A Home in Bloom
Spring brings out the best in this lovely Victorian home.
Carolyn, who runs an interior business, Carolyn Sheffield Designs, has always been fascinated by the 18th century philosophy of building houses with an austere exterior and a surprisingly flamboyant interior.
But when Francis Johnson went one step further and suggested rooms with architectural details from different periods, she and her husband Julian were happy to go along with it.
Today, the outcome is a triumph of architectural ingenuity. The once tumble-down barn and cattle sheds have transformed into a classically elegant country house of beautiful plasterwork and warm colors. In tones of honey, bluebell and burgundy to echo the Regency style, it is a perfect setting for the Sheffields. Their fine furniture, paintings and objets d’art work well with the clever recycling of much-loved furnishings from their former home.
An excellent example of Carolyn’s approach is the yellow drawing room. “My aim was to recreate the sitting room in our previous house,” says Carolyn. “By painting the walls exactly the same shade of golden yellow and reusing the curtains and soft furnishings, it looks as if it has been this way for decades.”
“My aim was to recreate the sitting room in our previous house.”
A splendid 19th century door opens from the drawing room into the dining hall, framed by two cupboards full of porcelain. For this room, Francis Johnson designed an unusual “barrel” ceiling to create an impression of height, inspired by a pair of large mid-18th century Adam mirrors that now hang in the room. In fact, beautiful ceilings with decorative plasterwork are a superb feature throughout the house.
For example, Francis Johnson broke up a long corridor, leading to the upstairs, referred to by the family as the “motel passage,” with a beautiful domed ceiling and skillfully integrated arches and pilasters. Simulated pine bookcases, which create an 1840s feel, were painted by one of Carolyn’s team of artists.
More of her artists’ work are on the chairs in the conservatory, which overlooks the garden and surrounding countryside, and was the only extension the planners allowed. “Most conservatories look like an afterthought,” says Carolyn. “But I was determined not to let that happen here.” So the windows blend with the others in the house to give the room a sense of continuity. “We use the conservatory all the year round,” says Carolyn. “For dinner in the summer, or simply relaxing during the winter.”
Perhaps one of the most stunning rooms in the house was originally the two-story barn, which is now a replica of a magnificent early 18th century hall for formal dining.
The once tumble-down barn and cattle sheds have transformed into a classically elegant country house.
“We had to retain the full ceiling height, so, rather than adopting a conventional approach, we decided to do something rather grand,” says Carolyn. To emphasize the overall effect, a pair of 18th century doors— rescued from a house destined for demolition—give the room a sense of importance, while the magnificent 18th century marble fireplace and stone floor add balance and proportion. Busts from the library of the Sheffields’ previous home look spectacular in their new location, perched on the ledges of the upper windows in the roundels.
In this room, the furniture makes a bold statement. At one end, doors leading into the drawing room are flanked by a handsome commode and an early 18th century Irish table, both set off by a pair of beautiful 18th century mirrors. A mahogany dining table from the Victorian period and a set of mid-18th century chairs take pride of place, while oil paintings and a magnificent tapestry add the final touches.
Carolyn’s love of antiques stems from her childhood. “My mother died when I was very young and I spent most of my youth with my grandmother, who lived in North Carolina,” she explains. “She was a close friend of the Vanderbilts and often took me with her to visit them at Biltmore House, which was filled with exquisitely beautiful things. It made an everlasting impression on me.”
Here and throughout the house, the Sheffields’ own passion for collecting is in evidence. “Happily, Francis Johnson was also fascinated by paintings and objets d’art and, as he often stayed with us, he got to know our collection rather well,” Carolyn says.
When it came to the color scheme, Carolyn had very definite ideas. She painted the walls a glorious burgundy, which highlighted the detailing.
Beautiful ceilings with decorative plasterwork are a superb feature throughout the house.
The adjacent part of the former barn is now a kitchen, with exposed beams, a run of three floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the garden and a comfortable dining area at one end. The walls are the color of bluebells and lined with an assortment of paintings and drawings, ranging from botanical prints to portraits and landscapes. They also provide a complementary background for the handsome French painted cupboard and an armoire that houses the china. “I wanted a practical yet cozy kitchen filled with country furniture and an armchair for Julian, so he can read the newspapers or chat to me while I’m cooking,” says Carolyn.
Long before they even tackled the house, however, Carolyn and Julian planted the garden, which is only three years old but already well established. A central pathway leads from the courtyard garden to a pond at the far end, where a charming 18th century gazebo, built in memory of Julian’s mother, takes pride of place.
To create a garden that was not only beautiful but in harmony with the landscape, with the help of designer Ian Myllis, they reinstated the pond and planted trees, fanning out towards the wooded areas bordering the property. The gloriously perfumed thyme walk has been interplanted with alliums, tulips and poppies, moving to roses and then asters in autumn, while containers overflow with petunias, tulips and crocuses in spring, and the evergreen helichrysum.
A bay window in the master bedroom overlooks the courtyard part of the garden. Here again, fabrics, furniture and paintings from Laverstoke have been reused to great effect. The key for the decoration in this room is a delightful combination of pink and yellow, deliberately chosen to balance with the colors of the garden.
In contrast, the main guest bedroom has a more robust color scheme. Black papier mache pieces are offset by a splendid collection of 18th century French prints in black frames, all set against the raspberry red of Osborne & Little’s Khokanel wallpaper.
Moving from a large stately home to a considerably smaller abode is a major upheaval, but the Sheffields have sailed through the ordeal. “Working with Francis was a pleasure and an experience I would not have missed for the world,” says Carolyn. “Sadly, he died before we moved in and was unable to see the fruits of his labor.”
But the transformation of these humble farm buildings into a home of such immense style is a lasting testament to his exceptional vision and skill.
Above. A cluster of hats has transformed into a work of art in the entryway. Right. A red AGA stove reigns supreme in the kitchen.
Painted chairs in the kitchen's dining area echo the French cupboard. Lovely sketches and water color paintings work together to reflect the country themes of the room.
The Sheffields have created a magnificent replica of an 18th century hall within the confines of the old barn. The space was magically transformed by a pair of 18th century entrances rescued from a demolished house, mahogany furniture and objets d'art.
Golden yellow walls and elaborate plasterwork evoke a Regency style in the drawing room. Sofas and chairs covered in warm tones add comfort. The chandelier is 18th century.
Left. Yellows and pinks lend a pretty country house feel to the main bedroom. Above. Raspberry red wallpaper in the main guest bedroom is the perfect canvas for black and white 19th century French prints.