25 Beautiful Homes
The bold colour and vibrant handmade textiles in Claire Mcalpine’s riverside home are a nod to her adventurous spirit and love of travel
The former character of this historic Northumberland riverside mill came back to life when its creative inhabitants moved in
Claire and Andrew Mcalpine had scarcely finished work on an extension to their farmhouse, when word reached them that a riverside mill close by was about to come on the market. One phone call later and Claire had secured an invitation to visit. ‘Our sons, Freddie, Fergus, Henry and Archie, were small at the time and the woodland setting was too good to be true,’ she says. ‘I had to call my husband to say: “Thanks so much for building our beautiful house, but I’m afraid we might have to move.”’
The mill was rambling and quirky with low ceilings, amazing views and plenty of secrets. As the couple began to decorate, they unearthed gems, from the drawing room’s original stone fireplace and bread oven to hidden boulder walls, buried mill stones and a fascinating hoard of iron mill workings – all of which have found a place in the mill’s revamped rooms.
Opening the house up and creating a light, welcoming space was a priority. Inspired by their previous home, the couple designed a glazed gallery linking the original mill to a bothy and outbuildings, a design that gives everyone plenty of space and freedom. At the same time, they drew up plans for a glass-sided dining extension to make the most of the river views.
Claire spent her early twenties in Tokyo and travelled all over Asia. ‘From that time, I just fell in love with light, colour and
eclectic interiors,’ she says. It also gave her a taste for travel and subsequent visits to India, Africa and South America have all fed into her style. Even so, she admits she acted out of character when it came to her newly refitted kitchen. ‘I thought white would feel fresh,’ says Claire, ‘ but it looked terrible. I’m very fond of purple and lime so we tried that and it transformed the room. That’s where my penchant for colour started. I went through the house, combining shades that verged on clashing, but we all loved it.’
Balanced by natural materials, pale woods, neutral stone floors and wool carpets, Claire’s choice of saturated backdrops, from uplifting voluptuous pinks to bright limes and sky blues, add warmth and vibrancy. It is her love of art and craftsmanship, however, that sets her home apart. The spaces celebrate the skills of individual makers from all over the world, whether in the bedrooms’ bright throws, made from hand-stitched saris, or offbeat pieces like the rickshaw and carved throne in the hall. Each piece has an element of beauty or comfort that fits perfectly with the Mcalpines’ style.
The family finds the mill’s setting also brings its own drama. ‘The view here is glorious every day of the year,’ says Claire. ‘ When the river is flooding it’s extraordinary. We stand in the dining room and watch goalposts, garden furniture and huge trees being swept along. We’ll never tire of this striking landscape.’