A PERFECT COTTAGE
When interior designer Harriet Anstruther took possession of her run-down Sussex farmhouse, she put her eclectic mark on it, while keeping its original features...
Harriet Anstruther is perched on the arm of a rattan chair in her garden. Conspiratorial, articulate, and with a gravelly laugh that makes her instantly likeable, the designer is making sure that I understand her particular version of luxury before I set foot in her Sussex farmhouse. 'Here is absolutely where the heart is,' she tells me, gesturing towards the wonky, flint-clad rear of her timber-framed house, with its catslide roof and stamp-size windows. 'There is nothing designer-y about it. The house is mostly filled with junk, but it is the most enormous luxury to escape from London to a place that doesn't have to serve multiple purposes.'
Harriet is married to photographer Henry Bourne and has a 22-year-old daughter, Celestia. This is where they come to decompress as a family. 'As a house, it doesn't have to work very hard,' she says
During the week, Harriet runs a successful, multi-disciplinary design studio, working closely with clients to create playful, bold and glamorous interiors, from Mayfair town houses to country manors. She originally studied fine art, so her knowledge and appreciation of the art world provides her with boundless inspiration. But it's Harriet's more recent studies in interior architecture at the Inchbald School of Design that underpin her designs with an understanding of how a building must work an
In Sussex, Harriet's starting point was a house so inexorably anchored in its rural past that she had to work in sympathy with it, quietly rewiring, re-plumbing and installing central heating, while doing very little to the original layout and structure.
The dining room's original brick-and-stone flooring and low, hand-sawn timber beams set the tone for Harriet's display of found objects, including a stuffed owl, feathers and a cowskin bought on the side of the road in the South of France. The table is made by Norfolk-based furniture maker Tim Sillis.
SEATING BY THE AGA
Harriet ripped up the existing carpet tiles to expose the York stone flooring in the kitchen.
You really have to listen to a house like this,' she tells me as we cross the stone threshold, worn smooth by the centuries of stomping feet, through the back door and into the scullery, which connects to the kitchen. 'There are no straight lines here, and there is nothing thatdoesn't have a hole or a chip or a bird in it. But if you spent your time worry-ing about spiders and symmetry, you wouldn't live here.'
The scullery is accessed through the kitchen.
A half-height wall was put in to create an informal 'snug' around the fire.
Having taken possession of the house 18 years ago - it was bought for her by her father on the day she was born and since then rented to a farmer - Harriet set about removing carpet tiles, dead cats and decades of dirt to reveal the sort of domestic historical details that fill her with delight.
The sitting room features a distinctive cowskin ottoman from George Smith.
Antlers, found in neighbouring woods, are displayed like treasures on a sideboard in the sitting room. A stuffed owl peers like an installation from its glass case in the dining room, surrounded by deserted nests from the hedgerows, its glass eyes lighting on the black cock feathers and beads that hang jauntily from the lamps. Carefully sorted and placed against the calming white and greys of lime-washed brick and timber, this is junk at its most delectable, and the effect is one of g
Animal pelts, as likely to have been picked up on the way back from the beach in the South of France as on the Portobello Road, add warmth to the ground floor living areas, including the kitchen, dining room and more formal sitting room. Upstairs, her grandmother's shawl makes the bed in a spare room especially cosy, while a butter churn serves as a side table in the main bathroom.
Stripped back, cleaned and lime-washed throughout, the interior has become a sorting house for Harriet's large collection of inherited furniture and flea-market finds.
Linen muslin curtains screen off the dressing area from the bed in the main bedroom.
'As I explained, it is mostly junk,' she says with a laugh. But I'm afraid I have to disagree. Harriet describes her work as a process of 'curating, editing and suggesting' for her clients, and she has shown that the same processes are successfully at work here in her own home.
Framed pictures give the bathroom a lived-in feel.
There are the original brick-and-stone floors downstairs, which deepen in colour when the ground beneath them is wet; the majestic, hand-sawn oak beams are complete with makers' marks and original lime wash; and there are pagan nooks hidden in every chimneypiece, once filled with talismans to ward off evil spirits. 'There are so many stories here,' she says, running her hands over a pleasingly lumpy wattle-and-daub wall.
So slight are Harriet's interventions here that they are almost impossible to spot. Bar a new bathroom on the second floor, and a half-height wall built to define a snug area around the fire adjacent to the dining room, her story is simply one of exposing - and revelling in - the house's past.
Upstairs, Harriet's grandmother's shawl makes the bed in a spare room especially cosy.
Harriet's grandmother's books line the landing to a spare room.
'Its skeleton is so strong and powerful, you can't fight it,' she remarks. As a second home, it is unencumbered by the daily, practical demands of a family. There is little or no storage here and there is only charm, not inconvenience, in the low beams and sloping, uneven floorboards. 'And that is where the real luxury lies,' Harriet grins.