M.i.h Jeans’s Chloe Lonsdale left London after 20 years for an ancient home surrounded by tidal wetlands.
“I woke up one morning last spring and decided it was time to move out of London after nearly 20 years,” says Chloe Lonsdale, owner of the British brand M.i.h Jeans. By the end of that summer she and her husband were set to migrate with their four children from Notting Hill to Sussex in southern England, the wild coastal county where the clothing designer was raised. They enrolled their kids in a school they loved and began looking for houses in nearby villages. A month before the start of the fall term, an offer they’d put on a spot in Sidlesham, a tiny village in West Sussex perched on an inlet, fell through. The couple went to the local pub, the Crab and Lobster, to drown their sorrows. “We saw a ‘for sale’ sign on the house next door, and that was it!”
A year later, the 36-year-old and her brood are settled into life at Quay House, a slate-roofed retreat that once served as the town’s boathouse and harbormaster’s residence, surrounded by a nature preserve with grassy marshlands that rise and fall, wild swans, egrets and crabs. Lonsdale and her husband, Johan Quintus, M.i.h’s C.O.O., let the children run free in the preserve after school, and surf and kiteboard at the nearby beach on the weekends. When the tide is especially high, they’ll launch a kayak directly off their back porch. “Some days, I’ll be working in my study and I’ll look up and the water levels have risen and suddenly you’re surrounded by the raw energy of the sea. It makes you feel like you’re floating,” Lonsdale says. In keeping with her no-nonsense style — she’s perpetually clad in old bluejeans and soft cotton shirting from her expertly spare line of clothes — Lonsdale didn’t change much about the 400-year-old house. Just a fresh coat of chalky white paint on the lime plaster walls and some elbow grease on its water-warped skeleton. The original flagstone floors had to be scrubbed of mold and salt deposits accumulated from the house’s aquatic surroundings, but she didn’t dare touch its ancient oak beams (or the family of birds that had taken up residence in one of the chimneys). “The house is really bigger than any ideas you might have for it. It’s almost a living thing. If we gutted it and fixed all of its quirks that feeling we love so much would be gone.”
In a similar laissez-faire fashion, when it came to decorating Lonsdale didn’t buy much. Instead, each room is arranged around a well-loved piece of furniture. The only shift she made from city to country living was adding a few warm, tactile accents achieved easily with cozy sheepskin pelts and velvet upholstery. A long antique oak table she topped with a hammered piece of zinc anchors the dining area. “I love it, because it’s so hard-wearing. We prep food on it, the kids color on it, we have giant dinner parties around it. The patina is the best part,” she says. The living room is centered around a time-tested sofa from B&B Italia in a coarse-weave canvas, a Philippe Starck Ghost mirror she bought for her first flat in London and a new indigo-hued velvet ottoman that doubles as the kids’ trampoline on lazy Sundays.
“I don’t want to live in a house that looks straight out of an interiors magazine. I want my surroundings to have a personal significance and, most importantly for the country, a practical function,” Lonsdale says. “I’ve never once in my life put on a brand-spanking-new outfit. I always wear something I treasure and build around that. I work the same way when appointing a room.” Her newly designed studio in London’s Brook Green — a former Victorian-era school building — is an extension of this idea. After peppering the space with family heirlooms like vintage Robin Day chairs and Ethiopian wool tapestries from the ’70s, Lonsdale collaborated with the young London furniture designers Matteo Fogale and Laetitia de Allegri on sustainable white and silver-flecked tables and clothing racks that look like marble but are made from recycled yogurt cups. Lonsdale attributes her aesthetic approach to her father, who was one of the first people to import American denim brands — Wrangler, Levi’s, Lee — to the U.K. via Jean Machine, his chain of denim-only shops famous in 1970s London. The designer is celebrating that legacy (and the 10th anniversary of the founding of her own brand) with the opening of her first store this month — a temporary spot in London’s Soho area, which will be filled with vintage furniture culled by Lonsdale and flowers by Silka Rittson-Thomas of the TukTuk Shop in Mayfair. The pop-up will also carry a small offering of special denim pieces designed with her father’s substantial collection of old jeans in mind. “Dad still has the same 40 pairs he’s always worn. It’s his uniform, and he has lived with it his whole life,” Lonsdale says. “I learned about style from him. The idea of disposable fashion, or furniture for that matter, has never been something that’s interested me.”
An earlier version of this article erroneously included one person among those involved in Chloe Lonsdale’s London pop-up shop. While at one point the boutique owner Alex Eagle was involved, she is no longer. In addition, a caption for picture No. 5 in the accompanying slide show misidentified the collection to which a dress belongs. It is part of M.i.h. Jeans’s pre-fall 2016 collection, not Lonsdale’s Cult Denim Project collection.