Mixing and matching on a Cornish farm
How one couple reinvented a Cornish farm, mixing midcentury pieces with 250-year-old rooms. By Jo Leevers. Photographs by Penny Wincer
WHEN CHRISTEN PEARS and Chris Blake bought the group of buildings that make up Middle Colenso Farm, the farmhouse was by no means the main attraction. ‘It came with a group of holiday cottages, two barns and established fruit and vegetable gardens. Those were our bigger priorities because we wanted a change of lifestyle,’ says Pears. ‘Back then, the house was probably the least appealing part of the package.’
Although it was built in the middle of the 18th century, the farmhouse had been modernised with varying levels of success in recent decades. It had a ramshackle, corrugated-plastic extension at the back, with windows held together by duct tape. House repairs had been botched and part of the roof was bowed by ugly concrete tiles. ‘Not only did it need a lot of work, it felt as if the house had lost its character along the way. It was neither old nor contemporary,’ explains Pears.
Renovating the holiday cottages took precedence, so by the time Pears was ready to tackle the main house, she was well versed in the practicalities of restoring old Cornish buildings. ‘I learnt more than I ever thought possible about lime building techniques,’ she says. But by now she also had a much clearer vision for the farmhouse’s style.
‘Suddenly, the fact that the house had lost many of its period details started to feel like an advantage,’ she explains. ‘It meant I felt freer to do what I wanted, which was to restore features wherever possible, then to indulge my love of mid-century design.’
Layers of plaster were chipped off the large inglenook fireplace in the living room, revealing the house’s original creamy stone and a small bread oven on the left-hand side. Other walls were also stripped back to the stone – although around the staircase this was more of a practical necessity. ‘As we started work there, the old, damp plasterboard fell off,’ says Pears.
In many areas the floorboards were too rotten to keep, so pale Dinesen flooring now runs through the entire house. The boards that were in decent condition have been reused to make the cabinets that line the walls in the scullery. This room, leading off the kitchen, is what used to be the plastic-and-ducttape extension. ‘It was completely rebuilt, so it’s actually the newest bit of the house, but it feels much older and
Layers of plaster were chipped off the fireplace, revealing a bread oven
Right The kitchen ceiling was removed to create a doubleheight space. The units are Ikea carcases clad in Dinesen timbers, stained black. A local blacksmith made the pan rack. Far right A visit to Ett Hem hotel in Stockholm influenced the bathing space, with tiles from Mandarin Stone, a tub from The Cast Iron Bath Company and a stool from Lovely & Co functions like a traditional scullery,’ says Pears. ‘It’s where we store food, do laundry, and make jams and chutneys with the fruit and vegetables we grow.’
In the spacious living and dining rooms, furniture by Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen and Ernest Race sits well in the refreshed, gently rustic spaces. ‘I think a mark of a piece of well-designed furniture is that it
‘Tourists want the beaches and pasties. Living here gives you a fuller picture’
endures and can work in different settings,’ says Pears.
Alongside these mid-century icons, the house is furnished with vintage pieces shipped over from the couple’s previous home in Fremantle, Australia. Blake worked out of there as a tall-ships captain and Pears was a journalist before retraining as a Pilates instructor. In Australia, Pears liked to trawl second-hand shops, which is where she picked up a delicate Victorian chande-
lier, rows of immaculate glassware and an antique Japanese chest. ‘They are reminders of our time abroad, so it felt important to add them into the mix here,’ she says.
Living in Cornwall year-round, Pears adds, is a different experience to a few weeks in the summer sun. ‘A lot of tourists just want the beaches and pasties, a theme-park version of Cornwall,’ she explains. ‘That’s fine, but living here gives you a fuller picture.’ Penzance is their nearest town: ‘Parts of it seem rundown, so lots of visitors probably bypass it in favour of St Ives, but I’m really fond of it.’
Since living here, the couple have discovered more about the farmhouse’s history. ‘Our neighbours at the top of the lane used to own all the local farms and showed us photographs of the buildings in the 1970s,’ says Pears. One picture shows an outbuilding, now one of the cottages, with trestle tables piled high with cut daffodils. ‘It was where the farm’s flowers were sorted and bundled before being sent to the markets. Pears has also learnt more about her own family history. ‘It was only after moving here that I found out that my father’s side of the family were Cornish tin miners, who moved to the north east when the tin industry fell into decline.’
Alongside the holiday cottages, one of the barns has been converted into a Pilates studio, where Pears now teaches – all part of their plan for Middle Colenso. ‘I wasn’t sure how much demand there would be in such a rural area, but it’s been very busy and I’m running residential courses later in the year,’ she says.
As for the farmhouse, the building’s character has changed in the past five years – much like the couple’s feelings about it. ‘We didn’t set out with a “perfect” house in mind – we knew we needed to be flexible,’ says Pears. ‘But in many ways this has become our perfect house, because we’ve designed it to suit how we live and have filled it with objects that we love.’
The three cottages at Middle Colenso Farm are available to book through Classic Cottages (classic.co.uk)
Previous page A green Ernest Race DA1 armchair – found on ebay, then covered – sits beside a Milano rug by Mourne Textiles. The Gräshoppa floor lamp is by Gubi and the stool is Alvar Aalto for Artek; Penguin paperbacks are lined up on shelves made from Dinesen flooring. This page, clockwise from main In the beamed living room, the coffee table, by Severin Hansen for Haslev, has leather-covered sections that extend from each end to accommodate hot drinks (‘An example of how Danish domestic design was very practical,’ says Christen Pears, pictured). The Bumling pendant is by Anders Pehrson for Ateljé Lyktan; in the kitchen, ceramics and a chopping board bought locally sit next to Robert Welch’s tea set. The Carraramarble worktop and tiles are from Mandarin Stone; the front of the farmhouse; an adjacent barn provides an extra space for relaxing or entertaining. The armchairs are Hans J Wegner’s GE 290 for Getama and Børge Mogensen’s Spanish chair (centre); the scullery has an old-fashioned feel, with tiles from Fired Earth and units painted in Yeabridge Green by Farrow & Ball. The tea towels and brushes are from No56 in Penzance