Liv­ing the dream

When Su­san Spurl­ing left Wis­con­sin to re­set­tle in ru­ral Wilt­shire with English hus­band Phil, she re­alised a life­long am­bi­tion of own­ing a thatched cot­tage. Em­brac­ing its char­ac­ter and quirks they have cre­ated a clas­sic coun­try in­te­rior filled with an­tique

Period Living - - Contents - Words and styling Pippa Blenk­in­sop | Pho­to­graphs Jody Ste­wart

Su­san and Phil Spurl­ing up­dated their pretty English cot­tage

One day, I’ll own a pretty cot­tage and it will be in a mag­a­zine,’ wrote a teenage Su­san in her high school year­book. ‘I can’t be­lieve it’s ac­tu­ally come true,’ she says to­day as she looks around the beau­ti­ful home she shares with hus­band Phil, light stream­ing through the win­dow on a bright and breezy day. ‘I can’t imag­ine liv­ing any­where else now.’ Yet the jour­ney wasn’t all plain sail­ing. Hav­ing mar­ried in 2013, just a year af­ter meet­ing on Phil’s US busi­ness trip, the happy newly weds de­cided in 2014 to set­tle in Eng­land, and Su­san left be­hind her 1860s Folk-vic­to­rian farm­house in Lo­ganville, Wis­con­sin. ‘I’m a com­plete An­glophile so was very ex­cited at the thought of liv­ing in the UK, but also a lit­tle hes­i­tant, es­pe­cially about leav­ing the beau­ti­ful home I had spent the last 20 years en­joy­ing and evolv­ing,’ she says.

When it came to search­ing for the per­fect prop­erty, Su­san knew it had to be old, and took the op­por­tu­nity to hunt out the choco­late-box house of which she’d al­ways dreamed. The cou­ple knew it was go­ing to be hard to find a house to match Su­san’s last, and it took over a year of trawl­ing es­tate agents on­line to find a short­list for view­ing. ‘It was so dif­fi­cult to find a pe­riod prop­erty that re­tained its orig­i­nal fea­tures and matched my four cre­den­tials,’ says Su­san. ‘I needed a room that I could make into a pantry, a kitchen-diner large enough for my farm­house ta­ble and dresser, a liv­ing room with a fire­place and space for floorto-ceil­ing book­cases, and out­side, I wanted space for a potager, lawn, and green­house,’ she ex­plains. A pas­sion­ate an­tiques col­lec­tor, Su­san had amassed sev­eral pieces of fur­ni­ture over the years that she couldn’t bear to part with, so this too had to be con­sid­ered. Hap­pily, all their re­mote re­search paid off, as when they stepped into their sec­ond view­ing Su­san knew in­stantly that she’d found the one. De­spite be­ing dark, dated and fit­ted wall to wall with tired car­pets, the house was struc­turally sound and had been rethatched in 2012.

The cou­ple moved in dur­ing Novem­ber 2014, but it was a long time be­fore they could put up their feet, as Su­san’s fur­ni­ture took a fur­ther seven months to ar­rive. ‘I felt a bit home­sick at first, but once all my things had been shipped across I felt far more set­tled.’ At least, un­til it was fit­ted… ‘In my old house the ceil­ings were 10ft tall, so we found a lot of the fur­ni­ture didn’t fit and we had to shorten a few pieces, which was scary!’ she says. ‘We cut down the legs of the ar­moires in the pantry and sit­ting room, but luck­ily for the kitchen dresser we man­aged to cut sec­tions out of the floor in­stead.’

In the mean­time, the cou­ple had set to work re­con­fig­ur­ing the space. The pre­vi­ous own­ers had re­lo­cated the kitchen from its orig­i­nal po­si­tion in the cen­tre of the house and were us­ing it as a din­ing room, but Su­san had other plans. In­stead she de­cided to re­in­state the kitchen back into the cen­tre, pro­vid­ing a warm wel­come as you walk in, turn­ing the pre­vi­ous kitchen into the dream pantry.

Once the fur­ni­ture had ar­rived safely, al­beit a lit­tle mod­i­fied, Su­san could fo­cus on the fun stuff. ‘My home in the US was English coun­try style mixed with 1940s Amer­i­cana and French vin­tage,’ she says, ‘oh, and with a touch bo­hemian flair, too.’ She has sought to repli­cate this style in the coun­try cot­tage. First came se­lect­ing the paint, which proved more prob­lem­atic than an­tic­i­pated. ‘My US home was full of light, but these lit­tle cot­tage win­dows cre­ated dif­fer­ent shad­ows, so it was hard to de­cide on the right colour,’ she ex­plains.

Faced with rooms smaller than she was used to, com­plete with all their quirks and awk­ward an­gles, Su­san was forced to think cre­atively when it came to stor­age, opt­ing for be­spoke floor-to-ceil­ing shelv­ing, Sheila Maids, pot rails and plenty of rus­tic wicker bas­kets in or­der to make the most of space and light. ‘It’s al­ways a good idea to think about height when you have small spa­ces,’ says Su­san. ‘When you can’t go out, go up!’ Open shelv­ing also makes a bril­liant place to store her wealth of an­tiques. ‘I never miss a boot sale,’ she says. In­deed, ev­ery­where you turn shelves are brim­ming with vin­tage finds, cher­ished books and old china.

Su­san’s lat­est buy, a re­claimed free-stand­ing bath, is next to in­stall, but be­sides that, it’s time to re­lax and make the most of their new life to­gether in the English coun­try­side. ‘I will miss the snowy Wis­con­sin win­ters, and will al­ways pre­fer fries to chips, but those mi­nor de­tails aside, Eng­land is won­der­ful and now my for­ever home!’

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