Transforming an old farmhouse to a glamorous family home
PUBLISHED: 10:13 16 February 2015 | UPDATED: 13:56 25 March 2015
A welcoming committee of prettily speckled guinea fowl rush forwards to greet me, fussing excitedly. They’re followed by a beaming Caitlin Russell, who gathers me into her home.
It’s one of those grey, damp days when a warm welcome and an even warmer home is particularly appreciated. Caitlin’s home, an old farmhouse revitalised and revamped as something chic and contemporary that wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of House & Garden magazine, is cosy, really cosy. My toes tell me pretty quickly that there’s underfloor heating. While in the farmhouse-style kitchen is the beating heart of the house: an Aga. There on the table are scones (made by one of the Russell boys) with jam and cream, and out of the windows are views across a lush pastoral idyll of paddock and field edged by copse and hedgerow.
It is something of a surprise to discover that Caitlin is a city girl. She and husband Sandy were part of an earlier exodus from London, moving to the Test Valley 12 years ago in search of a quieter country lifestyle. They took on what was an old farmhouse dating in part from the 18th century.
Caitlin recalls: “It had been extended a bunch of times, so it was higgledy-piggledy, but it had lots of lovely features.”
They settled into the house for a few years before they undertook any work. However that higgledy-piggledy-ness needed rationalising, while in terms of decoration it was a bit staid and stuffy. The plan was for a six-month project adding a couple of extra rooms; the reality was an 18-month project with every room undergoing refurbishment.
The end result is glamorous, however Caitlin assures me it is also family-friendly. The kitchen is a case in point. Caitlin says: “My idea of value is something fairly indestructible! We have loads of children; this is number five,” she nods towards her young daughter, “And all the others are boys, so I wanted a kitchen that was happy to look battered.”
Caitlin confesses that she seriously considered panelling all the walls in Perspex up to dado height. The solution however is ingenious: an unfitted-style fitted kitchen of seemingly traditional, old units that are charmingly ‘distressed’ and look as though they’ve been there a hundred years or more. The odd knock simply adds character.
Caitlin explains that the kitchen is by Chalon, a Somerset-based company that started out restoring antiques and ended up reproducing pieces to emulate the elegance of 18th and 19th century English furniture, and specialises in kitchens: dressers, ‘housekeeper’ cupboards and work tables.
Just as clever is the boldly patterned wallpaper behind the Aga, looking as super stylish and pristine as the day it was hung. Caitlin reveals that the wallpaper has been coated with a special protective varnish, a secret recipe of her dad’s, adapted from boat varnish. However this is matt so you can’t tell it’s there; the wallpaper looking as good as new years on.
The kitchen used to open onto a lean-to pantry, but Caitlin and Sandy have replaced this with a light-filled, wow-factor, double-height glass atrium, suggested and designed by local architect Mark Ward. It creates a stunning dining and entertaining space and links the kitchen with the drawing room, a calm space with big, organic-meets-retro Balzac sofas by Matthew Hilton and a wall of bespoke cupboards and shelving with deep window seats (“I’ve always wanted window seats”, Caitlin shares). All the woodwork, here and elsewhere, including the bedrooms, has been hand-crafted in a country classic yet pared-back contemporary style and can accommodate the paraphernalia of family life.
The drawing room leads onto the music room with exposed beams and a cream wood-burning stove in the brick inglenook fireplace, complete with original bread oven. Mr and Mrs Chase, who lived here and farmed the land until 1983, have since visited the family and recounted how this room had been the kitchen with a stool in the fireplace where they would sit to keep warm.
In the oldest part of the house is a sitting room with another wood-burning stove, and Sandy has turned what would have been the original entrance into a little study.
Positioned centrally in the hallway is a new oak and glass staircase. The old stairs were replaced when, opening up the space underneath, it was discovered that little more than an old chair was propping them up. The new staircase rises to a galleried landing under sloping eaves which leads to six bedrooms with three en-suite bathrooms, a ‘secret’ dressing room and family bathroom with an oversized bath that Caitlin describes as “rugby-team-sized”. Two of the boys’ rooms are decorated with cloud wallpaper and curtains draped from hooks rather than rails, while another features a vintage Cath Kidston football print. The other bedrooms are grown-up retreats in soothing neutrals with bathrooms in whites and woods.
Caitlin tackled the interior design herself (with a little help finishing off from Walk Interior Design), taking a short interior design course to learn about putting together colour palettes and mood boards to give her the confidence and the vocabulary to tackle the project. Very professional it looks, too. She hasn’t been afraid to take risks, for example sourcing mango wood for the Scandinavian-style bathroom to the master bedroom, and creating a funky forest effect in the downstairs cloakroom.
There may be a small forest in the house, but there are acres of open space outside and more, much more. Altogether the land amounts to about 36 acres including surrounding fields, paddocks, an orchard, lawned gardens and a tennis court. Between the fields is a long grass lane which leads up a hill from where you can see for miles. Caitlin adds: “It’s a complete oasis; you can sit in the garden and hear only birdsong.”
Adjacent to the farmhouse is a courtyard surrounded on three-sides by outbuildings: weather-boarded and brick barns, stabling, a two-bedroom cottage with its own garden, gym with sauna/steam room, home office, and a first floor studio called the library which the boys have annexed for X-boxing. There’s even a ‘jamming’ room in one of the stables (that’s for making music, not preserves) and a swimming pool in one of the barns, enjoyed by the children. Plus there’s a serious amount of storage space, and a staggering amount of potential.
However Caitlin and Sandy are moving on. Catlin acknowledges; “It will be a massive wrench; they might have to crowbar me out. I love the fact there are so many rooms, and I love something about each of the rooms. Having put so much of myself into this house, am I ready to give this up?”
Canefield Farm is for sale for £2,500,000 through Knight Frank, Winchester, 01962 850333.
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