Elizabethan Beauty

PUBLISHED: 14:03 03 August 2007 | UPDATED: 14:47 20 February 2013

Essex Interiors

Essex Interiors

After living near London's Hammersmith flyover, moving to Little Easton proved a life-changing experience for the Sutcliffe family. Pat Garratt reports

THE leap from terraced house in Hammersmith to Essex farmhouse might seem a huge jump to many townies. But to Carlie and Andrew Sutcliffe there seemed an inevitability about it which made perfect sense. 'Our son, Tom, was still a baby and I couldn't see myself always taking him for walks under the Hammersmith flyover,' admits Carlie. 'Because I went to school in Cambridge and my parents still live there, we knew this area of north Essex well, and the commute for Andrew was ideal, as he is based in London.'
The decision to move was purely logical. But, when it came to finding the ideal property, it was the heart that ruled the head, Carlie admits. 'My parents sent me the local newspaper showing a view of the house from the back and I thought it looked beautiful. It was over our budget and Andrew said we obviously couldn't afford it - but, maybe we should see what that extra bit of money would buy us. When we came through the gate, we both turned to each other and said, "We have to have it".'
It's easy to appreciate why the couple found the place so seductive. Surrounded by four acres of garden, fed by a stream and natural pools, it nestles beautifully into the rolling countryside. The exterior brick is pargetted with decorative plasterwork, which is traditional to the area, and on the inside, the 16th century beams had been exposed to lend an almost barn-like atmosphere.
'The main bedroom really sold us the house,' admits Carlie. 'The height of the ceiling, the sense of history in the room, the Roman numerals scored on the wood by the original carpenters - this all really impressed us. Yet downstairs, the house felt really cosy, with its low Elizabethan ceilings.
One of the Sutcliffes' first jobs was to fence in the stream, ponds, swimming pool and two wells in the garden. 'Tom was very young, so open water was a real worry,' admits Carlie. The couple also added a tennis court. 'Andy is a very good player and it was his dream to have a court. It gets more use than the pool.'
Previous owners had performed some seamless structural work to the old property, creating a new, large dining room, with bedroom and bathroom above, all perfectly in keeping with the 16th century architecture. But they hadn't touched the kitchen.
'The kitchen was quite old fashioned and had a conventional, flat ceiling,' remembers Carlie. 'We investigated and found we could open up into the loft. Our fantastic builder made a box, which looked like an authentic beam, to hide all the pipes and wires, and then added new, non-structural beams which look just like the old ones. We also put in more windows to lighten the place. We replaced the kitchen units with simple, off-the-shelf oak doors. Then we spent most of our money on limestone flags for the floor and blue limestone for the worksurface. I had the idea of putting an iron strip around the worktop edge to stop any chipping and it has worked amazingly well.'
In the hallway, carpet gave way to more limestone flags, and the family bathroom was revamped with new fittings. Finally it was time to decorate. 'I love doing this,' says Carlie. 'I painted all the rooms myself, apart from our bedroom, which is too high. In between feeding and attending to Tom, I would put my Marigold gloves on and get cracking with the dragging cloth.'
The effect on the walls in the hall and public rooms is what Carlie calls 'tea-stained' because she literally wiped a strong brew over a variety of neutral emulsions. The soft, smudgy result is gentle on the eye and much more suited to an ancient property than flat, brilliant white.
Because the house boasts leaded windows, which restricts natural light, one of Carlie's priorities was to install good, artificial lighting. The new lighting is all wall-mounted, as ceilings are generally low, which now creates a relaxed, tranquil atmosphere. Her only regret is that she didn't have the old, dark beams sand-blasted back to their original light oak in order to maximise the rooms' brightness.
One time-consuming job which proved particularly satisfying for Carlie was dealing with the modern radiators. 'I hate radiators with a passion,' she says. 'But years ago, in a London reclamation yard, I found two old, Indian windows, which I bought on a whim and stored. When we moved here, I re-designed them as a radiator cover for the hall. But obviously I couldn't buy any more of the same. So I found cheap, iron, reinforcing rods and had a local carpenter turn them into similar-looking oak covers for the other radiators. We painted some of the rods and left the others to rust nicely. They now look like a pretty piece of furniture, rather than something necessary but ugly.'
The furniture which filled the couple's London home was a mixed bag of Carlie's old stuff, Andrew's old stuff and Habitat. 'It worked fine for a while, but over the years we have replaced much of it,' she says. 'It's been a steady upgrade. And I've also been slow to replace the soft furnishings. Luckily, we don't need curtains for privacy, just for aesthetic reasons, and I decided to dispense with pelmets, as they cut out light. We put a lot of thought into the window treatments. I've gradually brought in some lovely fabrics, many of them by Mulberry, and used good quality poles and rings. But I've been so slow that I only got round to commissioning the dining room curtains two years ago.'
Fabrics that look 'well worn-in' but have a 'contemporary edge' are Carlie's ideal. 'I think that also sums up my style throughout the house,' she says. 'I love old things but dislike a place that is stuffed with antiques and knick-knacks. This house may be Elizabethan, but it nevertheless reflects our tastes and lifestyle beautifully.'

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