Lady Burlington designs a dream holiday escape at Chatsworth
- Credit: Archant
Derbyshire Life talks to Laura, Countess of Burlington, about the re-design of Park Farm House – the latest addition to the Chatsworth holiday cottages portfolio
The approach to Park Farm House at Chatsworth is an adventure leading to a surprise. A winding track rises above the Stand Wood to take visitors above the tree line and suddenly bring them out into a beautiful open space, where the farmhouse and outbuildings have a commanding place in the landscape. There’s solitude as we arrive today, bar a line of walkers in the distance and a scattering of grazing sheep with their lambs.
Laura Cavendish, Countess of Burlington, confesses that until she saw the place for herself, she was mildly curious about her husband’s enthusiasm for it. A former fashion model and fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, she was given the task of turning the farmhouse into a holiday cottage to join the portfolio of cottages on the estate, most of the interiors of which have been designed and furnished by her mother-in-law, the Duchess of Devonshire.
The farm became vacant six months ago and the design project was a first for Lady Burlington, who decided to tackle it on the simple basis of, ‘If I was renting a cottage, how would I like it to be? I decided to put in what I’d like to find myself and if it was a disaster, I’d know not to do it next time,’ she says with a smile. Working to a strict budget, she set out to buy as much as possible from British manufacturers and ‘to make savings on some things to enable me to buy the things I really wanted to have.’
The family have been staying in the cottage themselves for a few days and we’re sitting in a farmhouse kitchen that already has a very homely feel to it. The mellow tiled floor in here and in the hallway is the original, and Lady Burlington credits Malcolm Hulland, Building Contracts Manager of the Chatsworth estate office for its retention. ‘He’s worked here for years and is really brilliant,’ she says warmly. ‘He’s one of those people who wouldn’t make a suggestion, and perhaps I wouldn’t have thought of leaving it but he’d say, “Isn’t the floor nice… perhaps you could take it up and re-set it and put in underfloor heating…” It fits very well with my desire not to try and tidy things up too much.’
There’s a large collection of teaspoons that has made a striking piece of art for the kitchen walls. Equipping this room has been enormous fun, she says, recalling ‘six hours in John Lewis at one point… I realised by the end of it that this kitchen is better equipped than my own. You just muddle through at home but everything had to be substantial here. I tried to think which things I should spend money on – a baking tray is something you can economise on, for example, but a casserole is quite important…
‘The cottage has been furnished with antiques from the 1930’s and 40’s. I tried to restrict myself to British furniture from this period, but I ended up mixing the odd modern piece in too,’ she says, showing us the dining room with its distinctive Gordon Russell furniture. Some items she bought new, some she bought at auction, ‘where you can be lucky a bit sometimes.’ The hand-blocked wallpaper throughout the cottage is one of the most striking features, the bold leaf patterns the work of the botanical artist, Martha Armitage, still working at the age of 87, Lady Burlington notes with respect. She bought the wallpaper years ago and had ‘never hung it because I never lived in a house where it was quite right. I finally managed to hang it here and it’s really lovely.’
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The sitting room is small and cosy, with an inviting log pile for the wood-burning stove. Upstairs, low ceilings in the bedrooms have been taken out to stunning effect, giving double height and revealing the beautiful roof structure. Lady Burlington had admired old Victorian bedsteads at Chatsworth but deemed them too narrow for modern use and sought out a Cornish manufacturing company who supplied them to original designs. Textiles, bedding and furnishings come from British companies too, and she is quietly pleased with all that – ‘I tried to be quite strict about what fabrics were there, and to use a lot of wool and ticking and those sort of materials.’
The results are striking, combining new purchases and antiques: the lighting, for example, accords with her taste for the modern but is juxtaposed with lamps from Chatsworth – ‘Hannah Obee, Acting Head of Arts & Historic Collections, took me to the store and we chose some things,’ she says with pleasure, acknowledging the great fun she’d had in rooting around in boxes.
The nicest thing of all about this cottage is that almost all the rooms have windows on two sides, so the views are ever-present and the big bowls of flowers on the broad stone sills are illuminated in many different lights. Even the deep bath in the tasteful bathroom has a window on the world outside. I ask whether the Duchess approves of what has been done and yes, she really likes it, Lady Burlington says, acknowledging, ‘She’s so good at it herself and she’s been really supportive. And she’s put me straight on some things – I think you couldn’t get into the bath without hitting your head on the towel rail at one point…’
She wants to do more planting in the garden, which is encircled with a curved stone wall. The family as well as visitors will spend time here and their three children are beginning to explore. ‘This place is new to them so it has taken them a few days to begin to roam freely. Which is probably no bad thing,’ she reflects. ‘But they did a bit of roaming yesterday and came back with a horseshoe and a ram’s horn and were really pleased with themselves.
‘When you decorate something yourself, you’re always thinking of how it will look. I have this fear that as my mother-in-law has done so many of the cottages and they are so beautiful, that mine will be the only one that gets no bookings! But when you let go of that, you just enjoy it. The sun was dropping last night and the light was really lovely. It was gorgeous.’
For details of how to stay at Park Farm House go to www.chatsworth.org/stay-with-us or telephone 01246 565379.