When Rachel and Fraser Hobbs swapped their one bedroom flat in London’s Stoke Newington for a three bedroom converted cottage in a pretty Warwickshire village, they knew it was going to be a dramatic change of lifestyle. But they hadn’t bargained on quite how much the relocation would influence their taste in home decor.
“Before we moved in we went a bit nuts in antiques barns, buying loads of old stuff,” laughs Rachel. “I think we were a bit over-excited because we were coming from London moving to this country cottage and we thought we should buy all this old furniture. I had this vision of a really traditional country cottage.”
Over the nearly two years the couple (and, more recently, their baby boy) have lived in the house, however, their style has evolved to become more a blend of eras. “After we started actually living here we realised that because it’s already got the features in the building it doesn’t necessarily need lots more period character in the furniture and accessories,” explains Rachel. “Also, it was starting to feel a little oppressive – an old cottage full of old things. So our style’s definitely changed over time. These days we try to mix in more contemporary pieces with our vintage collections.”
The cottage boasts two living rooms – one with a huge fireplace – as well as three bedrooms upstairs and an extension on the back of the downstairs of the house.
Walking into the cottage you get an instant feel for Fraser and Rachel’s eye for detail. Pretty candle holders sit alongside vintage prints, quirky boxes prop up framed photographs, industrial style lighting sits on top of antique suitcases and amongst it all you can see Fraser and Rachel’s story weaving in and out in the form of little polaroid snaps with funny captions underneath, propped onto Printer’s trays, stuck on noticeboards and tagged up with colourful Washi tape. There’s an intensely warm, personal vibe to the house, contrasting perfectly with the stark white walls and stripped floorboards.
“It’s all evolved fairly naturally,” says Rachel. “We want it to be a real family home that feels cosy and comfortable, not straight off the pages of a glossy magazine. I’m not super tidy anyway and neither of us are really into the minimalist look. And, by not overthinking it too much, it’s meant the rooms have kind of developed their own style.”
The two lounges have a really different feel and obvious different uses. The TV is in one of the rooms, for example, while the other room seems to be all about relaxing in front of the fire. “The lounge with the fireplace is more traditional,” explains Rachel. “We got a carpenter to make the cabinet for us because the walls were so wonky we couldn’t find anything that fit in the space perfectly. The lounge on the other side of the house has a far more contemporary feel. It was more of a blank white box without the fireplace, so we’ve gone for more contemporary pieces in there such as the IKEA sideboard and sofa from MADE.com.”
With Fraser’s job as a partner for digital design studio Oh My! it means the design decisions in the home often naturally fall to him. “Fraser’s work is very visual and design led,” says Rachel. “And I guess part of his job is to stay abreast of trends, so he definitely takes the lead. He’s taught me that being patient when it comes to buying stuff for the house is a positive thing, because you end up with things that you really love. For example, we have a really modern New York print in one of the lounges that I never thought would work. If you’d have told me before we moved in that we’d be buying art like that for a country cottage I’d have thought it was heresy! But it does actually work really well in that room.”
Does this mean they ever disagree on purchases for the house? Rachel admits she’s happy to let Fraser sign off on most of the home buys – especially after an incident with a cushion. “I once bought a cushion in Primark,” laughs Rachel. “When I bought it home Fraser secretly let the cat wee on it so it had to be thrown away! I’ve never made the same mistake again!”
Like many homes, Rachel and Fraser’s house comes into its own once you get to the kitchen. The modern extension means the space is airy and light, with room for a separate dining area, utility and boot room, downstairs toilet and big open plan kitchen with an island. French doors line three walls of the space, meaning light floods in and, in the summer, the garden essentially becomes an extra downstairs room in the house.
“It’s all about the kitchen, for me,” says Rachel. “I’d always wanted a big kitchen because I love cooking. And it’s where you spend all your time as a family anyway. In many of the cottages we looked around before we bought this one, it felt like we’d be making a compromise on the kitchen space. The kitchens were either too small or they hadn’t been converted very tastefully – there were ugly cabinets, for example, or not enough light. This space is modern, but the developers used lots of period features like beams and floorboards, making it feel like it flows with the rest of the house.”
“A lot of the vintage pieces around the house and in the kitchen are bits we picked up over the years before we even left London,” explains Rachel. “Whenever we’d go somewhere new we’d often have a look around flea markets and antique shops. When we went to New York we even had to buy an extra suitcase to bring all the stuff back that we found in the flea market there! Fraser has a definite weakness for vintage pieces and will often randomly buy it, then we’ll work out where it will go later on.”
When it comes to buying vintage, Rachel recommends getting creative and accepting that you won’t necessarily use a piece in the way it was originally intended. “Sometimes we’ll move something around for a while and use it for different things before it finally finds a place in our home. If we love something we just get it, then figure out what we’ll use it for later.”
This approach to buying has meant the couple’s home has a really unique feel with plenty of quirky touches. A sink plunger used as a kitchen roll holder, for example. Cutlery in enamel pots on the table. Kilner jars to store cotton wool buds in the bathroom, and vintage boxes and suitcases as side tables and toy storage.
Quick Q & A:
Favourite homeware shop?
“For vintage pieces we often go to an antiques barn near us in Warwickshire. We also like a place called Peppermill Antiques because they sell a mixture of old pieces alongside their own furniture that they can make bespoke to order. For new pieces we buy probaby 90% online. We love MADE and H&M Home along with IKEA and Tiger.
Biggest tip for buying vintage?
“Buy what you love and find a place for it later.”
The benefits of patience over hurry when it comes to kitting out a house?
“Taking your time to decorate a home means you won’t be too swayed by trends and it won’t look like you just bought everything from one shop, meaning it won’t be all samey. It also means you end up with stuff you genuinely love and that won’t date too much over time.”
Biggest tip for stylish family living?
“Find easy storage options. We like to use big boxes that you can throw all the baby toys in at the end of the day and cover with a blanket so the space feels like a grown-up room to relax in during the evening. We also use lots of different things for storage, for example we have a meat cabinet in the bathroom that we keep the toiletries and bath toys in.”
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