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Interiorssneak peeks

A Historic English Farmhouse Preserved with Skill and Style

by Sofia Tuovinen

A Historic English Farmhouse Preserved with Skill and Style | Design*Sponge

The character and charm that old houses possess is unlike anything else. Crooked walls, original floorboards and all the beautiful patina create a unique, almost magical feeling that can be difficult to achieve in a new build. There’s something truly special about the perfectly imperfect details of these timeworn spaces.

Jane Ashton and her husband Richard have always been drawn to older properties for these same features. So far, they have been unable to resist the temptation of lovingly enhancing the period homes in which they have lived. After renovating several old homes, getting formally qualified felt like a natural step for Jane, an interior designer who now specializes in period properties. “It is now my career and I couldn’t be happier doing what I love,” Jane says. “Older character properties are what inspire me the most — this is where I am most creative and useful,” she adds.

When Jane and Richard began looking for their next renovation project six years ago, they had to be patient. Finding a period property in the Hertfordshire area of England that hadn’t been unsympathetically renovated or overly modernized proved challenging. When the couple eventually found an old 3,500-square-foot farmhouse, with parts dating all the way back to the 17th century, they immediately knew it was “the one.” Although the house needed updating and a few structural changes, the soul of the property was intact.

Because the farmhouse is a grade II listed historic building, the renovation process included more rigorous planning procedures than usual. “When you take on an old property, almost every part of the renovation is a challenge, from the planning to the fact that there is not a straight wall in the house! But that is what I love about it, the challenges and overcoming them, finding solutions — they are always there,” Jane explains. After plenty of consultation with conservation planners, a design plan that included a kitchen extension was finalized. The new layout allowed the couple to have an add-on informal dining area off the kitchen, and a more open-plan layout on the ground floor.

When Jane begins work on a new project, she usually creates a story about the property to get her creative juices flowing. When it was time to turn her farmhouse into a home, Jane used stories about the lives of the previous owners as inspiration — old furniture mixed with youthfulness and some glamour all played a part in the development of the farmhouse design concept. With all her children flown from the nest, Jane’s goal for the farmhouse was a bit different from her previous design priorities. Jane and Richard wanted the farmhouse to first and foremost be an escape from the city, where they could easily relax with family and friends. Jane sought to create an elegant yet relaxed space for cozy weekends and entertaining.

The age and patina of the house has been front and center throughout the design process, and Jane has taken great care in preserving old materials and surfaces. “These for me are the ‘bones’ of the property, the layer I add is the dressing!” she exclaims. When touring the house, it is clear that Jane and Richard’s farmhouse has been updated respectfully and with skill, preserving the details that are unique to their country home. “I like to think we have made the past relevant to the present, rather than over-modernizing and losing the heart and soul of the property, as so often is the case with period property renovation,” Jane explains. Scroll down to see the beautiful end result of a challenging and thoroughly rewarding renovation!  —Sofia

Photography by James Balston

Image above: With an elegantly executed mix of styles and a dash of humor, the farmhouse hallway is a perfect representation of its owners. “I believe hallways are one of the most important areas in a home, even if they are not large they should be welcoming and interesting and give a taste of the personalities that reside,” Jane explains. The walls are painted in “True Taupe” by Little Greene. 

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As the back of the hallway has no natural light, Jane decided to embrace the dark in this space. She chose a fun and quirky library wallpaper as the backdrop for displaying interesting objects. Instead of rushing through this space like before, people now stop and meander here!

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View toward the kitchen and the dining area extension. As the farmhouse is a historic listed building, the original kitchen floor tiles had to remain. Jane would have kept them even without regulations, but finding matching tiles for the new dining area turned out to be a challenge. Jane searched around the UK and finally found reclaimed tiles that matched. “They were covered in old cement, so they all had to be hand cleaned individually, that was dedication!” she shares.

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The informal dining area was created by the extension of the house. Light floods in through the bi-fold doors, which create a great connection to the garden.

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A black Panton Chair adds a modern twist to the informal dining area. Jane chose “Light Gray” by Farrow & Ball for the walls.  

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Jane worked with local cabinet makers on her new kitchen design. The color scheme was inspired by kitchens in the period drama Downton Abbey — cabinets are painted in “Mouse’s Back” by Farrow & Ball. 

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An artificial Abigail Ahern cactus stands in the corner of the informal dining area. “Richard hates artificial plants so I made it more fun by adding a hat — the hat changes from time to time, at Christmas it’s a Santa’s hat!” Jane says.

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The snug, located off the kitchen and informal dining room. “You can view each area from wherever you are, which makes this the perfect day-to-day living space for us,” Jane explains. Jane and Richard added a wood burner to the room for extra coziness during winter months. Jane wanted a conservatory feel, and chose the “Great Ormond Street” wallpaper by Little Greene to bring the outside in. The IKEA sofa has been updated with orange covers from Bemz.

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Jane in her farmhouse. 

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The formal dining room is one of Jane’s favorites in the house. “As it is more of an ‘occasion’ room it allowed me artistic license to go dramatic with dark blue walls and oversized chandeliers, velvet curtains and plenty of gold,” Jane explains. The original 17th century working fireplace is ideal on cold winter evenings. The walls are covered in Anaglypta textured wallpaper that has been painted in “Hague Blue” by Farrow and Ball.

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View towards the formal sitting room. This room is the perfect reading spot when light floods through the large bay window in the afternoon.

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“This is our more formal sitting room and we use it mainly when we have guests to stay,” Jane shares. Fabrics that Jane’s son brought home from Indonesia add color and texture. The walls are painted in “Silt” and “Rolling Fog” by Little Greene.

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View from the hallway toward the study.

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A leather wingback chair and wood burner create a warm and comfortable nook in the study. “It is so cozy to work in here, especially with Olaf the Owl watching over me!” Jane adds.

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Jane and Richard wanted their study to have a library feel, so they had shelves built wall to wall. The old table is perfect for spreading out samples and design plans. Tulip-style chairs add contrast to the space. The walls and shelves are painted in “Green Smoke” by Farrow & Ball.

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In the master bedroom, Jane wanted to create a boudoir feel. The design started with a set of Ralph Lauren bed linens that Jane found on sale before she had the house! The beautiful green wall color is “Jevington” by Albany. 

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As the master bathroom gets a lot of use, Jane wanted to create a practical yet authentic space. Wood paneling, painted in “Piccadilly” by Mylands, was added to give the room a warm and rustic feel. The floors had to be reinforced for the cast iron bath.

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A four-poster bed found on eBay is the highlight in the guest bedroom. The beautiful wall texture, patterned rug and the hot pink Roman blinds hint of Moroccan inspiration.

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The color scheme of the guest bedroom continues in the guest bathroom, also known as the Madame Blush Bathroom. “I wanted this to feel like a real bath room but with a touch of the unexpected, so I resisted the temptation to add a shower and cleaned up all of the original wood floor. A room fit for Madame Blush!” The walls are painted in “Charleston Gray” by Farrow & Ball.

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Jane’s son Peter was the last of the children to leave, and still has his own room that he stays in when he visits. “He wanted a gentlemen’s club feel, so I had paneling put in and painted it this wonderful bronze green,” Jane shares. The paint color is “Light Bronze Green” by Little Greene.

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The “Castlehead Paisley” wallpaper by Ralph Lauren is both dramatic and calming at the same time. The red wingback chair in Peter’s room is an eBay find and is the perfect addition to his bedroom.

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“We call this the attic suite because it has its own staircase landing and consists of a bedroom, which is open onto an ensuite,” Jane explains. When designing this space, Jane imagined that this used to be the servants room, pieced together of odd bits of furniture that were no longer wanted downstairs. To create an “unconsidered” look, Jane sourced vintage wallpaper from Germany and mixed three different patterns.

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In the attic, Jane and Richard decided to convert one of the two bedrooms into a bathroom. The bathtub was painted in “Pumpkin” by Earthborn.

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“What I love most about my home are the timeworn floors,” — Jane

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Plan of Jane and Richard’s 3,500-square-foot farmhouse.

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Comments

  • What a delightful home! So many emotions.
    I nearly swooned seeing the Hague Blue room. I will find a way of using it in our home.
    Love that ceilings were colorized as well.
    I always get fooled by library wallpaper, lol, beautiful touch.

  • There are many things I appreciate here. First of all, the restoration to historical preservation standards. I’ve seen a lot of places in my area that have done things undeclared and very badly. We renovated some 17th century apartments in Carcassonne, and doing it right wasn’t easy, nor did we get to choose a lot of things (I wanted creams; they said grays). On the other hand, it’s so important to keep the historical details–when they are gone, it’s forever.
    I like that they didn’t do what is so popular in Paris: the six sides of a room old and everything in it ultra-modern. I am tired of that, especially because antiques are so much more sustainable than the latest trendy modern thing.

  • What a great home! Every room looks divine. The photography is really beautiful and evocative, too!

  • I’m in love with this careful and stylish renovation. It makes me think of our Victorian ‘pile’ we owned when living in Devon, UK (1880th)….. It was the most charming and delightful house! Although I find the colours (all the same) rather too dark for my personal taste, I would happily live there, especially with those wonderful tiles, the leather armchairs, the quirky deco and the breath-taking bathrooms….
    Thank you for doing the ‘right’ thing, and conserving those lovely, soulful old buildings for the coming generations. We did the same with our house and although it was only possible with very careful and cost-conscious decisions but oh, the joy, when we succeeded with them.

  • Where to start?! This farmhouse is beautiful and unique…and all those wallpapers (the library!the vintage one from Germany?!). Olaf the Owl! I’m in love. I also think my heart skipped a beat when I first read this post; my grandparents had a chair that was identical to the one in the first image. What a terrific and creative space that honors the past and infuses bits of modernity. The color palette is perfection, too. Enjoy it Jane and Richard!

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