A Country Escape - Cottage in Wheatcroft, Derbyshire
Alex Carlisle meets a contented couple who've combined their building and design skills to create a beautiful home for themselves and a perfect country getaway for guests
Down a steep and twisting lane in Wheatcroft, four miles from Matlock, perched high above the fields of Alfreton and the Amber Valley, stands Beech Farm, whose chiselled limestone blocks and pretty Staffordshire blue tiles have stood on this piece of Derbyshire for over three hundred years.
Amanda Brown, a former civil servant, and her husband Martin, who is a local building contractor, first undertook the restoration of the main house. It was then a race against time to renovate the Old Granary as the winds of winter were smashing the tiles and an ever-increasing hole gaped in the roof. It had been only a few years before that Amanda and Martin first discovered Beech Farm, ‘We fell in love with it, but it was being sold at auction. When it didn’t make the guide price we were over the moon. It’s always been our dream to have a place in the countryside,’ said Amanda. ‘The barn conversion took a year and a half to complete and I really enjoyed every bit of the restoration process, just as much as I gain satisfaction now from seeing people enjoy themselves when they come to stay.’
When the restoration was completed in 2007, the couple found that they hadn’t only made a beautiful hillside retreat for themselves. The conversion of a barn had also created, almost without effort, separate fivestar self-catering accommodation which became The Old Granary. ‘We didn’t set out to do it, it was more that the barn lent itself so well to the conversion,’ said Amanda.
Proof of her eye for detail can be found from the moment you set foot on Beech Farm. Standing on the gravel drive, superb cast-iron Victorian lampposts with their original copper tops wait to light the way, and as you crunch up towards the house the beauty of both the buildings and their setting becomes apparent. During the summer months the scent of roses fills the air and wafts through to delight the senses – one of Amanda’s favourites is the lovely ‘William Shakespeare’ with its deep crimson flowers and fruity scent. Waiting on the patio a delicate table and chairs have been arranged to offer a perfect place to relax and admire both the garden and views which seem to roll as far as the horizon, revealing the turrets of Hardwick and a glimpse of Bolsover Castle. ‘What our guests really seem to love,’ Amanda adds, ‘is the hot tub.’ Or perhaps it is the equally breathtaking view from the hydrotherapy spa which encourages guests to return again and again.
Inside, there’s a farmyard theme in the kitchen, where cream Shaker-style cupboards are complemented with shabby-chic painted furniture and artful arrangments of kitchenalia, ornaments and pictures of farm animals – here too guests can enjoy freshly laid free range eggs from the eleven chickens that live at Beech Farm. A painted Irish dresser, dating from the 1800s and in its original condition, bears evidence of the odd assault from the passing of time, adding to the homely atmosphere. ‘All the paintwork,’ Amanda informs me, ‘has been done in Farrow and Ball heritage colours, which offer texture, and a real feeling of warmth.’
A green painted bench is another period piece. It’s stacked with handmade gingham cushions that complement the cockerel and spotted linen fabric of the curtains and the flower-sprigged oilcloth covering the farmhouse table – all adding interest without visual conflict. The end result is a comfortable, relaxing and cosy kitchen. That is not to say there aren’t some strong features too. The deep and distinctive Belfast sink set in sturdy granite adds real definition.
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The light-hearted and airy feeling is also in evidence upstairs. The use of a natural sisal carpet, said to be ultra hardwearing, is a continuation of the theme of beauty and practicality which runs through the house.
‘I want to offer my guests a fivestar experience,’ explains Amanda in one of the bedrooms as she reveals an inconspicuous inbuilt speaker neatly fitted next to the corona overhanging the bed. The iPod docking system has speakers in each of the contemporary and minimal en suite bathrooms. Details such as some pretty Victorian tiles aim to bridge the gap between the modern and the more classical French theme which runs throughout all the bedrooms. In one, the French cane bed and bedside tables in off-white give an exotic and airy feel while an elegant toile de Jouy in raspberry and white frames the window and drapes the bed. Six botanical prints above the bed link the pink with subtle shaded white walls. Each room has its own individual character – marble topped furniture and a French crystal chandelier are clues to which room belongs to the master of the house. A pleasing mix of traditional painted furniture, lighter pine and cane, including pieces of iconic Lloyd Loom, are used to great effect.
Throughout, colour, pattern and texture are employed in conjunction with casual arrangements of items both practical and ornamental to produce a decorating scheme that seems almost serendipitous. Details such as simple curtain treatments and mismatched yet carefully chosen furniture that work well to create a country feel are scrupulously attended to, while style goes hand in hand with comfort. Did Amanda also arrange the sleeping cats that lounge luxuriantly on this surface and that?
With an eclectic mix of furniture, finishes and features, some lovingly collected or painstakingly applied, some inherited with ownership of Beech Farm, Amanda and Martin have put together not one but two dream cottages. The exterior of the Old Granary has all the appearance of a quintessential country cottage and you aren’t disappointed inside where original beams add to the character. Brick-shaped terracotta tiles line the floor and are both original and distinctive. The living room features squashy sofas, a traditional wood burner and a Singer treadle sewing machine table, ‘these were left behind by the previous owner in one of the outbuildings,’ explains Amanda.
Amanda has not studied interior design, though her work shows a real depth of understanding. Some of her best effects stem from her use of subtlety. ‘Friends have said I should have studied interior design,’ she admitted. Symbiotically, the structural work undertaken by Martin and his craftsmanship and skill as a carpenter – displayed particularly in the wood panelled farmhouse doors – works well with Amanda’s eye for detail, colour and texture.
The Cruck Barn, which adjoins The Old Granary, has not been changed at all. ‘It is good not to convert all the outbuildings as they are nice in their original state. We’ve also kept the stables as they were. In fact, it’s the same in the garden, I like a relaxed way of planting,’ explains Amanda.
It’s obvious that a lot of flair, hard work, high standards and attention to detail have gone into creating this lovely home but Amanda and Martin certainly seem to have found their own fulfilment in this idyllic little corner of Derbyshire. A good sprinkling of heart-shaped ornaments throughout the house might suggest that it’s also been a labour of love.