Country Living (UK)
A COLLECTOR’S LOT
An 18th-century converted farm cottage in Somerset is filled with the owner’s carefully curated treasures
The artistic eye of Susie Smith is evident in every corner of her 18th-century farm cottage in the Somerset village of Batheaston. Vivid paintings hang on the walls, floors are scattered with brightly coloured rugs, and open cupboards and shelves are home to carefully curated displays. “I like surrounding myself with pieces that aren’t worth anything but are precious to me, picked up over the years in junk shops and while on holiday. I deliberately put different objects and textures together. A ceramic sheep bordering on kitsch and a beautiful piece of coral, for instance,” Susie says, pointing to a curio-filled shelf above the dining table. “I love the serendipitous juxtaposition of pieces. I’ve got cupboards full of stuff that I’ll wheel out to change things around occasionally.”
As a calm backdrop to her “installations”, as Susie jokingly calls them, she has painted the whole house in pale colours. “I wanted the rooms to flow into each other, so I’ve chosen white, neutrals and soft greys, adding colour with rugs, chairs and cushions.” She follows the sunlight around her house as each day progresses, spending the morning painting in the kitchen, before moving on to her sitting room to read, and then changing position again to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine that floods the top of the house. “It is so peaceful and quiet,” she says.
But this former farm cottage hasn’t always been so light or so colourful. When Susie first viewed the property in 2007, it was still part of a working farm, and the outbuilding that now forms her kitchen was just a tractor shed. “The top part of what is now my garden was hard-standing for the tractors and we had to drill down quite a way to get to the soil beneath,” she says. The
main farmhouse was built in the 17th century and added to over the years, with Susie’s cottage an 18th-century addition. “It was a bit of a rabbit warren inside; lots of small, dark rooms leading into one another. But I could see that there was actually a lot of space, especially downstairs,” Susie says. “It had been rented out to a series of tenants, so perhaps inevitably it had an unloved, neglected feel.” With her grown-up children in homes of their own, she saw the scope for a house that would provide space for painting, reading and entertaining. “There was a large, sad-looking piece of south-facing land, which I knew I could shape and turn into somewhere special over time,” she adds.
The first space Susie tackled was the kitchen. The original one was divided from the dining area by a huge wall containing a fireplace with a mezzanine floor – a set-up that Susie initially thought charming. “It felt enchanting and cosy when I moved in, but it soon became apparent that it just didn’t work. Both the dining room and the kitchen were dark because there was only one small window in each room,” she says. An architect friend helped her develop ideas for the two rooms, which were knocked through into one large space. The mezzanine floor was removed, the kitchen window enlarged and a French window installed in place of the old dining room window. Roof lights were also added to bring in even more daylight.
The existing solid-wood kitchen cupboard carcasses were kept because they were well made, but were repainted and given new handles; a couple of the doors were also removed to create some open shelving. “The wood worksurface was a bit rough, but we just sanded that down and it’s fine,” says Susie, who also added glazed wall cupboards made from windows that were salvaged when work was done on a friend’s cottage – another opportunity to artfully display the collections of items that delight her.
“I prefer making do and taking on any changes gradually,” says Susie, who, over the years, has had the roof retiled and a staircase opened up to the top floor, where she has created an extra bathroom. Now, her own paintings hang on the walls, alongside those of her artist son and friends. And, in every room, she has added shelves or display cabinets – or found little nooks – to add pops of colour with much-loved objects – a row of orange paperbacks lined up in the crook of the stairs; a vintage blue and white dinner service in the bedroom; yellow china on the hall table that complements the linen toile curtains; even a group of stuffed birds and figurines in the downstairs cloakroom. These are the clever curated touches of someone who understands colour and shape – and how to use them to create a character-filled home.