New beginnings How one couple created a new home and a life change
Transforming an old building has created a modern home and inspired a life change
For Susan Burnell, Christmas is all about family, and every year she and husband James welcome 20 guests to their spacious farmhouse for a meal. ‘Everyone brings some food, so it’s really relaxed and I don’t have to do all the cooking!’ says Susan. Creating a contemporary, sociable living area was at the heart of the extensive renovation the couple carried out on the farmhouse after they bought it in 2009. ‘We configured the whole house to get the open and flowing space we wanted,’ Susan explains. ‘And at Christmas there’s enough room for everyone.’
Seven years ago this open-plan family home couldn’t have looked more different. The couple were then living in the neighbouring farmstead and loved the location, but they needed somewhere bigger for their growing family, so when the old farmhouse came up for sale, they jumped at
the opportunity to buy it. Apart from the extensive floorspace, the property also had a big driveway at the front, which was the perfect spot to build a studio for Susan.
‘I could see what I wanted to do here straightaway,’ says Susan. The house itself was in tired state and on the recommendation of Susan’s dad the couple employed Adam Toleman of Arka Architects. ‘We knew that Adam was someone who could think outside the box and solve problems,’ Susan says.
But they still had challenges to face, not least placing their previous home on the market just as the recession hit. ‘It took us two years to sell, so we had 24 months of mortgage payments on two houses, and then after we’d sold we had to rent for six months until the new house was completed,’ Susan explains.
‘It was massively stressful.’
Initially, the couple had intended to extend the farmhouse, but the local planning authority rejected their application and the house plans had to change significantly. ‘We were able to build a big studio outside, which is where I now work, because that’s classified as an ancillary building and didn’t require planning permission,’ Susan explains, ‘but we weren’t allowed to add that kind of extension onto the house, so Adam had to think again.
‘I have so much respect for the way he reworked the plans yet still incorporated the design features that were important to us,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want a huge house as I find smaller houses more interesting, and by using the space well, Adam’s created something that doesn’t feel small.’
A small extension forms what is now the dining area, and a wall of glass was added to draw in the light and give open views across the neighbouring fields. ‘This is everything for me,’ says Susan. ‘I walk downstairs in the morning and the sunlight streams in here – it’s so uplifting.’ The ground level contains all the living spaces, while three bedrooms, including one ensuite, and a family bathroom are upstairs.
There were low points during the build, which lasted from October 2010 to April 2011. ‘We had the worst winter weather in years,’ says Susan. ‘The snow was so deep we couldn’t actually get the farm gate open to let the builders in!’ But there were highlights too, such as when the couple were able to see their bespoke staircase being built in the factory before it was brought into the house in two sections. ‘The staircase and the wall of glazing were the features we were most excited about,’ says Susan.
The couple poured all of their effort and most of their money into the build. ‘We realised that we needed to invest in the fabric of the building. You’re never going to go back and add a Velux window, but you’ll be able to afford the sofa you want in a year or two’s time,’ she reasons.
Her minimal approach to the interior was instinctive, she says. ‘I love going to Iceland and Copenhagen – the landscape, culture, food and people you meet, but most of all the amazing design. My Scandi influence comes from there.’
Designing this house both inside and out had a lasting impact on Susan, who launched her online design store Soouk in January 2014. She now sells fine art prints of her own photography, and the chalky white walls throughout her home offer the perfect backdrop to showcase the collection. ‘Before we had this house I was specialising in portraiture, and then I moved into interior photography, and that evolved into Soouk,’ she says. ‘The design process here was the catalyst for my life changing.
‘Even though this project was challenging, I loved doing it.
If I could afford it, I’d do it all again tomorrow.’
A Hay Loop Stand table from Nest is placed in front of floor-to-ceiling glass doors to make the most of the stunning views across the surrounding countryside. The Nothing To See Here print is by Soouk
Susan and James with Leon and Doran
Walls in charcoal and white plus simple bedding create a serene feel. Susan made the ruscus garland behind the bed and added lights from Lights4fun
A black silhouette image is a stunning feature in the sleek room