Town & Country (UK)
WARM COMFORT FARM
Rita Konig has brought her vivid colour schemes and thoughtful design to her family’s cherished bucolic bolthole
Stay in the interior designer Rita Konig’s cosy home-from-home in County Durham
Rita Konig dreads the term ‘holiday rental’. ‘It sounds so bland and unwelcoming. When you’re going away, you want to be somewhere with soul and character,’ says the interior designer. ‘If I rent a place for a weekend, I want to try on someone else’s life – it’s like playing doll’s houses.’
Konig’s admirers can now give the decorator’s own beautifully curated life a whirl by checking in to North Farm, a handsome Victorian house surrounded by almost 400 acres of rolling arable land in County Durham. It belonged to her husband’s family, and had been let to tenants until 2016, when the couple decided to turn it into their own rural abode, renting it out to others when they aren’t there.
The 19th-century croft has been transformed into a seven-bedroom retreat that showcases all the characteristics for which Konig’s schemes are best known: bold colours, elements of the classic English countryhouse style mixed with contemporary design and the odd, more eccentric antique, yet all ruthlessly rooted in practicality and comfort. After all, Konig grew up around glorious taste as the daughter of the decorating doyenne Nina Campbell, whose clients include Royalty and rock stars, and has more than two decades’ experience of her own, overseeing spaces from London homes to Hollywood hotels. After making a few key structural changes – opening up the poky corridors and moving the kitchen into the adjoining cart sheds to increase the size – Konig set to work bringing the previously rather anaemic spaces to life with a punchy colour palette. ‘It needed a B12 shot,’ she says. ‘I also realised that green rooms are immediately cheerful – which was why in the drawing-room I went for that.’ The natural paint is by Edward Bulmer, who also specially mixed the dazzling mustard yellow for the entrance hall’s walls. ‘With a second home, because you won’t be in it all the time, you can be a bit more courageous,’ Konig says.
Keen to make the rooms feel they had evolved over time, she mixed and matched, reupholstering furniture in a riot of printed fabrics, including Lewis & Wood indigo cotton, linen from her mother’s Osborne & Little collection and ginger corduroy by the artisanal textiles specialists Tissus d’hélène. There is a variety of price points, too – pretty
lampshades by the high-street retailer Pooky illuminate a costly rug by Robert Kime. ‘That was a splurge, but it sets the tone – antiques and old furniture bring real warmth to a room. You can buy it all from junk shops, cheaply, or you can go to all your favourite places and do it really expensively – but I don’t think that necessarily makes the room better,’ Konig says. ‘It also makes the room a bit too identifiable.’
Indeed, the decorator is anti-immaculate. ‘All of us can think of houses we either grew up in or belonging to friends, that have a particular atmosphere, of which we are very fond,’ she reflects. ‘Yet if you suddenly dissect them, they’re not actually full of beautiful bits of furniture. I can think of a sitting-room that I loved, containing a perfectly hideous lamp, chintz curtains and an old collapsing sofa – and it was delightful.’
As well as her excellent eye, Konig has a knack for making households function seamlessly, befitting the author of Rita’s Tips for Domestic Bliss. ‘There’s nothing more irritating than a room that looks pretty, but when you’re in it, nothing works,’ she says. ‘If it’s a full house here, I want everyone to be able to have baths before dinner, so we put in an enormous water tank. The play-room sofa is actually a French day-bed, so can be turned into an extra little ground-floor bedroom if you have a cook or a nanny.’ Meanwhile, the Plain English kitchen diner has an adjoined scullery, so that the atmosphere of a candle-lit supper party isn’t spoiled by plates and pans piling up unappealingly on the side waiting to be washed up.
Konig also took care to not have an obvious ‘master bedroom’ that the first couple to arrive would always bag, leaving the others to the afterthought accommodation. There is one four-poster bed, but the rest have bespoke headboards by Ensemblier, including the splendid one she had made for her Noughties New York home. It fits a double bed and has been installed in a charming chamber designed with a single person in mind – so they aren’t demoted to a children’s bedroom.
A stay at North Farm has perhaps best been summed up by a friend of Konig’s who exclaimed that it ‘looks like a house but works like a hotel’. The designer was delighted by that comment. ‘It should be the sort of place where people can’t wait to unpack their bags on Friday night, get settled in and have delicious drinks by the fire,’ she says. ‘I want the house to be a vehicle for good times – fertile ground for having fun.’ North Farm Durham (www.northfarmdurham). Rita Konig (www. ritakonig.com).