Creating warm and cosy interiors is stylist Clare Southcombe-Holmes’ speciality, her Milford on Sea business is even named after the most comforting food…biscuits. At Christmas, it’s all about the right scent, natural materials and pieces that mean something to you, as she shares

Many of us had a childhood dream of what our adulthood job or life might look like. We can often neglect the hobbies that once fulfilled us in our youth. According to some studies, only a small 4% make it a reality. Stylist and shop owner, Clare Southcombe-Holmes, is one of the select few who nurtured her passion and still has a flare to this day.

‘Looking back, my passion from a very early age was always interiors. From dressing friend’s bedrooms to redesigning an old shack I found in the woods!’

Great British Life: The festive abode in Milford on Sea (c) Mattea McKinnonThe festive abode in Milford on Sea (c) Mattea McKinnon

Clare is the owner of designer boutique, No 64 Biscuit House, in the beautiful seaside village of Milford on Sea. She grew up surrounded by nature and worked on a farm and stables in the New Forest in her teens. Now, she lives with husband Glen in the heart of the village in a house dating back to the 1600s. The couple let a divided section of the house called ‘Biscuit Cottage’ to holidaymakers and run the shop from the front of the house.

Clare worked for over 30 years in styling, eventually becoming Head of Styling for a graphics studio. She shares: ‘I got a bit of a break helping out in the photographic department at my dad’s company eventually. Then I became a trainee stylist, and was thrown in at the deep end designing room sets and styling shoots.’

After working up the ranks to eventually become Head of Styling, Clare’s role found her travelling abroad, working in beautiful homes around the globe on photoshoots. She remembers: ‘I learnt a lot in those years – hard work, long days but I loved it.’ She continues: ‘My Dad and I always really enjoyed looking at plans for houses and changing them. Now, I walk into a house and can’t help but think what I’d change and knock down to create something new. I can also memorise house plans in my head, I never need to take photos, it’s all ingrained in my brain. I think it’s because I find it fascinating!’ She laughs: ‘If you ask me for a specific war date or something like that, you’ve not a hope in hell!’

Great British Life: Stylish accessories (c) Mattea McKinnonStylish accessories (c) Mattea McKinnon

Clare’s role would be to set the mood and theme of a property to ensure the perfect shots are obtained. Her and her team would source props and furnishings to enhance the products, as well as focusing on the perfect lighting, colour and other areas.

‘After 31 years I decided to have a break, have some time out and pursue the dream of having my own interior shop. I'd loved the sourcing of props so much during my styling career that I realised this is what I wanted to do. To create my own 'Happy Place' to show others what can be achieved by simply dressing things beautifully.’

So, No 64 was born and now offers an array of beautiful things, from unique home accessories and soft furnishings to lighting and furniture. Clare puts a lot of effort into researching and buying items to sell in her store that she loves.

Great British Life: Festive foliage (c) Mattea McKinnonFestive foliage (c) Mattea McKinnon

‘I’ll spend hours doing it! Even if it’s just cards, I will spend a lot of time looking at the funniest ones. It’s all about the detail. As it’s festive season now, nice Christmas scents are important and Christmas smells. A lot people come in and say it smells amazing, what is it?’

She continues: ‘Milford has such a community feel and although I do have competition with stores like TK Max, I have a lot of customers who would rather come here and shop local. A lot of people come in around Christmas and say “I want to buy all my gifts from the village or locally” which is just lovely. So, I will gift wrap and I can post.’

Clare’s home at the back of the shop is stylish and elegant, full of timeless country charm with a modern twist. The earthy, natural tones and neutral materials reflect her adoration for nature and the New Forest, whilst also incorporating hints of other countries.

Great British Life: The living room (c) Mattea McKinnonThe living room (c) Mattea McKinnon

‘As I’ve lived in the Forest all my life with all the animals - I think that is why I’m so inspired by nature, flowers, all that botanical stuff – feathers. Over there is an old tree stump I got given by my father in law from the farm he had. I just love natural things! I like it to be a little bit modern with added vintage.’

Standing in the living room, Clare explains: ‘This room was the abattoir as the house was used as a slaughterhouse and cart shed until the mid 1900’s - it has a very deep floor in here, I’m assuming it’s because they used to hang the meat here. It was literally just a blank room before. The feng-shui enthusiast in me wanted to change a few things so I rebuilt the fire on the opposite side of the room.’

In preparation for Christmas, Clare has dressed her fireplace and hung a pair of vintage ice-skating boots as decoration. ‘I found them at a charity shop, I love a good find.

Great British Life: Vintage ice-skating boots (c) Mattea McKinnonVintage ice-skating boots (c) Mattea McKinnon

‘I really love naturals, but I’ve now started to embrace darker colours too. Considering I’m a stylist, I’m quite frightened of strong colours! A lot of things I’ve picked up from houses I’ve worked in, things from other local shops. I’ve gone down the subtle, botanical route with artwork and I love this chair from the antique shop in the village. A lot of things in here are natural and rustic, I love all that texture with sheep skins to soften things.’

When it comes to influences, Clare explains: ‘It’s really bizarre – I just buy what I like, I’m not influenced by just one thing.’ Throughout the house there are interesting items from the places she’s visited, a wooden mask from South Africa, a feather wreath from Devon. She says: ‘I like textures, tones, things handmade and crafted. All these bits are from somewhere and are personal to me and my journey. I love things that tell a story. Nothing necessarily valuable, it’s unique to me.’

After her two children had flown the nest, Clare had an idea to turn a section of her property into an Airbnb, known as Biscuit Cottage, a little one-bedroom gem on the high street. She remembers: ‘I was driving up to Twickenham to see my sister and thought there is a whole section of that house not being used now the kids have grown up and gone. A whole part of the house is wasted, so I put a wall up and converted it into a holiday cottage and added a front door. Running that takes a lot of time but I love it.’

Great British Life: Clare Southcombe-Holmes (c) Mattea McKinnonClare Southcombe-Holmes (c) Mattea McKinnon

Her husband Glen has recently embarked on his own project and runs No64 Pizza from a horse box conversion. He offers catering for all, but mainly focuses on private and corporate events.

This festive season, Clare will be spending time with her son Jake (27) and daughter Molly (25). ‘My family is quite scattered now in terms of location but if we can’t get together Christmas Day, we’ll all try and get together as a family another day. I’m close to my sister who’s up in Twickenham and my Mum’s in Highcliffe so not far.’

When Clare isn’t busy running the shop or her Airbnb she occasionally still offers her stylist services. Despite her experience, Clare is very humble when talking about her expertise: ‘I sometimes feel like I blag it, I only do what I love and what I love just seems to work. I definitely have my own signature style and can learn who’s my style and who’s not when it comes to working with people. I’d say the main word to describe mine is eclectic. I get genuinely so excited talking about design!’

Clare’s shop can be found at No64 Biscuit House, The High Street, Milford on Sea, SO41 0QD. Find out more about the shop, styling and the pizza oven at their website