of furniture. The best was coming across a six-foot long cross-section of a great oak and using a local carpenter to create a dining room table for a house in Cornwall. It’s stunning, with the natural curvature of the trunk and deep grains signifying its great age.

Favourite piece of furniture?
Amy Somerville’s blue teal sofa with a brass lip around its base. The two tones work wonderfully together.

Where are you at the weekends?
London is, in my opinion, the greatest springboard. It allows me to head out to the country or adventure around the city. Just recently I stood motionless at The Tate surveying the great Turners’ masterpieces with their softness and glistening warmth that leaps out at you from the canvas: a place where hours could vanish.

Favourite material?
Natural materials, in particular copper. It generates warmth and its reflective surface gives an interior space such life.

Design dislikes?
Cookie cutter, ‘in trend’ design templates that create uninventive spaces lacking personality.

Which room do you spend most time in?
Everyone elses. My days are spent looking at how to refine spaces and turn them into something individual for my clients. In particular, I love sitting at my dining table, looking out at the trees, like I am in my very own tree house.

Where do you go to escape?
Cornwall or South Africa

What colour would you ban from houses?Bathroom-Boconocco-House-designed-by-Sarah-Fortescue-
An entire interior of neutrals. There is no vibrancy to energise the soul.

Favourite wallpaper?
Boussac and Pierre Frey for their beautiful designs and painterly finish.

Design hero?
Sir John Soane and Luis Barragan. I’m inspired by their use of light and colour. I really enjoy Paolo Moschino’s interiors and Pablo Piattis wall mural paintings of birds.

I would never throw away…
A map.

Most inspirational design period?
I don’t have one particularly. Sometimes it’s about marrying them together. I am working on a wonderful house at the moment, where the structure itself was built over three very different periods, therefore, linking the architecture together is as important as marrying the design and contents to work as one. I am loving the challenge.

Your style is…
Classical and fresh. Nature fuels the soul, its luminosity and infinite palette.

In another life?
Fulfilling my dream of wallpaper and textile design, I would hope.

Who’s home would you like to design?
Someone adventurous, colourful and dynamic. Perhaps, having laughed out loud while listening to him talk at the RGS recently, it would be Michael Palin.

Room dressing tips for Valentines?
Draw your inspiration in from nature. February is the time before spring, when nature is hibernating. Go in search of driftwood and decorate the table with it and beautiful glassware. Lighting is key to designing a space, so set the romantic ambience through a display of candlelight.

Home essentials?
Beautiful lamp shades, plenty of fascinating books that fill a room with great depth and colour and a comfortable place to be peaceful and lighting.




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