Countryside living

I wanted to live in the countryside, in a house that was old and had character, and my husband, just wanted to be by the sea,’. As she was living in London before they married and Jim was based in Devon, it made sense that they look for a home together down there. And the house they found ticked all the boxes ­ a former forge with bags of character and a beautiful courtyard garden, close to the coast. But it had already been on the market for 18 months because it hadn’t been touched since the 1970s. The sale went through in October 2010, but the couple didn’t actually move in until about 10 months later, living with Jim’s mum while the renovations took place. `We took the house apart ourselves and gutted it,’ says Philippa. They had to change everything. `We replaced the wiring and the plumbing, and replastered throughout. We insulated everything and installed underfloor heating, and fitted radiators upstairs.’ New ceilings and floors were also put in, as well as period-style windows, and beams downstairs to bring back original character. The layout was also reconfigured. `What is now the open-plan kitchen/living/dining area was where garages and workshops once stood, so we needed planning permission to turn them into a family space looking out onto the garden,’ says Philippa. The original kitchen was upstairs, but Philippa and Jim were keen to use that space as an office and living room, with a statement wall incorporating a woodburner separating the two. `We hacked away upstairs and found some lovely slate, so that became the hearth for the woodburner. We used wood from an old pier found in a reclamation yard for a lintel above the fireplace.’ New bathrooms were installed and again period pieces played their part. The en suite features an antique bath. `The bathroom window had to come out so we could bring it in,’ says Philippa. When it came to decorating, she wanted to create a coastalmeets-country style. All the walls were painted white and many of the rooms are blue and white. `It’s one of my favourite colour schemes, however, I have warmed things up in the upstairs living room, which feels slightly more colourful and country.’ The decorating process was organic. `We collected things slowly as we wanted to buy things that we liked rather than needed,’ says Philippa. `Jim found some antique chairs for the living room and I thought he was mad when I first saw them, but we sent them away to be reupholstered and now I think they’re beautiful.’ Since the couple moved in, Ned and Clemmie have been born and the house has proved to be a wonderful family home. `It’s beautiful here. The children have a lovely garden to play in and we have coast and country ­ the best of both worlds.

There’s nothing like having a young family to inspire a move to the country, where life seems to move at a slower pace, seasons are marked by traditional rituals and children are able to run free surrounded by the beauty of nature. Claire and Fraser Simpson had been living a rustic Italian dream in Puglia in a masseria (large farmhouse), which they’d had built, but once their first child, Chloe, was born and then with son Freddie on the way, they began to hanker for England once more. `We wanted to put down some roots,’ says Claire. `Then, one gorgeous sunny weekend, we were visiting Fraser’s father in a cottage in the grounds of a historic hall in Leicestershire. We had owned the cottage before he moved there, so the estate had long been familiar to us. We then discovered that part of the hall (it had been divided into three separate dwellings) was up for sale. News of it coming on to the market opened our eyes up to the possibility of settling back here. `The hall has always been a very special place for us,’ Claire continues. `Interestingly, it was once owned by the Spencer family. Princess Diana, in fact, is reputed to have visited many times as a child so that gives it a certain magic.’ When it came to making the decision to buy, Claire and Fraser were fortunate to have a completely blank slate from which to work, just as Claire likes it.

With almost all of the contents included, which allowed us to start over. It’s easier, and I find it very exciting, to begin again and not be bound by earlier choices,’ she says. `Besides, as we had moved from west London to an English country house via rural Italy, things were always going to look very different. Everything here has been specifically sourced for the hall.’ Claire acknowledges that working in the interior design industry means that she is exposed to many beautiful and innovative ideas, which accounts for her desire to start from scratch. `I have a real need for change and experimentation, and I’m lucky to be allowed the freedom to do so,’ she says. Claire’s design philosophy is simple: `I always think long term rather than being swayed by up-to-the-minute trends. I like to let a scheme evolve gradually, while leaving room for a new addition to keep up my interest and reflect changing trends.’ Moving in when Claire was five months pregnant meant that the couple’s greatest priorities were the children’s bedrooms and their bathroom. Somehow, though, Claire was reluctant to let the builders disappear once work had begun, and they ended up with a major renovation on their hands. Stud walls were torn down, bathrooms replaced, walls were panelled throughout, bookcases built and the hallway floor was fitted with striking marble flagstones.