Mad About . . .

The Househunter: A 16th Century Farmhouse

19th March 2021
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Now, first of all, before we get into this house a word about the house with the controversial staircase. The architect emailed me the other day to say he was loving the post and all the chat – he admitted the stairs were very Marmite – and suggested we have a chat about well, the stairs, and how the pandemic has changed things in interiors and I thought that would be fun so look out for that. I will, I promise, GRILL, him on the stairs. Now, back to this house. A complete contrast for you this week.

It has taken hours of trawling to find it so I hope you like it. We will have gone from blue in Brixton to pink in Norway and now black and white in Essex with this Grade II listed six bedroom timber framed house of which the front door is 600 years old. Imagine!

It’s on the market with The Unique Property Company for a straight million. I like that already -none of this starting or ending with a 9 to make you think it costs less – just a round number take it or leave it. I suspect most of us will be forced to leave it but that is what The Househunter is here for. So we can all go inside and have a virtual poke about and see what we think. And be nice – remember a real person lives here. Even if they don’t actually want to any more and are trying to move.

I grew up in a house like this when we moved in with my grandmother following my parents’ divorce so it feels very familiar to me. The wonky walls and bending beams, along with creaking floorboards and rooms that slanted. My uncle’s bedroom – he lived in Nepal but kept a room there for his return visits – was at such an angle that he had to have his bed on bricks to stop it sliding across the room. The most modern room in the house was the bathroom and that was because it had apparently been created in the original, and huge, chimney.

So what do we have here? I suspect it will be as polarising as the others – some of you will love its quaint charm others will feel stressed by its irregularities and low ceilings. The first point of which is that you can always paint the beams white to match the ceilings. That, along with white (chalky not brilliant) walls will make the edges recede a bit. Mind you there is a double height vaulted ceiling entertaining space on the ground floor so that helps. Unlike in my grandmother’s house where everyone over 5ft 6 ins had to bend to enter the dining room. I just remember a large piece of yellowing foam stuck to the top of the door frame in anticipation of the swearing that would ring out whenever there were guests.

The hous  has six bedrooms, of which one is hidden at the far end of the sitting room – all the best timber houses have secrets  don’t they? This property also has an annexe with a second kitchen and sitting room and a bedroom at one end as well as two garages.

It’s in the parish of Elsenham (which is listed in the Domesday Book) and dates back to a time of serfs and Lords of the Manor (anyone’s school history coming back to them?). The area used to be heavily forested and was, apparently, well known for its swine.

Now in terms of decor you are often asking me about low ceilings and small cottages (not that this, with six bedrooms is small but it IS cottagey). The tempation is to stick with the black and white and I like the way the owners have also stuck to a more urban furniture palette, by which I mean lots of modern white (yes I know it’s impractical but it’s pretty). This works in this setting as the walls are already quite maximalist so sticking to simple furniture and paring it all back works really well. Also like the determination not to go down the chintz route in a more classic country cottage style. And before you start shouting at me there’s nothing wrong with chintz – I’m a big fan – but you will recall me saying at the top that I trawled through a lot of houses to find you this one and you would not believe how many houses in Scotland have tartan carpets, or how many in the south west have red dining rooms. There’s more grey in the North fyi. There’s probably a whole feature in there for a number cruncher.

But, anyway, I digress. This shows you what you get if you go minimal in a country cottage which you might not have seen before as it’s usually more traditional. That’s not to say you can’t paint the walls. You probably have to go between the wall beams and a more earthy palette will work best – think clay pinks and soft terracottas. Keep the ceilings all white as mentioned above to give the illusion of raising them. When it comes to curtains the owners seem to have gone for discreet cream blinds in most rooms.

You can do that or you can have curtains but the key here (as the windows are small) is to hang them on long poles so you can pull them right back and away from the windows so as not to cut out precious day time light. Ideally you would hang blinds over the top of the window for the same reason but that isn’t possible here.

Another take of the modern v traditional would be to use curtains made of mattress ticking which is really classic but looks modern when it’s made into curtains -there are lots of colours available.

Pendant lights are obviously tricky with low ceilings so wall lights are your friend and there are lots of lovely ones around now. Or you can go for angled ceiling lights that you can fix among the beams and angle in the right direction.

In short, you can decorate how you like – a cottage like this will absolutely take the maximalist English country look but it also works with a more minimal scheme. Wallpaper can be tricky with all those beams but what about a mural. I found this the other day and it’s gorgeous. It’s from @the_listed_home who is doing up her own Grade II listed house built around 1690 so it’s similar to this if you want ideas.

mural in listed beamed cottage via @the_listed_home

mural in listed beamed cottage via @the_listed_home

So who’s moving this week? I hope there were some useful tips for those living in low ceilinged dark cottages. And can I also take this moment to thank those of you who bought the book for doing so. I am always so grateful for your support and I hope you will enjoy your very own slice of Mad About The House to write in. And I should point out that if you buy a house via The Unique Property Company you will get a signed copy of said book, which is, admittedly an expensive way to go about things but I’d thought I’d mention it anyway. Have a lovely weekend.

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  • EBC 29th March 2021 at 1:07 pm

    One thing I was always enjoyed about old buildings is visiting them with my children and as we are all so tall it sends a message straight home of how things have changed so much since those times with humans i.e the low ceilings and small doors etc and i was joke on at them that they are giants 🙂 –

    Anyway another thing is that they tend to be furnished in the manner they would of been back in the day which is just not my style but seeing one modernised like this is inspiring guess its the youth of today buying up the good spots and bringing there millennial touch 🙂

  • Charlotte Oswald 25th March 2021 at 7:58 pm

    What a beautiful story this house tells. I love it although I would want to take the beams back to their original state and enjoy the artsy character that that would bring. My personal take would be to let the house sing and add my furniture and art/photography against this very wonderful backdrop. I don’t think I would care enough about modern creature comforts if I had this history speaking to me every day,

  • Anna 20th March 2021 at 12:49 am

    A very good result after a determined hunt Kate. A house like this, in my experience, is challenging to live in. It needs constant TLC. Here the owner’s taste and the building’s period features appear so diverse. Sandblasting the large beams to bring them back to beautiful light coloured wood is well worth the expense and mess. Painting smaller beams white would also not be a sin.
    I have seen a thatched cottage of the same period, owned by either a fashion designer or interiors magazine person, where beams were painted white and the furnishings were modern. The affect was entrancing.

    • Pippa 22nd March 2021 at 8:04 am

      I hope no one would ever sand blast the beams in an ancient house like this – it’s far too damaging to the timber, rips away the surface and would destroy any apotropaic marks, hexafoils, carpenter’s marks etc and general patina. There are far less damaging methods of paint removal that yes are more time consuming but far less damaging.

  • Allison 19th March 2021 at 11:28 pm

    Did anyone else notice the insane size of that television?! No, I’m not taken by this house or how it’s been decorated. I don’t like the black and white decor – it’s too stark and harsh for that house I think.

  • Judith Hill 19th March 2021 at 7:12 pm

    For me, the house is enchanting. I would never paint the beams! Nor go too wild with color. The stark white doesn’t work, but cream or would be rich and lovely with all the dark wood. Maybe take your suggestion of a clay pink or soft terracotta in one or two of the rooms. I lived in a 17th century house for several years, and a 6’4″ friend smacked his head on the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen once during the evening EVERY time he visited. Of course, he never did that before having a couple of glasses of wine. I wish I’d thought of the foam-rubber trick.

  • Valerie Belcher 19th March 2021 at 5:09 pm

    This is a gorgeous house with its’ own little magic wishing well outside. I imagine that it was originally built for someone with a bit of cash as it certainly isn’t a cottage.

    The windows are small and don’t let in a lot of light. Therefore I don’t believe painting the walls white gives any great advantage I do think it would benefit from color on the walls though. I think softened colors would be pretty. This house is probably a good example where seeking advice from a lighting professional would pay major dividends. Although the ceilings are low, painting the ceiling beams white doesn’t appeal to me because this would cover an essential feature of the architecture.

  • Elizabeth Buckeridge 19th March 2021 at 4:47 pm

    I LOVE this house!!!!!!!!

  • Jayne 19th March 2021 at 1:13 pm

    Just lovely, dream home. I would move in tomorrow

  • Marie 19th March 2021 at 12:56 pm

    Love this 👍 I’d prob add my colour with Art and cushions n throws but I love the white walls against the dark beams. Only thing I don’t like is location!!!! Lovely pretty village but I’m a city person so I’d have to dig it up and transport it to a city 😂

  • Bonnie Foster Abel 19th March 2021 at 12:54 pm

    A rare find, I think, to own a house with a 600 year old history and original timber and beam construction.
    I would not want to disturb much of the character of this house but think some of the exposed timber walls could be lightened to add height to the low ceilings. I like the modern approach the owners have taken in their design decor. A fantasy interior for me would include elements of pewter, rush floor coverings, natural wood furniture and hand woven soft furnishings.

  • Orla 19th March 2021 at 12:27 pm

    Its lovely but then I am short so the beams wouldn’t be much of a hazard – am sure it doesn’t look as pared back when everyone’s things are spread out. Not a fan of mirrored wardrobes but the one in the kids bedroom really disappears in the picture with the dark frame and the reflection of the beams. I think that’s clever.

  • Dawn 19th March 2021 at 11:54 am

    Stunning house , full of charm, texture, interest. Consider yourselves lucky, you can’t find anything like that in the States.

  • Karen 19th March 2021 at 11:43 am

    Is the big thing on the left of the first picture a television? It’s enormous. Almost missed the lovely sofa.

    That mural really settled my head and soul at the end. It really is beautiful.

    • Nigel A. 20th March 2021 at 9:43 am

      This is so tasteful and unique and simple.
      Whoever may not like the country life will be definitely reconsiliated with this beautiful interior. I also couldn’t help noticing your mural wallpaper, I have one similar that I bought from the wall art store woanuk.
      This makes me a little less jealous now for now having such a nice lay out in my house.. thank you for sharing this outstanding work

  • Longdenlife 19th March 2021 at 10:44 am

    I appreciate that the current owners like contemporary interiors and I agree you dont have to go chintzy just because its a cottage but I feel that the decor has been stripped back a little too much. A bit of colour – even at the paler end of the spectrum to keep things light (furniture, throws, artwork, throws on the bed, plants, rugs) would bring more warmth into the space. The mural is lovely though.

    Also, as my husband and I are both 5 foot 6 it would be ideal but we would need to choose friends carefully (no tall friends allowed without protective headgear)

  • Tessa 19th March 2021 at 10:23 am

    Really dislike the Victorian pitch paint on old oak beams …I had a 15c cottage which I inherited and stripped all the black off the beans and painted the walls in colours …

  • Helen P 19th March 2021 at 10:05 am

    Oh dear – not for me either. I’m a fan of new, old .. all of it; but finding the contrast between the flooring, fireplaces and beams quite stark and cold.

  • Mairi 19th March 2021 at 9:39 am

    How lovely. And a blank canvas to do whatever you like with it. I’d go with Lucy Tiffney-style murals or hangings and pack in the colour in some areas and pull it back in others. The oldest property I’ve ever lived in was a place built around 1600 but it had been very cleverly developed to be very slick and liveable, which made the features especially wow. We went mid-Century in terms of furnishings which I guess might be tricky here with all the dark beams. I think I’d want to buy a Jacobean chair, bench and storage box or two and throw them into the mix.

  • Sophia Shirley-Beavan 19th March 2021 at 9:12 am

    Too beamy for me. Three things I don’t really want in my house; lots of beams, thatch, leaded windows. I was brought up in a Georgian house so I guess it’s in my dna to prefer square proportions, high ceilings and big windows.

  • Carolann Beck 19th March 2021 at 9:10 am

    Very interesting and clever use of mirrors too – tucked behind the beams and bouncing light around. I like that.

  • Catherine 19th March 2021 at 8:32 am

    This house reminds me of how I imagine the house in Howard’s End. All it needs is a whych elm in the garden.
    I think I would have to inject some colour.

  • Caroline 19th March 2021 at 7:45 am

    Absolutely not for me. All that monochrome would totally do my head in.

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