Preserving the Past with Jessie Cutts

28 Sep 2023

Preserving the Past with Jessie Cutts

Growing up in rural Australia, sheltered by the walls of the house her father built, Jessie Cutts began to absorb something of the fearlessness its bones were seeped in. ‘My dad was always making furniture and picking stuff up off the dump,’ she remembers. ‘It was very much about doing it yourself. That was the household I grew up in: you make stuff, you fix stuff, you use what you’ve got.’

That resourcefulness has fed and nourished the current chapter of Jessie’s life on the Kent coast, where her dual creative focus is poured into creating exquisite art quilts and carefully renovating, inch by inch, the Georgian terrace house she lives in with her husband, Ivo, and their two sons.

The house and the quilts have grown up around one another, intertwined to the point of being inextricable. And Jessie’s early lessons in making-do and mending have proved formative, both in the renovation – which has garnered a riveted Instagram following (@townley_terrace) – and in the slow-stitch textiles she creates for her company, Cutts & Sons. There is an abiding sense through everything she touches, that breathing new life into what was once dilapidated, forgotten or discarded is where the joy lies for Jessie.

The upper floors of Townley Terrace, were near-derelict when they swapped their London home for what was then a decaying, hole-riddled behemoth. Daunted but game, they set about transforming it from top to bottom, the slow living movement informing their approach: gradually, they sourced every piece thoughtfully, typically via eBay or charity shops. The result is a soothingly timeless eclecticism that offers a masterclass in balance, its large rooms gently brought back to life by Jessie’s innate understanding of proportion and how to bestow warmth to counteract otherwise echoey, cavernous spaces. It is a feat she has pulled off intuitively, layering in pre-loved pieces that imbue character, her instinct for equilibrium allowing space for each treasure to sing.

Every find is, you sense, is an unhurried labour of love. Take, for example, the bookcase that transformed a large hallway from near-institutional austerity to a space that invites afternoons spent plucking books from shelves and curling up in a nearby corner. ‘We wanted to turn the hallway into a sort of library,’ recalls Jessie, ‘but all the big bookcases we saw were far out of our price range. I found one on an auction site for almost nothing with dreadful photos but the right size. We realised it wasn’t going to fit up the stairs, so we had to take it apart in as few pieces as possible and put it back together, scrubbing away years of dirt, fixing lifted veneer and waxing it all over. Now it looks like it’s always been there.’ After all, in the end, good craftsmanship goes with everything.

Another cherished piece is the ravishing cast iron red bed in Jessie’s guest room. ‘After a long while scouring the internet, I bought it from a guy who restores them. He was surprised that I didn’t want anything doing to it. The paint is pretty flaky, and you can see the original Victorian faux wood effect underneath, but it makes me love it even more. It was always too small for Ivo, who is 6'3, so it now resides in our guest room and I could not be more delighted with the combo of pink walls and red bed.’
Grace Hand Embroidered Cushion featured left. Bilton Antique Brass Bath Caddy featured right. 


Homes have a tendency to echo their owners back at them, and that goes double in Jessie’s case. Having felt stymied by the prescriptive world of quilt-making in the nascent stages of launching her textiles, she celebrates the imperfect!’ If Jessie’s methods in the often-restrictive landscape of quilting sound unorthodox, the results are works of staggering beauty, their graphic lines bold and organic. It stands to reason, then, that one of her very favourite pieces in the house should similarly flout the rules.


‘It took me a good two years searching eBay for a log cabin quilt I could afford,’ she explains of a piece that now hangs splendidly in her hallway. ‘It’s extra beautiful to me because it doesn’t follow the ‘rules’ of log cabin patterns and the maker has gone ahead and placed their blocks in a wild, almost haphazard design. The threads are starting to wear thin in places and you can see every tiny hand stitch and the layers of fabric underneath.’

In this slow approach to renovation and collecting, her family’s own story gently merges with all those of the people who have previously made, held and loved each piece. The artwork throughout the house, saved and scoured for over a lifetime, spans antiques, friends’ work, upcoming artists, pieces from childhood and Jessie’s own work; every piece thus holds meaning. For, ultimately, it is human stories that differentiate the hand-made from the manufactured. Her latest charity shop find is a Studio Pottery lamp base destined for rewiring and adorned with Rowen & Wren’s delicate Nora Pleated Pink Lampshade, while another new favourite is Alice Passingham’s handmade ceramic flower frog, with its pretty scalloped edging. ‘It’s so gorgeous,’ she says, ‘especially for us as we have a tiny garden that we don’t look after enough, so it’s perfect because you only need a few little flowers.’

For Jessie, everything circles back to that same persistent thread: use what you have and never, ever cleave too close to the rules.
Nora Pleated Lampshade featured left. Handmade Ceramic Flower Frog featured right. 
Interview by Nancy Alsop.
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