The North Laine in Brighton is a vibrant neighbourhood with a relaxed village feel and lots of little streets filled with pretty whitewashed cottages. There’s a great deli and French restaurant and people say hello as they pass in the street. But there’s one house that stands out from the crowd, although you wouldn’t know it from the outside. However, step through the front door, and you’re immediately transported away from the buzz of contemporary Brighton as you emerge in a Georgian-style time-capsule home, not a piece of 21st-century technology in sight…
Welcome to Benjamin James Smith House, a carefully curated ode to the Georgian period, which I came across while researching my upcoming Secret Brighton guidebook.
Named after its first-ever owner, this quirky home belongs to a man called Craig, an American antique collector with a passion for British history and interior design. He came to Brighton in the 1970s after university and bought the property in the late 80s and has spent the past two decades masterfully creating what we see today, although making sure to avoid “the coldness of perfection”, which means it feels like a proper home and you immediately feel at ease walking around.
“I grew up in New Jersey in the 1950s when everything was shiny and new, but I was always more interested in knights and castles. I also love looking inside other people’s houses and am fascinated by how people in history live,” says Craig, who offers private tours of his home, which include plenty of stories and anecdotes along the way, starting in the basement with its magnificent cosy drawing room a soft canary yellow reminiscent of a similar room in one of his favourite style inspirations: Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.
A walk around is a mesmerising experience, the place is crammed, yet doesn’t feel cluttered at all, despite every wall and surface filled with collections of antique finds, including an extensive collection of portrait paintings.
There’s also the odd quirky and personal addition, such as a vintage map of Manhattan on the kitchen wall – a nod to Craig’s homeland, a wonderful enamel 1951 Tricity cooker complete with Bakelite knobs here when he moved in, and a wall clock dating back to the 1800s which he discovered in a local flea market, and just happened to be made by local clockmaker, James Rich, whose studio once occupied the basement.
“I used to be editing constantly; swapping pieces for things I found more perfect, but I’m now cautious to introduce anything new. Everything has been in place for a while, and it’s reached a point where I love everything dearly and there’s a nice balance and stillness.”
Craig offers private tours of his home. To organise yours, drop me an email and I can put you in touch with him!
Photos by Emma Croman for Ellie & Co.