Through the keyhole of a stylish 18th century Cotswold cottage
PUBLISHED: 09:30 21 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:30 21 October 2019
From Cornwall to the Cotswolds via Hong Kong, designer Sarah Fortescue has left her stylishly magical mark wherever she has lived
Sarah Fortescue well remembers the restoration of her family home, the magnificent Boconnoc House in Cornwall. This Georgian stately home, on a site dating back 750 years, had been standing empty for 30 years before her father Anthony Fortescue decided to rescue it.
"I can recall as a teenager going through the fabulous double doors into the Soane hallway and crunching through broken bits of plaster from the ceiling," she says.
It took 12 years to complete, of which Sarah's part was the interior design, and was finished in 2011. "Whereupon it won the Historic Houses Association/Sotheby's Restoration Award," says Sarah. It is now a thriving business being rented out for holidays, weddings and other events.
Sarah then moved to Hong Kong for two years and set up her company, Sarah Fortescue Design.
"I dived right into the fast paced life over there. The projects were amazing and, with strict deadlines due to the extortionate rents, I had to deliver on time. It was a brilliant city in which to launch my business and, even though I am now back in the UK, I still work on many an overseas project."
Then in 2017 Sarah visited India which she describes as "luminous and extraordinary". Fired by the brilliant colours there she began her home accessories collection and online shop, and a year later launched her fabric and wallpaper collection.
Sarah has now moved to the Cotswolds to live in a charming 18th-century stone cottage.
"My husband Fred is from Gloucestershire so we wanted a place in the area where he grew up," she says. "We found the cottage two years ago and after renovating it moved in last June. It's only two hours from London, where I have my studio, and brings us a little closer to Cornwall so suits our commutes very well."
The cottage had been empty for about five years and had beautiful old crittall windows and lovely original beams. "But many of the panes were broken and the beams darkened with soot and age," says Sarah. "The place needed rewiring and replumbing, and for some reason the enormous inglenook fireplace had a really small opening for the fire."
So the couple bought it and work began, although luckily they did not have to live among the chaos.
"One of the first things was to move the cloakroom from behind a kitchen wall to a new little room I designed to go behind some wide book shelves at the end of the open-plan sitting room," says Sarah. "You would hardly know it was there."
The couple were very specific on the type of piping needed for the plumbing and how the electrical circuits and sockets were to be placed in a room. "There have been links to copper piping and child leukaemia, so we installed plastic piping in the stud wall between guest room and bathroom," she says.
The windows took up the longest part of the project. "Each one had to be scraped back prior to repainting, while the old beams were sand blasted back to their original beautiful colour, so enhancing the sense of space in the cottage."
Studying the inglenook fireplace one frosty morning, husband Fred fetched his sledge hammer and attacked the stone façade which he suspected was not original.
"At the end of a fortnight he had removed half a ton of stone to discover the most glorious sight - the original inglenook! It now houses a contemporary wood burner which fills the room with heat," says Sarah.
In the kitchen the couple laid a new wooden floor and fitted it with solid oak units and worktops from Howdens.
They were delighted to find the bathroom still had good floorboards on which Sarah used a floor paint, 'Cameo White' by Sanderson. "This is a wonderful fresh off-white shade," she says. "As we were working to a fairly tight budget we then got all the bathroom fittings from Victorian Bathrooms. I designed and had made the vanity unit from old scaffolding which I then sealed with Osmo Matt clear oil for a super finish. Then I chose Fired Earth tiles for the shower walls and for behind the basin."
She adds, "Working in small spaces in Hong Kong really taught me the importance of space. The master bedroom is a fairly good size so we built a panelled wardrobe across the entire width of it. It blends well with the room as both cupboards and walls are all painted 'Sagebrush' by Benjamin Moore.
"The guest room had an awkward ledge in it, as did the bathroom at waist height and a great way of dealing with this is to design shelving up to the ceiling, which I did in both of these rooms."
Sarah designs a great deal of furniture for her clients from sofas, upholstered chairs and headboards to scatter cushions and a luxurious range of sari and silk lampshades made to order.
"I wanted a really cottagey feeling in my home so I have a very English country pine table with a fabulous Hungarian bench that I discovered at the Station Mill in Chipping Norton. The sofa is the sort you dive into on a Sunday afternoon with the papers, and opposite that is my Anton armchair upholstered with my 'Fortescue Bay' fabric in viridian blue.
"I also designed the side tables with a magenta table top and the tropical pops of comfort are my 'Tanda Tula' cube stools with velvet tops. But my particular favourite is an old Victorian cricket table, which is nestled in a corner beside the dining table - such a fun piece."
- Benjamin Moore Paint, benjaminmoorepaint.co.uk
- Little Greene, littlegreene.com
- Sarah Fortescue, 07540 652488, Sarahfortescue.com
- Station Mill Antiques, 01608 644563, stationmill.com
- Victorian Bathrooms, 0113 390 7512, victorianbathrooms4u.com