The 300 Year Old Lady
I am often asked what prompted me to follow a career design. It’s very difficult to think of one defining moment in my life but if I had to pin down a time, this would probably be it.
Having returned from a holiday in Cornwall some 13 years ago now, my husband and I rather spontaneously decided to buy a renovation project as our first home together.
We’d been looking for a house for some time but nothing seemed quite right, until that is, we met the Duchess – a somewhat dilapidated 300 year old Grade II listed Queen Anne town house.
I recall falling in love with this stunning old lady as soon as I saw her. Indeed, she had been something I had always admired as a child attending the local church nearby whilst at primary school; I’d just not seen her in years.
Both my husband and I remember very clearly the first time we walked through her front door. For me, the love was instantaneous and merely confirmed when I was greeted by a roaring fire in her striking inglenook, beamed but well-proportioned ceilings and purposefully wonky but beautiful door frames.
For my husband, her old world charisma grew on him as we wandered around the property and soaked up her many characterful period features.
The Duchess was in somewhat of a state when we took her on. Tired, unloved... lost even.
Little did we know back then what a journey we would have to go on to bring the old lady back to her former glory. That said; if I had known; I’m not sure it would have stopped me despite our penniless state at the time.
I loved the bones of the building. The curve of her gable roof, the carved casement with triangular pediment containing the front door, the symmetry of her many painted sash windows set flush from the brickwork, the charm of her quoins, the pebble dash texture of her exterior render, the window boxes that had clearly seen better days, but mostly I loved her distinctive Queen Anne soft lemon yellow covered proportions.
I knew we could make her magnificent again, but it would take time.
I have lost count of the weekends and time off work we invested renovating the old lady. I do however recall how she toiled with us and squeezed us dry of every hard earned penny we had.
The old lady was locally known as ‘The Well House’ owing to her remarkable statement glass covered well in the downstairs washroom.
We used to joke about the old lady freeing us of our pennies when we walked over the glass every time we went to use the bathroom. Funny now in retrospect, but very true at the time.
As hard as some of those years were financially, I have to thank the old lady for igniting my passion for architecture, design and interiors. It was her that, despite our challenges, reminded me what I was good at and clearly had a flair for.
She made me hungry to learn about her history and in-turn, her period of architecture and design. In doing so I made a promise to her that I would bring her back to her former glory as sympathetically as I could.
To myself, I made a promise that when it was done, I would follow my own dream - a career in design.
We worked tirelessly over many years on the Duchess. Pacing ourselves. Tackling one project at a time. Much of the first 7 years were spent on structural renovations – the stuff you can’t really see. It was only after this that eventually we could crack on with the more exciting projects of kitchens, bathrooms and general interior décor.
Come 2014, the Duchess was pretty much complete and now a stunning example of her period. An elegant icon, restored to her former glory.
I felt satisfied I had honoured my promise to the Duchess. She shone from all her other period counterparts nearby and I recall how proud I use to feel when I came home to her or when we invited guests round.
We would regularly receive admiring comments from locals, passers-by and friends and it wasn’t long before I was approached to undertake a few paid interior design projects for others in my spare time.
My journey towards the achievement of my own dream, it appears, was about to take off…
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