HEART OF OAK

Beau­ti­ful crafts­man­ship, nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and a dis­tinc­tive pal­ette bring style and sub­stance to a light-filled con­tem­po­rary manor house in Here­ford­shire

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by sue gilkes pho­to­graphs by penny win­cer styling by ben ken­drick

Beau­ti­ful crafts­man­ship and a dis­tinc­tive pal­ette bring style and sub­stance to a con­tem­po­rary manor house in Here­ford­shire

ery few peo­ple can claim to have lived in the old­est and the new­est house in their vil­lage, but Merry Al­bright has this rare dis­tinc­tion. Just 250 yards

from each other as the crow flies, more than 600 years sep­a­rate the 14th-cen­tury cot­tage where she was born and the spa­cious con­tem­po­rary prop­erty that is now her home in Eardis­land, in Here­ford­shire’s Ar­row Valley.

Though on a very dif­fer­ent scale, they share a key fea­ture – both have an oak frame at their core. Merry in­her­ited a pas­sion for this kind of tra­di­tional struc­ture from her father John Greene, who pi­o­neered the revival of green-oak build­ing in the 1970s. Af­ter univer­sity in Bris­tol and a brief stint work­ing in Lon­don – which “con­firmed city life wasn’t for me” – she re­turned to the coun­try­side, set­tling down with hus­band Ben, who also grew up in the area.

They both work along­side her father at Bor­der Oak, the com­pany he founded, and en­joyed the perk of liv­ing nearby in a hand­some cot­tage that they helped de­sign. But af­ter the ar­rival of their se­cond child, Gabriel, now ten (the cou­ple also have a daugh­ter, Min­erva, 14), they re­alised they needed more space – and so, in 2010, Merry be­gan to look for a big­ger plot suit­able for a new project.

It would take four years of dili­gent re­search, but her per­sis­tence paid off when a lo­cal farmer agreed to sell them a six-acre field on the edge of Eardis­land, sur­rounded by mead­ows and or­chards. “It was worth hold­ing out for,” she says. Gain­ing per­mis­sion to build on it took a fur­ther two years, so it was a huge relief when their de­sign for “a con­tem­po­rary barn-style house” met with plan­ning ap­proval.

Ar­ranged in a horse­shoe shape, with a cen­tral court­yard, Mead­owmead’s con­fig­u­ra­tion is pleas­ingly rem­i­nis­cent of old barns clus­tered around a farm­yard. Thought­ful ref­er­enc­ing of ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture and use of lo­cal ma­te­ri­als – oak cladding

and lime-mor­tar brick­work – has forged a vis­ual link with the vil­lage, while its ex­panses of glass fill the prop­erty with light. The re­sult is a stylish mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a manor house.

In the vast open-plan kitchen, with its run of floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows fac­ing the court­yard, the mag­nif­i­cent solid oak frame of the build­ing is com­ple­mented by off-white walls, re­flec­tive pale composite work­sur­faces and lime­stone floor tiles. Pas­sion­ate about crafts­man­ship, Merry sought out qual­ity fix­tures and fit­tings from ar­ti­sans and Bri­tish com­pa­nies to suit the hand­made in­tegrity of the house. She is par­tic­u­larly de­lighted by a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the tal­ented young joiner Louis Fer­ney­hough of Fernio Fur­ni­ture near Mon­mouth, who de­signed and crafted all the cab­i­netry in the kitchen, pantry and util­ity room – down to the drawer di­viders and door­knobs. Fol­low­ing Merry’s brief to “keep it plain”, the pale­painted kitchen units have an elegant Ge­or­gian sim­plic­ity that is echoed by a cen­tral is­land topped with Here­for­dian oak.

A graphite elec­tric Ever­hot range cooker pro­vides a strong fo­cal point, while quirky char­ac­ter is sup­plied by vin­tage ac­ces­sories, such as the weathered me­tal wall clock that adds won­der­ful tex­ture but keeps rather ir­reg­u­lar time. Two strik­ing in­dus­trial lamp­shades from Bai­leys bring a touch of util­ity chic to the din­ing area, where they hang above a chunky wooden coun­try ta­ble and chairs – sec­ond­hand finds that were sand­blasted to give them

raw rus­tic appeal. The beau­ti­fully sim­ple shapes and colours of her hand­made Brick­ett Davda table­ware give Merry plea­sure on a daily ba­sis: “I like the way each piece is slightly dif­fer­ent and the fact they aren’t quite per­fect.

“We didn’t want the for­mal­ity that of­ten goes with a house of this size – it just isn’t our style,” she ex­plains. “Al­though it’s large, we’ve tried to cre­ate a more re­laxed feel.” The sit­ting room – in the mid­dle sec­tion that links the two ‘wings’ – is fur­nished invit­ingly in earthy shades. So­fas up­hol­stered in mole velvet and grey linen pick up on the sub­tle nat­u­ral hues in a cus­tom-made rug of soft plaited jute, while the op­u­lent two-tone pea­cock blue velvet up­hol­stery of an arm­chair from a lo­cal auc­tion adds a flash of colour. De­spite its high, vaulted ceil­ing, this room is al­ways warm, thanks to a wood­burn­ing stove and un­der­floor heat­ing. This fea­tures in ev­ery room and, to­gether with ex­cel­lent in­su­la­tion, keeps the build­ing en­ergy ef­fi­cient. Sus­tain­abil­ity is im­por­tant to Merry and Ben: the grey wool car­pet­ing up­stairs is made from nat­u­ral undyed fleece backed with hes­sian, and most of their paint is eco-friendly – sourced from ex­pert Ed­ward Bul­mer, who is based in the next vil­lage. His warm off-white – Whit­ing – pro­vides a calm back­drop in many rooms, while deeper hues, such as Flaxen Grey, bring a pe­riod feel to the pantry and util­ity room.

Colour has been used clev­erly through­out, with pale shades en­hanc­ing the sense of space in cer­tain rooms, and at­mo­spheric

“We didn’t want the for­mal­ity that can go with a house this size”

darker pal­ettes be­ing em­ployed to make other ar­eas feel more in­ti­mate. In the large high-ceilinged main bed­room, fur­nish­ings in­spired by the rich tones of a dark-green hand-dyed velvet head­board make a real state­ment and an­chor the scheme. Sim­i­larly, in its pale en-suite bath­room, a black­ened steel wash­stand, made by a lo­cal blacksmith to Merry’s de­sign, pro­vides a strik­ing fo­cal point, with its char­ac­ter­ful coun­ter­top of pippy oak hold­ing an ar­ray of vin­tage mir­rors. Merry loves the foxed glass of older ex­am­ples and keeps a look­out for them in an­tiques shops, where she has picked up many won­der­ful pieces for the house.

In the two years they have been at Mead­owmead, the fam­ily have en­joyed ex­pand­ing into the space and find­ing new ways to nav­i­gate it. “Min­nie is a fan of roller skates and Gabriel prefers a scooter,” Merry laughs. The stu­dio in the wing across the court­yard has be­come use­ful for par­ties, sneaky foot­ball prac­tice, cin­ema nights and Merry’s cre­ative work­shops. “This is a spe­cial house in a won­der­ful spot,” she en­thuses. “I can’t imag­ine ever want­ing to leave.”

con­trasts with the Ora­tory paint shade by My­lands on the land­ing walls and ceil­ing LEFT In the bath­room, an in­dus­trial-style frame sup­ports a pippy oak coun­ter­top

FROM ABOVE LEFT In­spired by those in Na­tional Trust prop­er­ties, the pantry has a pe­riod feel; Mead­owmead’s ex­te­rior fea­tures a mix of brick­work and oak cladding; the util­ity room’s units, walls and ceil­ing are in Flaxen Grey by Ed­ward Bul­mer, while the pig­mented con­crete sink is by War­ring­ton & Rose

FROM ABOVE LEFT An al­cove in the snug has been turned into a study area. The posters are by Til­ley Print­ing in Led­bury and fea­ture quotes on Bor­der Oak prop­er­ties by de­sign pre­sen­terssuch as Kevin Mc­cloud; Ben and Merry in her of­fice. Pale walls and a sea­grass rug cre­ate a calm feel; a vin­tage basin from English Sal­vage stands out against inky walls in the cloak­room

ABOVE LEFT An arched win­dow sal­vaged from a Vic­to­rian Methodist chapel makes an un­usual fea­ture in the guest room. White bed linen

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