purchasing a rundown village house with a few acres Of land altered sally and andy littlestone’s lives in ways they had never imagined
Sally and Andy Littlestone decided to move from London to kent in 2014, Andy was planning to commute to work. the couple were looking for a family house, so when an agent tried to tempt them with a period property in Sissinghurst village that needed total restoration, they wouldn't even look at it, not believing they had the skills or experience for such a project. But as weeks passed with no suitable properties to view, they were finally persuaded to take a look. ‘We walked in, saw its dilapidated state and all the overgrown land, smiled at each other and knew this was it,’ says Sally. it was the start of a completely unplanned and life-changing learning curve for the family.
the oldest part of the house dates from 1530 when it was a two-up, two-down cottage. it was extended in the 17th century and again during the edwardian period. Before the Littlestones bought it, the same family had lived there for more than 80 years, but no meaningful repairs had been carried out since the Seventies. ‘on our first night in the property, there was a summer storm and the roof sprung 28 leaks,’ says Sally. ‘We were hurriedly unpacking, trying to find bowls and buckets to catch the rain. For months we continued to put towels at the bottom of walls to catch water.’
their first year was taken up with going through the planning process with their architect, and the second year was spent living with the builders. the wiring had to be
renewed urgently, with plumbing and heating to follow as work progressed. Life in the house became a moveable feast, though Sally says, ‘Our wonderful builders always left us with a kitchen and two bedrooms throughout the works.’
Their architect designed a new oak timber-framed kitchen as an extension to the Edwardian living room, giving them a large, open-plan family space. Andy and Sally’s task was to work out exactly what they needed from this new kitchen. ‘I wanted it to always look tidy,’ says Sally. ‘Andy loves cooking and has a huge amount of gadgetry so we specified deep storage cupboards with internal sockets for the appliances. That way we could open doors on anything, from coffee maker to food processor, and use it in situ.’ Between banks of tall cupboards is a four-oven electric cooking range, and the large island incorporates a sink, induction hob, under-counter fridge and dishwasher.
The character of the house changes as it moves through the centuries and Sally has made choices that take note of this. ‘We’ve used rugs rather than carpets, so all the floorboards are exposed, which gives continuity and looks right in a period house,’ she says. ‘I chose an old white tint to paint both the walls and ceilings, as the shade helps rooms with low ceilings and no straight lines feel more spacious.’
An exception has been made in the main bedroom suite because it receives lots of natural light. Here, Sally decided to use a mid-grey for the walls and built-in furniture as
a way to inject a repeated contemporary note and move the interior style of the house forward. Throughout the renovation, Sally and Andy were keen to work alongside the builders and, as Sally was the one on site most of the time, she acted as project manager. ‘Each month I took a job from the builders’ to-do list, such as pulling up carpets, sanding floorboards and of course, painting.’ The pair used old doors and oak off-cuts from the kitchen to construct storage in the hall for the family’s coats, and in the living room Sally’s gift for découpage transformed an unloved low table into a unique coffee table.
Sally was also keen to get outside and plant a garden for flowers and vegetables. ‘Then Andy decided it would be cool to keep our own pigs,’ she says. ‘When friends tasted our pork they asked us to keep a couple of pigs for them, too, and within the first year of living here we found ourselves with 20 pigs. We’ve since started breeding them and now have more than 100.’ As the reputation of Sissinghurst
Pigs grew and work on the house was approaching its final stages, Andy gave up his London partnership to concentrate on developing this new smallholding business. ‘It had never crossed our minds that we might become pig farmers,’ says Sally. ‘As you can imagine, pigs cause a lot of mud, which doesn’t go too well with clean interiors… Yet we want this house to be truly lived in so my solution is to always have a mop at the ready!’
Kitchen To allow space for more cupboards, Sally compromised with bifold windows instead of doors, which open out onto the garden. Underfloor heating discreetly warms the room. Bifold windows, Sussex Construction. Oak flooring, Naos Floors.
Kitchen Architect Julian Bluck designed the lofty timber-framed extension in new oak. Range cooker, Everhot. Clock, John Lewis.
Shower room Painted MDF panelling cleverly hides away all the pipework, while a mirror conceals the opening of a storage recess. Vicenza stone basin, Clearwater Baths. Vestry wall lights, Dar Lighting. Panelling painted in Farrow & Ball’s Manor House Gray.
Guest bedroom Sally has mixed in some antique furnishings, which complement the period features. Nursing chair, find similar on Etsy. Illustrations,Emma Cowlam.
Guest bathroom The couple love the warm colour and texture of the plaster, so decided to leave the walls bare. Taps, St James Collection. The Salisbury bath is similar, Bathstore.
Smallholding These woolly Mangalitsa pigs, originally from Hungary, are one of the rare breeds reared by the Littlestones.
Garden Sally grows flowers in raised beds, which she sells in bunches at her gate.