Couple reveals how they made a Grade-II listed cottage work as a family home

Carving out serene spaces in a hectic family home that also doubles as a workplace can seem an unrealistic goal.

But at Garden Rose Cottage, in the idyllic hamlet of Mousley End, deep in Warwickshire’s Shakespeare country, Paul and Alex Clarke have managed just that.

Balancing stylish yet practical living spaces, the Grade  II-listed, three-bedroom house features pale, tranquil rooms with chalk-white walls, beamed ceilings and plaster-pink concrete floors, alongside an open-plan, midnight-blue kitchen and utilitarian and laundry spaces in which to stash the inevitable mess.

‘There really is no point in having beautiful, minimalist spaces when they are just going to be draped in drying underpants,’ says Paul.

‘When we bought the home in 2015, we redesigned it to make sure we could keep parts as clutter-free as possible – and other parts that we could happily heap with all the detritus of busy family life.

‘The aim was to strip the place back to its original, raw beauty while reinvigorating it as a contemporary family home.’

For Paul and Alex, who have two children – daughter Teddy, three, and son Baxter, 13 months – dream family homes are their meat and drink.

They founded estate agency Mr And Mrs Clarke in 2015, which has a strong focus on selling houses that have been both mindfully curated and treasured by their owners.

‘When we decided to move to the country and put our Islington apartment on the market, the whole experience made us feel detached and undervalued,’ says Paul, a former teacher who also set up an events company with Alex, a former party planner to members of the royal family.

‘We knew we could do better.’

It was his wife, admits Paul, who immediately saw the potential in the 400-year-old house, a 25-minute drive from Leamington Spa, to succeed as both their work base and a place to raise a family.

‘The house had seen so many families come and grow, but it really was a higgledy-piggledy mess,’ he says.

‘There was a mish-mash of rooms, and layer upon layer of flooring. We made some welcome discoveries, such as uncovering ceiling beams, wooden floorboards and hidden fireplaces, but there was a strange, spooky staircase that seemed to go nowhere, which we later ripped out and converted into the pantry, and, oddly, two kitchens – one of which made the perfect study space.’

With the help of Dean Poulton, of Lapworth-based Progression Architects, support from the local planners, who were keen to see the 16th-century house restored to its former beauty, and a team of trusted builders, major works were carried out.

These included an extension for that all-important utility room, the addition of a storm porch and the removal of two false ceilings in the master bedroom, giving it an airy, vaulted feel.

Paul and Alex, who stayed with Alex’s locally based parents for five months while the work was being carried out, have reinvented a house that made no sense at all into one that is not only magazine-spread glamorous, but utterly pragmatic, for a total budget of around £200,000,

The pretty pale pink concrete flooring throughout the whole of the downstairs, for example, is hard-wearing as well as wipe-down, should Teddy take her crayons to it, or Marlowe the black lab trail mud inside, though it is softened here and there by soft, luxurious rugs.

The poplar kitchen cabinetry is by British Standard, upmarket Plain English’s more affordable little sister range, which you paint yourself: Paul and Alex chose Farrow & Ball’s Stiffkey Blue, setting off the white Unistone countertops.

The pale walls (inset, left) create a sense of space throughout, with light-filtering linen floating at the windows. Instead of conventional lighting, pendants loop from the ceilings on lengths of flex (inset, right), and in the children’s  bedrooms, white painted floorboards are the perfect alternative to easily stained carpets.

To maintain a sense of serenity, it was important not to clutter, so only a few much-loved pieces made the cut.

In the main living space, for example, a delicately painted wooden trunk belonged to Alex’s great-great-aunt, and the antlers on the wall were a Christmas present from Alex to Paul. Vintage chairs came from one of the Clarkes’ clients, an antiques dealer and the HOUSE sign in the kitchen is the old for sale board that sat outside Paul’s in-laws home they bought 30 years ago.

One-off ceramics and vases from Baileys Home Store in Monmouthshire, Daylesford in the Cotswolds and Closet & Botts in Lewes are displayed on deep windowsills  and in vintage glass cabinets. Taking the pared-back look to a new level of artistry, however, is an installation- style hanging wardrobe simply constructed from a piece of wood  and thick knotted rope.

Step outside, and you’ll find gardens as thoughtfully designed as the interiors, the work of Ula Maria, winner of the 2017 RHS Young Garden Designer of the Year competition. Off the kitchen is a sunken Provencal-inspired courtyard, for the al fresco family meals the Clarkes love, as well as various levels of decking (one, romantically, for stargazing).

There are four fire pits and a chiminea to make sure the outdoor spaces can be used all year round, a kitchen garden in which the kids are raising veg, and a riot of cottage planting, including roses, hydrangeas and herbs – plus a meadow’s worth of wild flowers, grown from seeds scattered by Teddy.

‘It really is heavenly, but the trouble doing the job that we do is that you are always seeing other, beautiful houses, and that can give you the urge to move on and start another project,’  Paul says.

Overcoming their devotion to the tiny local pub, The Case Is Altered, which only serves beer and bans mobile phones, the Clarkes have decided to sell up, for £790,000, and will probably move back in with Alex’s parents while they find another house to do up. 

‘If there is one thing this year has taught us, it’s about making sure we look to the future right now.

‘If there are changes you want to make that will make you happy, either in your present home or by moving on,  why delay?’

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