BO­HEMIAN RHAPSODY

A 16th-cen­tury Ken­tish farm­house is the per­fect show­case for the colour­ful in­di­vid­ual style of its in­te­rior de­signer owner

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by sue gilkes

A 16th-cen­tury Ken­tish farm­house is the per­fect show­case for the colour­ful style of its in­te­rior de­signer owner

af­ter de­scend­ing half a mile of bumpy farm track into a beau­ti­ful se­cluded valley where Kent meets East Sus­sex, vis­i­tors are re­warded by the quintessen­tially English sight of an ancient rus­set tile-hung farm­house, with a clutch of mel­low brick oast houses across the yard. The only clue that the in­te­rior of the prop­erty might not be quite as con­ven­tional as its ex­te­rior lies in the gleam­ing Air Force blue open-top Land Rover parked jaun­tily out­side. Found rust­ing away in a client’s field, it was re­stored and given a new lease of life by Alexis Wylie, who finds it great for whizzing along the coun­try lanes to her in­te­rior de­sign jobs. And in sum­mer, she, hus­band Fer­gus and their three chil­dren – Finnbhar, 18, Tabitha, 16, and Jonjo, 11 – plus dogs, all pile in for pic­nic out­ings and trips to the sea­side.

The fam­ily ar­rived at Bourne Farm 15 years ago, af­ter more than a decade in South Africa, fol­lowed by a short stint in Lon­don. Keen to move out of the city to be closer to Alexis’s par­ents, they were look­ing for an iso­lated ru­ral prop­erty with some land that was still close enough to the cap­i­tal for Fer­gus to com­mute to his job as a PR con­sul­tant. Sur­rounded by fields, with glorious views of the Weald of Kent and only 20 min­utes from the coast at Rye, this 16th-cen­tury homestead near Bo­diam Cas­tle fit­ted the bill per­fectly.

Al­though in rather an unloved state, it came with five acres and the bonus of out­build­ings, in­clud­ing an oxbay, gra­nary and a triplekiln oast, which al­ready had plan­ning per­mis­sion. First on Alexis’s agenda was tack­ling the con­ver­sion of th­ese derelict build­ings, built cen­turies ago for dry­ing hops. A ma­jor project, it took five in­tense months but, once com­plete, she was able to turn her

at­ten­tion to the house. Grade Ii-listed, it is a typ­i­cal Wealden farm­house, with clay Kent-peg tiles cov­er­ing the steeply pitched roof and a huge chim­ney for the in­glenook fire­place stretch­ing like a spine up through the cen­tre of the house. With a frame made from the oak tim­bers of an old mer­chant ship, the prop­erty ex­udes char­ac­ter. “It was live­able in,” Alexis re­calls, “but tired and in need of up­dat­ing.” Hap­pily, this is ex­actly her forte, and years of ex­pe­ri­ence in South Africa work­ing on ev­ery­thing from bou­tique ho­tels and sa­fari lodges to in­di­vid­ual projects (how she and Fer­gus met) have in­flu­enced her eclec­tic per­sonal style, which she loosely de­scribes as “colo­nial boho”.

Bold use of colour plays an im­por­tant role and Alexis favours bright, vivid fab­rics and ac­ces­sories, set against a calm muted pal­ette. Far­row & Ball is her cur­rent paint range of choice and fea­tures through­out, with Lamp Room Gray a par­tic­u­lar favourite. She has used this warm bat­tle­ship blue on the broad hor­i­zon­tal boards that panel the walls of the beamed sit­ting room to cre­ate a rest­ful back­drop for an idio­syn­cratic mix of in­her­ited pieces, sou­venirs from their trav­els – in­clud­ing sev­eral naïve-style African paint­ings – and vin­tage finds, all presided over by a strik­ing mod­ern bronze of a lurcher. An old arm­chair, brought back from a French flea mar­ket on the roof of Alexis’s car and re­uphol­stered in a sub­tly striped Roger Oates wool run­ner orig­i­nally in­tended for the stairs, makes a com­fort­able perch be­side a weathered 18th-cen­tury Dutch cup­board – now a drinks cabi­net – that be­longed to her par­ents.

The fam­ily tends to con­gre­gate in the ad­ja­cent snug – a cosy area where the African theme has been given full rein, with a pa­pier-mâché head of a kudu (African an­te­lope), a vibrant paint­ing of a pink Land Rover by Tommy Motswai, an an­i­mal-print foot­stool and flam­boy­ant flo­ral cush­ions from Zim­babwe bright­en­ing up the much-loved, faded bot­tle-green needlecord sofa made by Alexis for Fer­gus’s orig­i­nal bach­e­lor-flat com­mis­sion.

The other place ev­ery­one grav­i­tates to is, of course, the kitchen. This generous vaulted space, with its orig­i­nal cream Aga, re­claimed Belfast sink and hand­made Chalon kitchen in dis­tressed shades of ar­ti­choke and char­coal grey, is the scene of en­joy­ably rowdy fam­ily gath­er­ings around a French farm­house ta­ble. In sum­mer, the ac­tion moves out­doors to the ter­race. West-fac­ing, with a wis­te­ria-clad rus­tic per­gola, it is per­fect for al­fresco meals and pro­vides a bliss­fully shady re­treat, where re­laxed seat­ing with cush­ions in quirky Charleston fab­rics by Dun­can Grant in­vite peo­ple to linger.

In the re­cently fin­ished din­ing room, walls in dra­matic dark Down Pipe cre­ate an at­mo­spheric set­ting for can­dlelit en­ter­tain­ing, with old fam­ily por­traits il­lu­mi­nated in the flick­er­ing glow. Din­ing chairs cov­ered in colour­ful African

dress tex­tiles in a mix of eye-catch­ing prints pro­vide an un­ex­pected but in­spired con­trast with the sober an­tique re­fec­tory ta­ble.

Up at the top of the house, qui­etly elegant fab­rics by Ian San­der­son and Kathryn Ire­land, set against a pale scheme of paint colours Slipper Satin and Bone, bring a tran­quil feel to the light-filled mas­ter bed­room and en­suite bath­room, which take up the en­tire at­tic space. A brightly striped rug from a souk in Oman livens up the nat­u­ral sea­grass that is Alexis’s choice of floor­ing through­out. The chil­dren’s bed­rooms are on the floor be­low, along with a tiny guest room, which is dom­i­nated by an or­nate an­tique French bed – so high that a foot­stool is re­quired to help vis­i­tors clam­ber into it – with an old game rack pro­vid­ing a place to hang clothes.

Con­vert­ing the oast house into ad­di­tional ac­com­mo­da­tion was an ob­vi­ous pri­or­ity. When not oc­cu­pied by vis­it­ing fam­ily and friends, it is a pop­u­lar hol­i­day let, with guests en­joy­ing sunny break­fasts on the wide wooden bal­cony. In­side, there is a large open-plan vaulted liv­ing space, where com­fort­able old so­fas are piled ap­peal­ingly with cush­ions in soft velour and vin­tage flo­rals, with quilts and throws adding tex­ture and warmth. “I wanted it to be a re­lax­ing space, so kept things sim­ple,” Alexis ex­plains. Many of its fur­nish­ings are cast-offs she has stylishly up­cy­cled: “I’m a firm be­liever in make-do-and-mend – old pieces have far more charm.” And she is not afraid to ex­per­i­ment. The mag­nif­i­cent multi-coloured Manuel Canovas 80s ‘puff-header’ cur­tains, do­nated by a friend when mov­ing house, were a rev­e­la­tion. “I would never have cho­sen them but they work per­fectly here,” she en­thuses.

Be­side an old dresser filled with blue and white Spode china, a wooden lad­der leads up to a sleep­ing plat­form. “It’s not for the faint-hearted,” Alexis laughs. The two other bed­rooms, in each of the end roundels, are eas­ier to ac­cess, with a four-poster in one and twin an­tique Swedish beds in the other. The cen­tral roundel con­tains a turquoise mo­saic-tiled wet­room and a bath­room with a Vic­to­rian roll­top bath found by the side of the road. Re-enam­elled, with its sides painted in Pink Ground to match the walls, it sits on a small brick plinth near the win­dow, look­ing out onto fields of sheep.

Just as the use of th­ese build­ings has changed over the cen­turies to suit dif­fer­ent needs, Alexis is al­ways open to op­por­tu­ni­ties for rein­ven­tion – the old gra­nary is now her stu­dio and, as they no longer use the main front door, she has made in­ge­nious use of the re­dun­dant vestibule be­hind it as a study for Fer­gus. “A home is never fin­ished,” she ex­plains. “It is con­stantly evolv­ing with the stages in your life and must never stand still.” You get the sense that many more ex­cit­ing changes lie ahead for Bourne Farm.

pho­to­graphs by brent darby styling by ben ken­drick

ABOVE LEFT An eclec­tic mix of pieces, in­clud­ing a late 18th-cen­tury Dutch cup­board, bring char­ac­ter to the liv­ing room THIS PIC­TURE In the din­ing room, walls in Far­row & Ball’s Down Pipe pro­vide an inky back­drop for books and coun­try chairs

OP­PO­SITE Flo­ral cush­ions bring colour and pat­tern to the sofa in the con­verted oast house. A wooden lad­der leads up to a sleep­ing plat­form THIS PAGE, FROM ABOVE LEFT Thetra­di­tional Ken­tish oast houses; a be­spoke tree­house by Lucy Wil­liams of Wild At Art; a rus­tic per­gola smoth­ered in wis­te­ria pro­vides a shady spot for Jack Rus­sell Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus

THIS PAGE, FROM ABOVE LEFT The tiny guest bed­room is dom­i­nated by an or­nate French bed; the Vic­to­rian roll­top bath was re-enam­elled and painted to match the bath­room walls; awire­work chan­de­lier makes an eye-catch­ing fo­cal point in one of the oast-house bed­roomsOP­PO­SITE Cladding and sea­grass floor­ing cre­ates a rest­ful, rus­tic look in the mas­ter bed­room

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