Arriving at Lucinda Hamilton's oasthouse, it seems that she can best be found by following the aroma of baking that wafts from the open French windows at the rear. A glance across the garden prompts a cartoonish double take as the eye is irresistibly held by the dramatic sweep of the softly undulating valley that stretches to the horizon. Then suddenly a jumble of children, assorted kittens and an effusive honey-coloured Labrador tumble out to greet us. Close behind this engaging menagerie is a tall, elegant blonde who as she extends her hand in greeting, explains that she is Terry, Lucinda's mother. Lucinda herself then leaves her preparations in the kitchen and steps forward, wearing a spriggy print dress and looking, with her apple blossom complexion and flour-dusted apron, almost too wholesome to be true.
Once inside, while coffee is brewing, Terry arranges flowers and herbs from the garden in little glass jars and bottles before setting them on the long dining table. Lucinda selects some cake stands in soft blancmange like shades from her extensive collection on the painted dresser. She has been baking for a food photoshoot but promises that we can sample the cakes and cookies once the pictures have been taken.
'We were so lucky to find this place," recalls Lucinda as she decorates a pink iced marble cake with sprigs of everlasting sweet peas. 'My husband Andrew and I and our son Jackson lived in London until 2004 in a great converted loft apartment in Clapham. We really liked it, but by the time Jackson was two and becoming much more active, we realised that we needed some proper outside space. We set a sort of limit of one hour's commute from London and decided to look at Kent and Essex. We spent just one day in each county, and found a lovely house in Scullsgate, Kent that we thought was perfect even though it needed a lot of work, but we got gazumped. By that time, Jackson had started school down here and I was expecting our daughter Coco, so I was especially keen to get settled somewhere. A friend was living here and she offered to rent the house to us, but when Andrew, my husband, came with me to see it, he walked into the kitchen and loved it so much, he asked to buy it there and then! So shortly afterwards, Coco was born here, and a year later, so was Estella.
'Fortunately, too, my friend's taste was quite similar to mine, so I didn't do much to the kitchen, but we brought our 1950s blue SMEG ‘booze' fridge that was one of our wedding presents and that sort of set the colour scheme." The open plan kitchen/breakfast room is painted a chalky white and the low beams are decorated with colourful bunting and pretty striped ribbons from which the children's vivid paintings and drawings are hung. There is a linen-covered sofa with brightly embroidered cushions casually strewn over it, and on the wall above there is a pair of striking pictures of a penguin and a goose, created in mixed media and bought at the Kent and Sussex Art Fair.
'Most of the furniture has been accumulated locally, with the blue painted dresser, among other things, bought from Hearts and Flowers in Goudhurst – now sadly closed. The dining table and chairs came from Country Furniture Barn at Flimwell, as did the wall-mounted cupboard that is used to store our wine glasses. Ally Wylie, who's a good friend and great decorator, helped me with a lot of things around the house. She encouraged me to paint the cupboard this lovely pale pink (which my mother did, actually, in Farrow & Ball's Pink Ground), and advised me to paint the dining chairs white, which really transformed them I think. With other things I've been lucky – the piano is the latest addition for Andrew's 40th birthday. He wants to learn to play and I saw it being offered by someone in Benenden – it was already painted white, so I knew it would fit in perfectly here! The grey armoire came from 'tasha in Lamberhurst and Ally sourced the fabric to put behind the chickenwire on the doors. The desk came from another great little shop in Hawkhurst that's unfortunately now closed but they used to have some real little gems. I found the curtains there too, though actually, they were patchwork bedspreads, but again, Ally spotted that they could be put to another use and of course, in the winter they make the room feel really cosy."
As if to demonstrate just how comfortable the room is, Simba, the dog, rather lazily pulls himself up onto the sofa and lies with his front paws and muzzle lolling over the edge. 'He was Jackson's birthday present and was aptly named because he really does have a head like a lion, though he's very gentle. I was brought up in Kenya, where my parents ran a safari camp among other things, so it seemed fitting too, for him to have an African name."
As she talks, Lucinda stands at one of the work surfaces, whipping up Chantilly cream. 'I've started my cake and catering business, ‘Cocolicious' because I love to cook for people and especially to bake. I trained in Switzerland and then in London, with Anton Mosimann which was incredibly hard work, but a fantastic opportunity. I worked at the Ritz and the Athenaeum too, before running the catering operation for a big law firm in the City. It was great fun and very exciting, but I gave up when I had Jackson. Of course the girls followed quite soon afterwards, so I've had to take a bit of a career break, but I'm ready to step up a gear again now. I've been baking celebration cakes for people – especially for birthdays and weddings, but I take all kinds of commissions. Living here in Kent, there is such wonderful produce available that it's really inspiring. I pick my own fruit at Maynards, or buy it from some of the amazing farm shops around here. I get eggs from Mrs Luck, Wards or Woods the butchers, and I can even buy flour from the mill at Cranbrook. My website is under construction at the moment, and soon I hope to sell boxed treats and cakes through some of the local farm shops and delicatessens, but my dream is to have a proper cake shop of my own one day."
To the rear of the kitchen is a scullery where towering piles of boxes and containers testify to the number of sweet delicacies that Lucinda manages to produce, even on what she calls a ‘small' scale. 'Oh dear! It's not very tidy I'm afraid, and I really need more space to store everything, but for now, I'm happy to work from home."
Lucinda leads the way through the hallway and into the drawing room. The length of one wall is completely taken up with a bookcase that also houses the television. 'Ally designed the shelving and got Kevin to make it at the Bookcase Company in Bodiam. It's a godsend especially because I have so many cookbooks, I can't possibly keep them all in the kitchen. The cupboards are great for storage, too, and so I am able to keep at least one room tidy!"
A silk shaded standard reading lamp overlooks a wingback chair covered in a duck egg blue fabric and next to it, a striped sofa from Laura Ashley, that the couple brought with them from London, is accessorised with pale blue and ecru cushions. Then on the long wall, a huge, plump sofa covered in unbleached linen sits beneath a triptych painting of ostriches by Kenyan artist Phylippa Marrian. A large square coffee table from Woodcocks in Tenterden shows off neatly arranged piles of art books along with a silver vase filled with hydrangeas and branches of aromatic rosemary. The scheme is a simple but effective one, with pale walls and floor offset by dark oak timbers and beams. There is a small sideboard from Maisie K in Cranbrook that displays Lucinda's very glamorous black and white photographs of her wedding in France. Beside this is a glass jar filled with delicate shells and a coiled string of tiny, pinhead fairylights. On the opposite wall there is a circular Venetian mirror, beneath which stands a long console table with baskets full of board games underneath. The windows are dressed with what looks like rather extravagantly proportioned linen curtains, but these turn out to have been made from heavy-duty dust sheets. 'Another one of Ally's ingenious ideas! Her ‘beat the recession' curtains" says Lucinda. 'They're really well made and edged with these cotton pompoms, so you wouldn't know that they were dust sheets, but it's a good heavy fabric that hangs really well."
Upstairs, on the landing, a handsome painted sideboard is covered with more silver-framed family photographs many of which feature Lucinda's parents, and on the wall, black and white studies of her children, taken by Emma Freeman and Florence Finburgh, draw the two generations together.
The guest room is painted in Farrow & Ball's Stony Ground and simply furnished with a carved wooden bed and a pair of painted bedside tables. It is presently occupied by Terry who spends several weeks away from Africa every year, dividing her time between Lucinda and one of her other daughter who lives in Tuscany where she and her husband have a vineyard. Sadly now widowed, Terry says she met her husband in the 1960s at a christening party and married him just five weeks later. They were together for 45 years and spent most of it in Kenya where he was a tea planter before they set up Governor's Camp, one of the first luxury tented safari camps. It sounds an exciting and rather privileged life, but as Terry continues to talk, it becomes clear that the impression is an inaccurate one.
'Now I run a feeding station for orphaned children in Nairobi," Terry says. 'We feed about 75 children per day and someone has kindly lent us a site where we have made a little playground for the younger ones. We can't afford to set up a school as well, but I think that giving the children a balanced meal every day is most essential. Of course, to learn to read and write is important too, but children's brains don't work if their tummies are empty." I have some wonderful volunteers who help me, but when I come away to see my family each year I have to pay someone to do my job, so my time in England is limited and the time with my grandchildren is very precious."
The girls' bedroom shows more evidence of their grandmother's affection, with framed pictures of both children set in magical surroundings painted for them by Terry. On a little yellow chair three hand-kitted bears huddle together. 'Those are bears that we make and sell to raise money for the feeding station. One bear will feed 25 children for a day," Terry explains. 'People can order a particular colour but otherwise I and a couple of Kenyan women just knit with whatever wool we happen to have. Every time I come over here I stock up on eyes for the bears from Stoneydale, the sewing shop in Cranbrook. I can't get them in Africa. Not the ones that are up to all the safety standards anyway, so I make sure I order plenty from the ladies at the shop here." Both girls' pine sleigh beds have net canopies above them and the walls are painted a delicate rose pink. There is bunting on the walls and an old fashioned wooden school desk and chair. A Wynne Green fabric Wendy house stands in one corner and a rack of bags and hats are ready for dressing-up play.
Jackson's room looks like the lair of a budding explorer with its bold sky blue paint and pictures of exotic animals and places. There are splashes of red in the patchwork style curtains and the bunting that spells out his name on the wall above the iron bed. A big game hunter's hat hangs over the brass bed knob and there are rosettes proudly pinned to a board. Opposite the bed a large IKEA storage unit houses books, games and toys as well as a brightly coloured globe.
The master bedroom has a more serene atmosphere, with an enormous wooden bed made for the couple by Warren Evans in London. A long chest of drawers from Country Pine stands in front of one window with jugs of garden flowers and sweetly scented herbs to perfume the air. The windows frame the magnificent views across the valley and are dressed with ecru linen curtains printed with faded red roses. 'The curtain poles were made for me by the Village Forge in Tenterden – they had to be strong to support so much fabric, but again, Ally helped me to find the right material and knew exactly how much to order. It's knowing such things that really makes the whole process so much easier and quicker too. I've kept this room fairly neutral, because poor Andrew has to put up with a lot of pink elsewhere in the house! He does have his rather masculine leather and mahogany chair in here though. It was the first major present that I ever bought him and it is so comfortable. The only trouble is, that once you sit in it, you don't want to get up again."
Back downstairs, we eagerly anticipate the completion of the food photographs so that we can taste with our mouths what our eyes have been hungrily devouring. Soon, tea is poured and china plates are piled with all sorts of irresistible delicacies: raspberry, chocolate and vanilla marble cake, Australian lamingtons (sponge cakes rolled in chocolate and coconut), raspberry filo tartlets, mini almond Victoria sponge cakes, spiced Bundt cakes, profiteroles and oat cookies. Lunchtime has been and gone, but who cares? This is the perfect afternoon tea, daintily presented and fabulously flavoured. True comfort food.