The handsome Grade II-listed country house had almost everything that its new owners wanted. Built on the edge of a pretty village, it was completed just after the reign of James I – the date 1627 is carved into the panelling of what is now a study – with further additions made in 1719 and the 1890s. It had nine bedrooms, six bathrooms, five reception rooms, large grounds laid out with venerable yew-lined avenues and views over unspoilt countryside. The only thing missing was its soul.
‘Everything was in good nick,’ says Nicola Harding, the interior designer called in by the new owners to inject that vital spark of life. ‘But it was just too beige, too perfect, too flat. The interiors didn’t feel connected to the building and its history. We had to infuse it with atmosphere to unlock its soul.’
Nicola began her task with the Jacobean rooms at the front of the house, where the ceilings are lower and the windows are smaller. ‘In the entrance hall, we wrapped strong green paint round the walls and on the ceiling, too. Stepping in from the brightness of outside, you are enveloped by the denseness of the colour,’ she explains.
Turn right from the hall down a corridor and the ceiling in the dining room next door gets the same confident treatment, this time in Farrow & Ball’s ‘Hague Blue’, which brings the panelling to life. ‘Blue and brown are an electric combination,’ Nicola says. The windows here are small, but she has made them appear larger by taking the pelmets right up to the ceiling and extending the curtain poles further out, so the windows are hardly obscured when the curtains are fully open, making the most of every inch of natural light. The rich, wine-coloured curtain fabric is handwoven in the softest mohair by Coral Stephens studio, which has been making bespoke fabrics in Eswatini, Southern Africa for 70 years. Dining chairs from Howe London, covered in stripes of blue and oatmeal, have white-painted legs for a small injection of modernity.
Perhaps the greatest change in this series of rooms was in the adjoining library, created from the former kitchen, which had lots of white-gloss paint and rows of inset spotlights. ‘We chose a dusty bruised plum colour for the walls, layered it with plenty of textiles and filled it with books, adding magical lighting, so it went from being depressing and underwhelming to atmospheric and exciting,’ explains Nicola. The room is now an appealing space for the husband, who is a voracious reader with a particular interest in military history. ‘They’re a dynamic couple,’ adds Nicola. The sofa in front of the fire here matches the blue of the dining room ceiling and the two rooms work well together for entertaining.
The floors in these rooms and in the internal corridor have been laid with dark reclaimed quarry tiles. ‘They are more practical,’ says Nicola. The tiles continue into a generous boot room that leads to the garden and also into the lower hall. The oak joinery of the staircase and wainscot here, formerly ginger and glossy, is now a mid blue. ‘The walls are in a fresco limewashed finish. All the wobble had been taken out of the house, so this uneven colour makes the walls feel a bit less perfect,’ she explains. ‘We also framed the deep windows with a painted blue edge and added Swedish blinds.’ The owners’ collection of equine oil paintings (their daughter is an accomplished horsewoman) is hung from brass poles under the landing ceiling.
horsewoman) is hung from brass poles under the landing ceiling. It is a step from here to the airy new kitchen. This large room, formerly the drawing room, has windows on two sides and a door to the garden. A dining table in sycamore with oak legs – from Nicola Harding’s new furniture collection – stands in front of the long window. She has painted the previously orangey varnished floorboards in Little Greene’s ‘Slaked Lime – Mid’. ‘It’s a very durable floor paint and it makes a quieter under story for the room. Besides, we wanted to use as much as we could of the existing materials,’ she says.
The room is painted in several different shades of white and the splashback behind the range cooker is lined with zellige tiles. Worktops in Bianco Eclipsia quartzite have cleverly been given a textured front edge ‘to help ground them, so that they look more authentic, rather than…’ Nicola hesitates, before adding, ‘too kitchen showroom’.
A small white passage, walled with shelves of cookery books and hefty cooking pots, leads up a few stairs to the butler’s kitchen. Though the butler is frequently in here, so that he can support the owners discreetly, this is also a place for the wife’s culinary experimentation, as she is a keen cook.
At the other end of the internal corridor, off the green front hall, Nicola has played with the same contrast between dark and light. On one side is the husband’s study with the original panelling and, on the other, a charming, light-filled drawing room, with windows on two sides. Both these rooms lead off the lofty inner hall. ‘It’s an odd-shaped space,’ says Nicola. ‘So we used rugs of different sizes to help disguise this and reworked the fireplace to create a strong focal point.’
From the hallway, a sitting room opens up on the right. Katie removed the original fireplace and clad the chimneybreast in zellige tiles; she also removed the original cornicing, which wasn’t particularly distinguished, and created a ‘rhythm’ on the ceiling with timber beams. A bronze sculpture by Louisa Forbes takes pride of place on the shelf beneath the fireplace. A throw by Penny Morrison covers the ottoman, and a handwoven alpaca throw covers the sofa. The lamp and shade is by Fiona Macdonald. The rug is the ‘Azaahn’ design by Coral and Hive.
Up the stairs, the wonky upper corridor is charm itself, its slight kink emphasised by a series of striped cotton dhurries that have been cut up, pieced together randomly and dotted along the painted floorboards. The many bedrooms are layered with textiles, rugs, old mirrors, comfortable chairs and interesting ceramics, painstakingly sourced from auctions and antique shops all over the world. Each room has its own colour theme, but its contents are skilfully assembled as though the objects had been collected over many years.
In the bathrooms, existing fittings have been refurbished rather than replaced, with the impact of the warm brown marble vanity surfaces and bath surrounds subdued by bold wallpapers and paintwork in contrasting colours. One of the bedrooms has been turned into a sky blue and floral sitting room for the wife, with a cupboard designed to store her books and her knitting wools, and its former bathroom nearby has been reimagined as a delightful fabric-lined tea room or gin room – depending on the time of day.
Nicola and her team achieved this transformation in record time, dealing with around 150 craftsmen, suppliers, auction houses and artisans in the seven months of intensely hard work it took to restore a strong sense of character to this beautiful house and give it the vital thing it lacked – its soul.
In the entrance hall, Farrow & Ball’s ‘Bancha’ on the walls and ceiling sets off the antique suzani wall hanging and the rug from Gallery Yacou. A pendant from Obsolete hangs above the central table.
Bookshelves in ‘Ristretto’ by Pure & Original are the backdrop for a desk with Soane’s ‘Casino’ chairs in the library. A ‘Den’ sofa from Howe London in Claremont mohair and ‘Straub Twill’ with silk jajim cushions from Nushka is teamed with armchairs in Rose Uniacke wool and mohair velvet and Howe’s ‘Bobbin Leg’ stool.
Upholstered in Prelle’s ‘Toile Barbare’ in ciel, the ‘Talbot’ sofa from Howe London is a foil for Howe’s ‘Mark’ slipper chair and an ottoman from Robert Kime in the drawing room. Walls in Pure & Original’s ‘Calm’ allow the gilt-framed paintings to stand out
In the wife’s sitting room, a sofa in Soane’s ‘Dianthus Chintz’ picks up on walls in Paint & Paper Library’s ‘Constantia Blue’ and cabinetry in Farrow & Ball’s ‘Crimson Red’.
A ‘Double Rise and Fall’ light from Soane hangs over a table paired with Howe’s ‘Bobbin Leg’ chair in the dining room.
The Plain English island in the kitchen is partnered by Howe London’s ‘Whippet’ stools, with Rose Uniacke’s ‘Plaster Cone Hanging’ lights above.
A wingback chair in ‘Andaluz’ linen in delft from Carolina Irving Textiles, an antique pedestal table and a lamp with a Nushka lampshade are grouped in the dining area, which is furnished with a mix of antiques and pieces from Nicola’s new collection.
In the half-tester room, headboard in Claremont’s ‘Straub Twill’ in jade is framed by a bed canopy in Peter Dunham’s ‘Rajmata Tonal’ linen in blue/blue lined with Vanderhurd’s ‘Delphine’ linen in kelp/natural. Walls in ‘Old Rose’ by Pure & Original and a vintage patchwork quilt on the bed complete this charming scheme
George Spencer Designs’ ‘Spencer Velvet’ in amaranth on the sofa tones with murals hand-painted by Alex Smith in the four-poster room.
source : houseandgarden
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