Through the keyhole: West Poynings, Uffculme
- Credit: Matt Austin
Chrissy Harris takes a tour of a home which the owner loves so much she finds it hard to go beyond the gate Photography by Matt Austin
There are some people in this world who just know how to make a house a home. Anna Timlett is one of them. Stood in the kitchen of the 19th century West Poynings in Uffculme, she carefully slices her freshly baked ginger cake and pours tea into a beautiful tin glazed mug, one of hundreds she has made over the years during her career as a potter.
Her homely attention to detail is evident all around, from the earthenware on the shelves of the Welsh dresser in the kitchen to the paintings on the walls and the blinds and curtains that are all hand sewn.
Also in abundance are little trinkets and objects she has collected over the years.
Everything is in its place, on its shelf, in its cupboard or on its sideboard.
There’s not a clear surface anywhere but it’s not clutter – these are carefully thought out displays, collected over a lifetime.
“I’m the sort of person who will keep something for years and years. I wouldn’t say I’m a hoarder. I don’t keep loads of stuff I don’t need. I just like to have pretty things to look at,” says Anna, a quiet, softly spoken woman who agreed to open up her home to Devon Life only because her sister made her.
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“I just love her house. It’s beautiful - like something out of Country Living,” says younger sister Sara, who’s just arrived.
“When we were children, Anna always had miniature things in her room, set out just so. There was a miniature Bible and these little pots. Everything was tiny and it just felt like treasure.
“I used to sneak into her room and look through all the pots and then try to put everything back into exactly the same place. She always had such special things.”
Anna laughs at her sister’s admission but Sara’s right. There are little shelving units here you could spend all day looking through and still never discover all the interesting little things hiding away.
It’s all part of the style of the house that Anna, 51, and husband John, 56, have spent the past 18 years making their own.
They moved into West Poynings in 1997 after a year’s househunting.
The couple had been living in Uffculme village in a flat at the Wool Museum, a building that had been set up for young craftspeople to live and work in the same place.
The one-bedroomed apartment soon became too cramped for the couple and John’s young son, Luke, and the family decided to look for more suitable accommodation.
“It was so difficult to find anywhere,” says Anna. “We were basically left with farms and we didn’t necessarily want that.
“I’d never even noticed this house before when one day, we were coming down the back road from the A38 and I glanced across and caught a glimpse of it.
“A few weeks later, the property details landed on our doorstep. It was really simple in the end.”
West Poynings is part of a large manor house built in 1865 for William Furze, a prosperous local brewer.
The Grade II-listed building has been divided into four homes and the three-bedroomed West Poynings used to be the servants’ quarters.
“There are lots of connecting doors between us and our neighbours that have been blocked off now but the walls there are very thin,” says Anna.
“When you’re near the one in the kitchen, you can hear the neighbours getting their vacuum cleaner out.
“It’s funny because it’s such a sturdy house, you don’t expect to hear anyone.”
Not that Anna minds her neighbours. In fact, there’s a window in the pantry, which the family use to climb out and drop in to next door’s garden for social visits.
Anna has even put a little stepladder there for easy access to the windowsill.
Everything here has been very carefully considered, something Sara says her sister is very good at.
“Anna and John do everything incredibly thoroughly,” she says. “A while after they moved in, they had to take all of the windows out, sanding them down and painting them. And they were perfect. I remember being so impressed.”
Anna explains this had to be done because the elderly couple that had lived in the house before them had never opened the windows and painted them shut.
There was a lot of other work to be done in a building that had not been touched for the best part of 40 years.
“There was yellow Formica everywhere,” says Anna. “We really liked it and were going to keep it and then I got pregnant with Felix. I remember sitting on a sofa in the kitchen him feeding him as my mum washed the kitchen floor.
“As she did, the tiles were sort of lifting up and curling! It was all gradually starting to fall to pieces.”
The couple certainly had their work cut out but were determined to do it all themselves to save money but also because this was their home.
“We spend a lot of time at home together,” says Anna. “We’re busy but we’ve got a lot of time to spend with each other and that’s what we want.”
“Yes, I keep trying to get her to come over to ours but she won’t leave. Anna doesn’t go past the gate!” laughs Sara.
“Yes. It’s a bit of a problem!” says Anna. “The other day John said to me ‘Have you seen what they’ve done to such and such in the village?’ and I suddenly thought, I don’t think I’ve been out of the house in a week!”
But with a lovely old boatshed pottery studio in a gorgeous garden and surrounded by everything she holds dear, why go beyond the gate? n
For more information on Anna’s work, e-mail email@example.com or see about.me/annatimlett