Art house: How one couple found the perfect space for their aesthetic ambitions in a rambling, 400-year-old Norfolk farmhouse

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the city in search of the simple life has become the near-ubiquitous dream of our times. But how does it actually work in practice?

One couple who've managed the whole thing with aplomb are Kate and Ben Lawrence. Eight years down the line, their former lives, living in Hackney with their young son and working in the commercial art world, are now a distant memory. But it wasn't the most promising of starts.

When they first mooted the idea, the pair had no financially viable plan for earning their keep and conflicting ideas on exactly which corner of England to make their home. Both wanted to return to the places where they had each studied art as students. This impasse was resolved in the manner of an unofficial race. Kate began her search in the Bath area while Ben, who studied in Norwich, started combing Norfolk and was victorious when he spotted this north Norfolk farmhouse in Country Life.

The imposing house is large and rambling, with a Regency frontage – built during an agricultural boom – hiding a much older house behind. It was relatively untouched, and what renovations there had been were of the DIY variety, with "window frames plugged with newspaper", Ben recalls. But they weren't paying for anyone else's unwanted modernisation and, crucially, most of the original features, such as Regency Carrara marble fireplaces, were intact.

"It was draughty but livable. The cold wind was the first thing we tried to deal with," says Kate. The whole front of the house was re-glazed against the north wind, with the couple taking the bold step of opting for sealed units. "It doesn't affect us as there are only about four days a year that we'd think about throwing them open," says Ben drily.

Take a look at Kate and Ben's house here...

 

The next step was a more logical allocation of the rooms. One of its former owners must have loved a soak, as the place had a surplus of bathrooms, all occupying the larger rooms at the expense of bedroom sizes. The couple set about achieving a more sensible balance, re-opening partitioned rooms and switching back the bedrooms and bathrooms.

Downstairs, they use one of the two main reception rooms as a more relaxed and cosy study and playroom for their sons, now 10 and five, while the other light-filled space is a more formal drawing-room. "Most of our precious stuff is in here," says Kate, although she cheerfully acknowledges that, "The kids run riot over every room."

They also brought the house up to date with a practical utility and laundry in one of the lowlier 400-year-old backrooms. The couple turned to traditional joinery company Plain English for their kitchen – the Long House cupboards are inspired by the unfussy style of joinery found in Suffolk long houses. "There was no great statement. It just needed to be utilitarian and to age well. Showpiece kitchens freak me out," says Ben.

The house had a surplus of bathrooms (Rachel Smith) The house had a surplus of bathrooms (Rachel Smith)
The overall result is austere but far from charmless, with interesting objects (such as the French wood panel from Norwich shop The Bell Jar) inviting inspection from the open shelves. The decorating was handled in a similarly low-key manner, using shades of off-white, stone and putty. As Kate explains, "I've spent 15 years looking at pictures on bright white walls in galleries and wanted something more homely." And under the big skies of Norfolk, the rooms are bright enough without additional help.

As a farmhouse, their home was built with dignity rather than showiness in mind, and the pared-down, Spartan quality of the couple's mid-20th-century and contemporary furniture echoes that. Natural, traditional materials such as wood and leather sit happily with the sober original features. Mid-toned woods add warmth while painted finishes create a clean but relaxed feel.

Many of the pieces were inherited or donated by friends and family when they moved in. Their favourite is the Shadey Family light that hangs above the living-room table, an early piece by lighting designer Stuart Haygarth. They also treasure the facet-framed mirror by the artist Sam Orlando Miller above the living-room fireplace and artworks by the highly collectable painter Prunella Clough.

Many of the Regency features of the original house, such as the fireplaces, remain (Rachel Smith) Many of the Regency features of the original house, such as the fireplaces, remain (Rachel Smith)
Aside from the surfeit of light and space, the property came with another major attraction for the couple: extensive outbuildings, including a small cottage. The couple had long considered setting up an intaglio (etching) print studio, with adjoining cottage, where artists could stay for a few days or weeks and experiment with the medium, away from the busier and more harassed atmosphere of the typical shared print studio. It might seem specialist, but business thrives in a niche.

"It was my favourite aspect of my degree, and we both like the simplicity of etching," explains Kate. Moving from London to Norfolk made good financial sense, but the print studio alone was never going to sustain the family. However, the studio has led to a gallery, the Cold Press, in the nearby market town of Holt, and "The two are intertwined," says Kate.

Here, as well as selling the work of their visiting artists, Kate has cherry-picked pieces in ceramic, wood and brass through her years spent trawling the world's galleries. "There are plenty of galleries specialising in Norfolk artists, and it's probably not sensible to show artists from Brooklyn or Tokyo, but it sets us apart," says Kate. "They share a simplicity of line and form; everything is whittled down."

The couple have developed the business quietly and carefully, shaping it into something that is now quite viable. "In London, galleries are all about dollars and cents. We can work in a more relaxed way." And above the gallery is their latest project, a recently completed holiday let, with the same pared-back beauty as the gallery, its wares and the family home. The couple now have the kind of multi-stranded careers that those who slog for long hours may find enviable. Cue more converts to the simple life.

For more: thecoldpress.com

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Sport
Super BowlAfter Katy Perry madness it's back to The Independent's live coverage of Super Bowl 49!
News
See what Twitter had to say about the first half of the Super Bowl
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch