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Mad About . . .

The Househunter: A fully restored Georgian country house

15th July 2022
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Off to Lincolnshire this week where the thick stone walls of this recently renovated Georgian house will keep us cool from the baking heat outside.

This handsome beast is near Stamford and is on the market with Inigo for £2,150,000. It has seven bedrooms set within seven acres as well as a tennis court, parkland and gardens. Stamford was described by the poet John Betjeman as England’s most attractive town and has recently been named as one of the best places to live in the UK although it’s not clear how much one was reinforced by the other. Anyway, be that as it may, coming in?

The joy of this is that the owners have paid attention to all the boring bits of renovation – plumbing, electrics, stonework and chimneys which means if you move in you only need change the colours and surfaces if they’re not to your taste. This is the perfect moving in scenario – when we bought this we had to change doors and windows as well as plumbing and electrics and renew the roof which meant there was very little left over for the fun stuff like kitchens and bathrooms. I remember crowing that we had managed to buy the sanitaryware for two bathrooms for £3,000 and then having to replace it all as it was all rubbish. So finding a house where the price does include all the boring restoration can be a money saver in the end. Here, the owners also uncovered original fireplaces, panelling and flagstones.

The sitting room at the top speaks for itself – more of that soft pink which is such a warm and relaxing shade but let’s stop in the kitchen for a moment. Specifically those lights. Some years ago I collaborated with John Cullen Lighting on a series called How To Get The Lighting Right room by room ( still worth reading btw) in which their director Sally Cullen visited this house to tell me where I had gone wrong (lots) and what I had done right (much less). And one of the things she pointed out (apart from the builder’s joy of a grid of downlights) was that there was a row of lights between the the island and the cupboards that lit the floor in a straight light to the back door. As if it was an aeroplane and we couldn’t find our way there without that lighting strip. The lights, she pointed out, should have been over the island or highlighting objects on the sideboard. They have a job to do and they can do more than just point out the floor. So perhaps the pendant lights above could move. The ones behind the stools will throw your own shadow onto what you are doing/eating and the other will mean you won’t be able to see if you have washed your plates clean as you will be standing in your own light.

 

Coming into the dining room with its library off to one side and that is a room I would spend a lot of time in. But here let’s talk about context. The fashion, and I have succumbed as much as the next person, has been for dark metal window frames and while they frame the view brilliantly they aren’t for every house. I have them in my urban townhouse looking out over my garden. Here, in the countryside, the frames are pale wooden to match the walls and the floral curtains talk to the setting as well.

Now there’s a fine balance between what designers call “tension” and we might call contrast. That concrete house on Grand Designs looks great when filled with antique furniture and faded Persian rugs. That modern house on a cul de sac doesn’t really suit the polished plasterwork of a Venetian Palazzo. It’s not easy to get right but in general think a little about your setting and how to work with what you have. So here you could paint the windows frames green to highlight the view in summer and help you get past the grey leafless days of winter. Florals will always work but, if your view is English country garden then tropical curtains full of joyful parrots and screaming monkeys might jar rather than contrast. That’s not to say you can’t have tropical jungle designs but they might actually work better against a grey urban view than a classic English country one.

This is a pretty view into the bathroom and shows the importance of thinking of these things when you decorate. Yes it’s a bathroom, if you have the choice then a basin will always look nicer than a loo as you walk past. This has a floral skirtain (sink skirt) that talks to the above setting and links to the wallpaper on the landing. The dark pictures echo the pendant light fitting and the hats on the wall talk of English afternoons playing cricket or croquet. It’s a mind map of linking colours and textures and ideas that brings the whole space together and leads you off into new rooms.

Another bathroom and this wallpaper (try Borastapeter for similar) is so pretty and the colour combination manages to be both classic and fresh at the same time – particularly when you see the bedroom it relates to below. But before you run in there, look at the splashback. It’s a piece of perspex screwed to the wall and if you have paid for a gorgeous wallpaper this is a good way of not hiding it and of not worrying about introducing another colour and pattern if that makes you nervous or if you feel it might detract from the wallpaper.

Here, then is the bedroom that is attached to it and you can see how the blue green of the walls has been taken over the wallpaper next door but the yellow of the paper has been deepened and darkened to an orange that is in the curtains and just seen on the bedside lamp. This can be a failsafe and chic way of decorating. Keep the colours the same but vary the tones and shades between rooms.

I once interviewed someone whose basement kitchen was a deep blue grey and who kept the same shade but added more white on each floor till you got to the loft where it was very pale. I once read that the Georgians would do a similar thing where a series of rooms led into one another – a dark yellow at one end getting lighter and lighter as you passed through them. If you’re worried about introducing lots of different colours but don’t want to stick to plain white then this can be a good route to look at.

Below another bathroom and bedroom combination and it’s hard to tell if it’s the light or a different shade but let’s assume it’s a slight colour change between the two rooms. So simple and so effective and this trick works in any context, in any period and in any style.

Another trick is the wooden pelmet on the curtains below. You will be aware of the creeping trend of maximalism and of course it’s not for everyone as pelmets are definitely not for everyone but they can hide a multitude of sins/cheap curtain fittings. If you have ready made curtains (and I added some great ones to Design Storey this week) they don’t always come with the pinch pleats and fittings that an expensive bespoke curtain might. And, indeed that might be the giveaway. So consider a box pelmet like this – made from wood with fabric glued over it it will immediately hide your tab tops or ring eyelets or anything else that might reveal you haven’t spent hundreds of pounds having them specially made. And for those who will comment that it doesn’t matter how much you have spent, that’s true, but a pelmet like this is also neat and tidy and looks nice too.

Lastly, I wouldn’t normally show you a garage but we don’t normally see a garage like this. Look at the shape of the roof and the detail of the scallop painting round the edge. Either someone wanted to practice their detailing or they love their car very much. To take us back in time for a moment: “What car lives in a garage like this?”

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  • Barbara Cooper 15th July 2022 at 6:22 pm

    That little garage is precious with its details!

  • Ruth Butros 15th July 2022 at 1:41 pm

    Beautiful house, really love the colors and the style. I like pelmets, but in my modern house they probably wouldn’t work. I’ve discovered pleater tape and will have the pinch pleat drapes I want but without the price tag, using Restoration Hardware curtains found on eBay.

  • Allison 15th July 2022 at 10:23 am

    That’s such an interesting explanation of contrast/tension Kate. I would love to read more on this. I think it goes to the heart of what we consider tasteful and stylish and sophisticated. I wonder how much that sense of what is right to contrast and what is wrong changes through time and is subjective and cultural (like so much of taste) and how much it is a genuine skill or even instinct that’s actually about the basic visual principles artists study. I would be so interested to read more of your thoughts on this, or even a whole piece sometime. Do you talk about it much on the Create Academy class?

  • Zoe Murphy 15th July 2022 at 10:04 am

    I think it’s leading on the garage roof …

  • Susan Moreau 15th July 2022 at 9:32 am

    To answer your question Kate: Jaguar Mark 2, British racing green, natch!

  • Tara Kaufmann 15th July 2022 at 9:13 am

    Not a great fan of pelmets as they look so ‘done’ and I prefer things a little relaxed! For me, the pink bedroom is a little too hotel, whereas the blue room makes my heart soar. Having said which, I wouldn’t kick any part of this house out of bed.

  • Rosie Greenwood 15th July 2022 at 8:35 am

    I could move straight into this house, it’s so pretty! I know I’d get bored eventually and long to see a bit of urban graffiti but the fantasy is wonderful, thank you.

    Pelmets are good for people who like a really dark bedroom to sleep in too, as the light leakage around the curtain is reduced. And I once saw a pelmet with an integrated light that cast light down onto the beautiful curtain (it was in a lovely hotel).

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