In an English Village, a Home Where the 1430s and the 1970s Peacefully Coexist

When the artist Sarah Kaye Rodden and her family took over a former medieval meeting hall in Kent, they chose to honour its many lives.

Article by Carolyn Asome

08-TMAG-MEDIEVAL-HOME-NOW-2In the living space of the artist Sarah Kaye Rodden’s home in Kent, England, a wood-burning stove and an antique oak coffer topped with objects including dinosaur bones and a concrete bowl by the designer Philippe Malouin. Photograph by Sian Davey.

It isn’t unusual for a passer-by to mistake the home of the British artist Sarah Kaye Rodden for a shop. The 15th-century house sits on a bustling high street in the English village of Brasted, in rural Kent, and people are often lured inside by the distinctive objects she keeps near the entrance:a 1930s Belgian oak drawing board, a slatted chair by the Danish Modernist designer Grete Jalk and several of the artist’s own minimalist constructions made from paper, rubber and leather. “I have to tell them that this is my home, and then they back away sheepishly,” says Kaye Rodden, 48. Completed in 1430, the original timber-frame building, which once served as a medieval meeting hall, was in fact repurposed as an antiques store in the 19th century, and its large Victorian front window still seems to promise that rare treasures might be found inside.

Kaye Rodden bought the three-story 2,200-square-foot home nine years ago with her husband, John Rodden, 49, an executive at the film production company Studio Canal UK. They had been looking to move from their one-bedroom maisonette in London’s Battersea district to somewhere with enough room for their two children, Aoife, 12, and Naoise, 8, to run around. Kaye Rodden, who comes from several long lines of makers — her paternal great-great-grandfather was a tanner and harness maker; her maternal grandfather was a carpenter — also wanted to set up a studio. In 2012, after working for years alongside acclaimed British designers including Thomas Heatherwick, Ilse Crawford and Faye Toogood, she began focusing on her own multidisciplinary art practice. She envisioned a space where she could experiment without restraint.

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Leather artworks by Kaye Rodden stand on a 1930s oak carpenter’s bench in her studio. On the wall behind hang her still-life drawing “Composition in whites” (2021) and a paper work in progress. Photograph by Sian Davey.

“The minute we walked in, it was, ‘Yes please,’” she says of first seeing the house. She was immediately taken with the light-filled 387-square-foot front room and chose it for her work space. She also liked that the place didn’t have what she jokingly calls the “ye olde” feel typical of many 15th-century structures. In the 1970s, the home’s previous owners had added a double-height extension with a mezzanine at the back of the building to create a modern living area. The mix of different periods embodied exactly the kind of raw imperfection that Kaye Rodden seeks to capture in her pieces, which range from tabletop sculptures made from blocks of 3500 B.C. bog oak to striking geometric assemblages of leather, book cloth and wood that can be hung from a wall.

Undeterred by the dusty pink carpet that covered every stair tread, the couple set about making the home their own. “There was no big renovation,” says Kaye Rodden. “It isn’t the sort of house where you strip everything back to redo it in a traditional way; we worked with what we had and preserved everything.” They kept the pre-existing fraying hessian wall coverings in the main living space and relished the contrast between the home’s timeworn original oak beams, Piranha pine stairs and ’70s-era golden-brown parquet floors.

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Hanging from the ceiling of the double-height living space is a dried floral arrangement by the artist Yasuyo Harvey. The framed drawing is by Kaye Rodden’s daughter, Aoife. Photograph by Sian Davey.

The mishmash of styles also provided a complementary backdrop for the couple’s wide-ranging furniture collection, which includes both British antiques store finds and midcentury classics by designers such as Marcel Breuer and Vico Magistretti. They appointed the front room minimally, with just a few of Kaye Rodden’s favourite pieces, including a black Hans Wegner rocking chair and a simple pine stool by the contemporary Finnish furniture brand Vaarnii, for which the artist recently designed a series of Brutalist wall hooks. And the large, hall-like living area is likewise defined by arrangements of pieces from different periods. To the right of a Victorian oak trestle table in the dining area is a white-painted Arts and Crafts-era settle with a towering back. To the table’s left, almost like a shadow, is a smaller, curved black settle from the 1840s. And at the head, in stark contrast with both benches, is one of Toogood’s ultra-minimalist solid aluminium Spade chairs.

While downstairs the house exudes the richly textured, lived-in British warmth exemplified by the modernist home and art gallery Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge — a frequent source of inspiration for Kaye Rodden — the three bedrooms upstairs are more spare. In the primary bedroom, a hand-carved oak bed is flanked by a pair of simple antique wicker chairs. The two children’s bedrooms are similarly subdued but imaginative: Kaye Rodden has pinned sheets of paper to their walls and covered them with drawings of animals, including the family dog (a longhaired Bedlington whippet named 4B, after the pencil).

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In the primary bedroom, 15th-century beams, an Arts & Crafts oak bed and a sheepskin rug. Photograph by Sian Davey.
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Kaye Rodden in her studio, beside a 1930s drawing board displaying her paper and graphite artwork “Shadow drawing No. 1” (2021). Photograph by Sian Davey.
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In one of the children’s bedrooms, a pencil drawing by Kaye Rodden of the family’s Bedlington whippet. Photograph by Sian Davey.

Just as Kaye Rodden’s work helps set the tone of her home, the place has come to inform her practice. Arranged on seemingly every surface within the house are thoughtfully assembled collections of objects — in the sitting room, Hellenic Greek pottery vessels stand on an 18th-century oak coffer alongside Neolithic-era flint tools and an ice age elk toe bone — and Kaye Rodden will often sketch still lifes of these small tableaux. “Then forms are extracted from those drawings,” she explains, “and become larger abstract shapes which I arrange into an artwork.” For her recent piece “Just hanging” (2021), she draped several such abstract shapes, cut from paper, over a wire nailed to her studio wall. This summer, variations of the composition, these made in pencil-shaded vellum, debuted in an exhibition of her work at Francis Gallery in Los Angeles. “The house is full of the things I want be surrounded by,” she says. “I think it’s good to interact with art in a physical way — to hold it in your hand.”