Textile and wallpaper designer Molly Mahon constantly tests out her exuberant patterns in the rooms of her own home, Deerhyrst. Nestled deep in England’s ancient Ashdown Forest, the winsome cottage bears her family’s
very joyful and welcoming stamp, and serves as a kind of living lab for her creative work.
Ask British surface designer Molly Mahon to point out the most precious thing in her home, and her answer sums up her entire philosophy toward family, work, and life in one sentiment: “It’s how I feel in it—that’s the most important thing,” she says. So when she, her husband, Rollo, and their three children, Lani, Algie, and Orlando, moved into a down-at-its-heels cottage at the end of a bumpy road in rural Sussex, England, Molly set about remaking the formerly dark house into a warm, cozy home without an intentional plan, but with that sentiment always in mind.
The rooms are like the pages of a family album, each containing treasured memories. Rather than hunting down the perfect lamp or designer chair, Molly incorporated pieces imbued with meaning into her schemes: a kitchen dresser inherited from Rollo’s grandmother, paintings bequeathed by her parents, artwork by her children. She loves that the house reflects the shared journey of her marriage and the evolution of her family.
Not to mention the evolution of her business. “I never dreamed I could make a business out of something creative,” she says. “Initially I just wanted to make things for myself.” But as she continued setting up house, blockprinting all manner of components to satisfy her appetite for pattern and color—lampshades, paper bunting, dish cloths—she found that others shared her hunger for such happy, charming prints, and Molly Mahon the brand was born. She’s been experimenting with new ideas in the cottage’s nooks and crannies ever since. “I’m a bit lavish about how often I redecorate,” she explains. “My home is an always-changing canvas. But I think it’s really important to try things out in my own house, because I want to know that something feels right and looks lovely before I promote it to other people.”
Molly’s decorating ethos has also been influenced by Charleston, the nearby farmhouse-turned-museum that was the home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and where they entertained their Bloomsbury Group friends. “I visit regularly, and still feel the same incredible excitement as I did the first time I was there,” Molly says. “Vanessa Bell was very experimental and not afraid to ignore convention. That’s been really empowering for me.” It’s what freed her to paint her fireplace mantel without a second thought. “I got out my pots of paint on a wet Sunday afternoon and I just went to work,” she says. “The kids did the bits down the sides, so they feel they’ve made their marks, too.”
There were a few splurges during the initial renovation of the cottage, such as the kitchen’s Everhot cast iron cooker. “It’s truly the heart of the home,” Molly says. “But once we’d bought it, we’d spent all the money and still didn’t have a kitchen.” So Rollo and a handyman banged together cupboards from two-by-fours, and Molly fashioned curtains from her own textiles to replace missing cabinet doors.
As Molly describes life in her home, of cooking at the Everhot while her children do schoolwork in the corner, or reading to her kids as they splash in the tub on a dark winter’s night, or playing games in the sitting room while the fire crackles nearby, you can’t help but yearn to be one of those lucky residents. “I am just so grateful that I’ve taken the effort to create my nest,” says Mahon. “When there’s a feeling of panic brewing, of not knowing what is going to happen next, home is how you bring yourself back to being grounded.” Indeed it is.