Keith Johnson and Glen Senk are not the sort of people who do things by halves. So when they began looking for a place to live in summer 2016, the prospect of a long-haul flight did not deter them. Born and bred New Yorkers, they were spending most of their time in Palm Beach and were keen to find an escape from the hot summers. ‘We thought of looking for somewhere in Upstate New York or Connecticut, but then realised that a few more hours on a plane would take us to the English countryside, and an entirely new environment,’ says Keith.
The couple are both self-confessed Anglophiles. Glen, a former CEO of the Urban Outfitters Group, who grew Anthropologie from a single store to a global brand, spent three happy years in the UK in his early thirties as a chief executive at Habitat. Keith had visited for 25 years on sourcing trips, in his previous role as Anthropologie’s buyer-at-large. ‘It almost felt like a second home for us,’ says Keith, who took the lead in finding a house – looking in the Cotswolds before focusing on the south west.
After a two-year hunt, Keith discovered this handsome Grade II-listed part Greek Revival, part Jacobean house in a hamlet on the Wiltshire-Somerset border, not far from the Longleat estate. ‘Keith saw it on a Wednesday, I flew over to see it on the Saturday, and we knew it was the one,’ says Glen. Set within generous grounds that include a walled garden and a string of outbuildings, the ashlar-stone house occupies a charming spot, surrounded by farmland and looking out onto Cley Hill. For Glen, who used to be a competitive show jumper, it also offered the ideal environment for his beloved horses, five of which are now happily living out their retirement in a stable block at the end of the garden.
Having already won heritage awards for their sensitively renovated homes in Florida and New York, this was just the sort of historic house the couple craved. Starting out as a three-storey, mullion-windowed Jacobean farm- house, the property was rebuilt in 1814 by Bath-based architect John Pinch the Elder. In the Victorian period, service quarters were added, as well as a pretty cottage, tagged onto the north east side. In 1918, London architects Welch & Hollis remodelled elements, adding a barrel-vaulted dining room and a bedroom above. Much of the property’s appeal, Glen says, is that it is a ‘big little house’ with Georgian rooms ‘big enough for us to throw a large party’, as well as more intimate ‘super cosy’ spaces in the Jacobean part.
The house has three floors. The Greek Revival Georgian section includes the entrance hall, drawing room, dining room and library, and the main bedroom, bathroom and study on the first floor. Glen’s office is in the Jacobean part, along with much of the guest accommodation, while the kitchen, back hallways, laundry room, flower room and boot room are in the Victorian section.
Keith and Glen’s first task was, in fact, to bring some order to the grounds, opening up the view to Cley Hill, creating a productive kitchen garden and sowing a wildflower meadow. A pizza oven and outdoor kitchen, installed in the walled garden, came into their own in lockdown. The couple made a few informed tweaks inside, too. A wall separating the 19th-century cottage from the house was removed, transforming the cottage’s ground floor room into an entrance hall, connected to the main house by a long yellow-painted hallway. A former boot room became Keith’s flower room. ‘I wanted him to have a dedicated space, rather than finding rose clippings in a quiche,’ jokes Glen, a keen cook.
The kitchen required the biggest rethink and is now one of the most beautiful spaces. It was a case, Glen says, ‘of finding a way to connect the different areas’. They turned to Patrick Williams, the Bath-based designer known for his sensitive approach to historic spaces and, increasingly, his kitchen designs. He added a glossy red, glazed screen to divide the main kitchen space from the pantry, which now houses all the gadgets, food storage and huge American-style fridges. Off the kitchen is a little galley- style scullery with a glazed apple green dresser and a pair of oak sinks. ‘I’d spotted wooden sinks at historic houses we’d visited and they are so practical for glassware and china,’ says Keith.
With the exception of the bathrooms, all five of which needed overhauling, most of the house simply required decorating. Keith took charge when it came to sourcing. A few prized items came over from the US, including the huge 19th-century Gothic Revival cabinet and a rail of seats, both in the drawing room. The latter was originally from the Pompidou Centre in Paris and Keith spotted it outside a shop in New York. ‘We feel so comfortable with these pieces, yet they look completely fresh in a new space,’ he says. A leather sofa – the inspiration for Anthropologie’s now discontinued ‘Cotswold’ sofa – found a home in the library, while a Murano glass chandelier by the Japanese artist Yuichi Higashionna adds a contemporary flourish to the dining room.
‘The process of buying for a shop and for a home are totally different,’ Keith admits. ‘The latter is about what you need, rather than just fantasy stuff.’ Still, he succeeded in finding pieces that managed to do a bit of both. The impressive Edwardian bathtub with a built-in shower enclosure in a guest bathroom, which he spotted on Frome Reclamation’s website, is a prime example.
Glen took charge when it came to colour. His choices range from Edward Bulmer Natural Paint’s subtle ‘Jonquil’ in the dining room to the vibrant ‘Rectory Red’ that enlivens a landing. ‘Colour is what brings warmth and emotion to a room,’ Glen explains. It is a spirited take on a country house, which manages to push the boundaries while respecting its historic bones. And, it is quite clear that Keith and Glen share the same limitless enthusiasm for the project. Take the wave lawn, which now provides a sculptural foreground to the house and was developed with garden designer Giancarla Alen-Buckley. ‘It was months of tractors and pushing and prodding, and it was then about two years before it really settled in,’ Keith recalls. Very quickly, their plan to be in the UK just for the summer months has turned into 10 months a year, especially after Glen became the executive chair of Boden last summer. ‘We just love it here,’ says Glen.
The couple’s corgi Thatch sits on a ‘Lover’s Bench’ by Nacho Carbonell beside the elegant original stone staircase and below a lantern from Spencer Swaffer Antiques. An Adam-style mirror hangs over a marble-topped antique table from David Grocott
A Murano glass chandelier by Yuichi Higashionna hangs above an 1840 English table bearing a pair of Jacques Adnet mid-century lamps. A David Hockney lithograph is showcased on walls in ‘Jonquil’ by Edward Bulmer Natural Paint. Below a Lucian Freud engraving stands a feather dog sculpture by Sally Matthews on a parquet floor of reclaimed oak pieces.
Walls in Farrow & Ball’s ‘Pointing’ set off a William Kent era English mirror, against which rests a Lucian Freud engraving of Leigh Bowery. Beside a Jamb stone and marble chimneypiece is a lenticular print of the Queen by Chris Levine. Julian Mayor’s plywood ‘Clone Chair’ sits alongside his welded stainless-steel ‘Glenda Chair’ chair on a rug from Rush Matters
Trees I lithograph by Joan Mitchell hangs above a rail of leather and metal seats that came originally from the Pompidou Centre
Walls in ‘Light Olive Green’ by Edward Bulmer Natural Paint are the backdrop for two antique sofas – an Edwardian leather one, and another upholstered in a vintage Marimekko fabric, on which a Sally Matthews dog sculpture reclines. This is flanked by Irish roof finials in the form of foxes. The pendant came from an Upstate New York bank
An English Gothic Revival table is teamed with an 18th-century Italian sofa in indigo-dyed antique linen in this space off the kitchen. The wallpaper is Whiteworks’ ‘Pine’ in burgundy
Designed by Patrick Williams of Berdoulat, this room provides easily accessible storage as well as housing the fridge. The half-glazed doors in Papers and Paints’ ‘H2106’ in a gloss finish lead into the kitchen, where the walls are lined in white ‘Harmony Field’ tiles from Francis Ceramics. The lantern below the skylight once hung in the stables at Buckingham Palace
Walls in ‘India Yellow’ by Farrow & Ball contrast with the original parquet floor. The shallow English sink was bought at a local antique fair
Original oak floorboards bring rich texture to this area, which links the Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian parts of the house. The panels on the wall are antique Dutch faux paint sample boards
A blue velvet bedcover from Morocco adds a colourful element to an antique Indian four-poster; the hand-screenprinted bed curtains are based on the photographic motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge. A hand-painted goat sculpture by the Maharaja of Baroda stands in front of a French mid-century screen. The ‘Crystal Virus’ chair is by the Dutch artist Pieke Bergmans
The warm accents in Deborah Bowness’s ‘Farmhouse Floral’ wallpaper are picked up by a red blanket from a flea market and a Turkish tasselled cushion on the metal four-poster from Anthropologie
At the other end of the room, an Arts and Crafts sofa, upholstered in chartreuse mohair velvet, and a vintage piano bench are arranged beside a painted chimneypiece with its original tilework
The Edwardian tub with a built-in shower enclosure from Frome Reclamation was originally bought from Harrods in 1915. Walls in Farrow & Ball’s ‘Studio Green’ create a restful mood. A Regency hall chair holds bathing essentials
source : houseandgarden
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