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One woman powerhouse

Welcome to this edition of the Gladstonian Journal in which we share our passion for craftsmanship and love of refined elegance by showcasing some of the artists and designers whose work we most admire. This month our Guest Editor Denise talks to Francesca Rowan-Plowden, award winning interior designer, retailer and founder of Design Havens for Heroes.
Francesca Rowan-Plowden is one impressive lady. A kind of Renaissance woman in fact. She’s super creative, arty and passionate about the theatre, but also well grounded, with a savvy mindset for business. A hands-on mum to a young family of four sons and a stepdaughter, Francesca has boundless energy and effortlessly spins umpteen plates at a time. So we were excited that she found time in her busy schedule to talk to us about her complementary design and management skills and how she pulled all her talents together to conjure an impeccable lifestyle concept of interior design and retail.

I really love being busy and fulfilled and am most happy wearing multiple hats.

At the nucleus of my work ethos though, is creativity and people. That’s always been a constant.

I studied at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) and my theatrical leanings have inspired me in good stead for where I am now with my design, styling and restoration work

I have always loved the theatre. While I lived and worked in London I took on various part time jobs while I was a jobbing actor. One was selling luxury bags, for which I have a passion. I’ll fill you in on my Gladstn favourites later in the story!

Family came along, and it proved challenging getting work as a young actress while looking after two small children

I wanted a change from London and in a light bulb moment I applied to be a National Trust custodian of historic Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex (shown below), once home to writer Henry James. Over the last 125 years The National Trust has grown to become Europe↓s largest conservation charity, caring for historic properties and areas of beautiful countryside and with millions of members, volunteers and staff.

I was blown away to be given the position beating 160 applicants

We made the move to Rye 15 years ago and I received some National Trust training in curation and preservation of historic properties. I just loved it - I’d found my niche. With my own interest in interiors, I started to do bits on the property myself and around the same time I had set up my own outdoor theatre company. I took a business course to develop the theatre project, as I wanted to take it national. However, I was swiftly advised to concentrate on my interiors work, as I was increasingly getting recognised for my work on Lamb House while being invited to do other projects.

Rowan Plowden Design was born and was the springboard for my later creative projects FRP Homestore and Design Havens for Heroes

At Rowan Plowden Design we are specialists in period interior design, as well as designing and styling property for landlords and developers in the luxury rental and sales markets. We’ve been designing interiors for over 10 years now and our practice works predominantly with historical stately homes and private residential properties. The experience I gained working alongside the National Trust has proved to be most beneficial in this area.

Taking a ‘modern rustic’ approach: Our renovation of Field View, a luxury beach house outside Rye. The three-bedroom property was completely redesigned and renovated using modern, clean, minimal styling.
Taking a ‘modern rustic’ approach: Our renovation of Field View, a luxury beach house outside Rye. The three-bedroom property was completely redesigned and renovated using modern, clean, minimal styling.

We have just completed our most recent project, the renovation and redecoration of Kingshill Farmhouse, on the Elmley Nature Reserve in the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Both the farmhouse and cottage conversion have been extensively renovated and redeveloped and they’re ready to let on the luxury rental holiday and wedding markets.

Along the way we handled the renovation of Goodnestone Park (below) and converted it into a world class wedding venue, and transformed Battel Hall on the Leeds Castle estate into exquisite luxury rental accommodation

As projects go, working at Leeds Castle was an incredible experience and to work on Battel Hall there was an absolute privilege

The whole estate is bursting with inspiration and such incredible craftsmanship. There was so much to draw upon. To be part of its history is truly special.

I must say, it’s lovely to have your work recognised by the media

Rowan Plowden Design has been very lucky to receive some great press coverage. Our interior work has been covered in a host of high profile glossies including Conde Nast Traveller, Elle Decoration, House & Garden, Homes and Gardens, Country Homes and Interiors, The Sunday Times, Tatler, Country Living, The Lady, Homes and Antiques and The Observer.

Working on my own home sometimes feels like a busman’s holiday

It seems to take so much longer to get things achieved on our home renovation, mainly because I↓m working on others in tandem. I really need another me! I work in great synergy though with Tom Dunn architects. Tom is excellent in blending historic and contemporary. We worked together on the Elmley Nature Reserve and are now working on my project in St John’s Wood in North London, as well as my own house.

At my home, my grandmother’s dressing table mirror is my favourite, most precious artefact

My grandmother was an incredibly stylish, very English, no nonsense lady and I think of her each morning when I look into her mirror. I try minimalism dcor at home but I’m too much of a magpie. So it’s probably more of an eclectic combination.

Francesca's 'magpie' dressing table including her grandmother's mirror
Francesca's 'magpie' dressing table including her grandmother's mirror

I’m so lucky to be inspired by where I live by the seaside in East Sussex

There are some lovely shops in Rye such as McCully & Crane, Sailors of Rye (both pictured below), Alex MacArthur and fantastic antiques emporiums. Not to mention lots of lovely beach walks followed by delicious food at the Gallivant.

London or seaside?

In my bones I am a London girl, but I have the sea in my veins. I have to have a bit of both!

My first stop when I visit London

When I go back to London I visit my parents first, closely followed by world renowned department store Liberty of London, the V&A Museum, Kensington and the toy department at Peter Jones, Sloane Square.

About those bags

I have a passion for bags and luggage and as a brand, Gladstn London reflects all that I love to be surrounded by, to work with and aspire to. A freedom of choice in luxury handbags with beautiful craftsmanship and quality inspired by history, but progressively moving into the future - and constantly evolving without comprising on design and style.

We can learn so much from the past, but it’s about taking it forward and keeping heritage principles that retain their style whatever the trends. My favourite Gladstn? I love the Carte Blanche in Santorini blue, with the orange and blue striped strap. A true classic with a modern twist - much like my interiors!

Gladstn London's Carte Blanche in Santorini
Gladstn London's Carte Blanche in Santorini

I’m always looking for ways to explore new avenues to expand our creativity base

This is what happened with the evolution of my sister company, FRP Homestore. While doing my renovation and styling work, people were always asking me where my ‘stuff’ was from, so I thought I might as well make some of it available to the consumer. We started FRP Homestore, our online retail store earlier this year, and it’s really going well and I’m really enjoying the retail side of interiors.

A carefully curated edit of homewares

I’ve curated FRP Homestore as an inspiring lifestyle concept that reflects the canvas, styles and values of Rowan Plowden Design. Basically, it’s an online retail experience inspired by different ways of living and the different styles of properties I work with and design.

Our collections are based around Coastal, Country, and Town Living, along with some unique antique finds within our Historic House Collection, that I love to source for those who are passionate about, and inspired by, the ‘historic home’. Many products can be interchanged through the collections, like the silver-framed vintage Gary Cooper poster.

Our Coastal concept accessories have a relaxing beach house vibe. In sunny and ‘washed’ hues to reflect coastal life and sunshine, there are coral, seashell, palm, bamboo, oysters and fish themes, and bright sunflower and tasselled cushions. Country House Accessories has cosy pouffes, suede velvet armchairs and embroidered footstools to enrich the home. Elegant, opulent chandeliers add a touch of the bohemian. In character, Town House has a more minimalist ‘clean lines’ feel with glass-topped antique-brass coffee table sets that neatly stack, and a complementing antique-brass stacking shelf for favourite objets and photographs. There’s also a stylish marble-top nest of three occasional tables.

In the Historic House section you↓ll find beautiful ceramic tableware and centre stage are Pearl Lowe’s sumptuous cotton lace tablecloths. Not just in crisp snowy white (like the one shown below), but in a dazzling array of eclectic colours and choice of size.

Design Havens for Heroes - putting something back

Working in a world of interiors, yet feeling somewhat useless during the pandemic, inspired me with an idea. In April 2020, in response to the Covid-19 crisis we launched the Design Havens for Heroes initiative bringing together a community of talented interior design specialists to create ‘Haven’ makeovers for our vital NHS key workers.

Our goal is to offer the benefit of rest and calm in their own ↑havens↓ at home and work place after dealing with the emotional and physical demands of tackling the pandemic. Within our collective we have interior designers, stylists, high profile product suppliers, interiors and homeware brands, as well as skilled makers and tradespeople.

We’re eternally grateful

I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response from suppliers, big and small, and the interior design talent that has come forward to take part. It is our aim to develop the charity over the next few months so that it can still inspire NHS workers for when the Covid crisis is over.

Gladstonian Journal

Francesca Rowan-Plowden was speaking to Denise Barrett, Guest Editor of the Gladstonian Journal and author of Handbag Homage
To find out more about Francesca’s work click here
To find out more about Design Havens for Heroes click here
And for FRP Homestore click here

We love to chat bags, luggage and all things craftsmanship so if you’ve got any feedback on this edition of the Gladstonian Journal or any suggestions for us, do get in touch
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