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.