Character Building: See Inside Kemps House, The West Sussex Home of Alex Willcock - The Gloss Magazine

Character Building: See Inside Kemps House, The West Sussex Home of Alex Willcock

The home of Alex Willcock, founder of sustainable furniture company Maker & Son, is a Grade II-listed building dating back to the 1670s, where spaces are filled with warmth, friendliness and an appreciation of hand-honed craft …

For Alex Willcock it was love at first sight when he walked into the six-bedroom, Kemps House, just outside the village of Balcombe in West Sussex, within commuting distance of central London. He was drawn to its high ceilings, original 17th-century floorboards and grand staircase, though not so much to the neglected, dreary interior with wallpaper in every room. The original aesthetic was a complete contrast to that of the Conran Shop where Willcock worked as creative director for his former father-in-law the late Sir Terence Conran, before founding his luxury sustainable furniture company Maker & Son with his eldest son Felix Conran. (Willcock was previously married to Sophie Conran whom he met while living in Melbourne, Australia).

Alex Willcock and his son Felix.

Keeping renovations light, leaving the original features intact, and bringing in favourite antiques and accessories, especially his wooden handmade candlesticks, Willcock has lived here with his family and a menagerie of animals – from rescue dogs to chickens, ducks, geese and a guinea pig – for 18 years. In that time he has frequently repurposed rooms from playrooms to offices and vice versa. “The only thing that hasn’t moved has been the plumbing fixtures,” he says.

The living room, which has five entrances, is the heart of the home, and frequently serves as a meeting room. The house doubles as a showroom for the Maker & Son sofa brand: clients no doubt appreciate the sense of warmth and friendliness Willcock has created while admiring the collection of squishy sofas from Maker & Son upholstered in washable linen. This ambiance is in part intuitive: having trained as a cabinet maker, Willcock has always endorsed the belief that form follows function. Comfort, creativity and craftsmanship are to the fore – while colour is a recent addition. With help from Farrow & Ball’s colour consultancy service and its colour curator Joa Studholme, the house has been further updated in harmonious colour – from the front door painted in Chine Green and Wimborne White, to the children’s bedrooms walls in Hay and floor in Cinder Rose. 

Hand-honed craft features throughout the house from the bowl formed using a slice of trunk from a fallen tree in the living room to the bentwood light feature.

The exterior of Kemps House, named after its original architect, in West Sussex.

In the kitchen, the cabinets are made from recycled antique doors, with reclaimed countertops.

The cupboards were made by Willcock one weekend and look like they have always been there.

A bedroom, with sisal flooring and one of the Maker & Son “Song” beds.

The bathroom has a traditional vibe.

The timber roundhouse in the garden is a retreat for Alex. It has its own wood burner; the curved Georgian windows and doors were sourced from a local reclamation yard.

Felix Conran’s desk and workbench.


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