Despite classic proportions and lofty ceilings, Sophie Conran’s country house in Wiltshire blends comfort with intimacy. Giles Kime paid a visit.
Sophie Conran’s Wiltshire home demonstrates, very eloquently, the extraordinary adaptability of good architecture. ‘I love Palladianism because it works,’ she says. The qualities that worked in 1795 also do their job in 2021: in particular, the proportion, the light, the windows and the views combine to create a succession of spaces that are friendly, welcoming and charming and blend seamlessly with their bucolic setting.
When she bought the house eight years ago, Miss Conran’s ambition was to ensure that the house looked as if she ‘hadn’t done anything very much’. Anyone who has tried to pull this off will tell you that this particular feat is easier said than done, especially when there was so much to do, not least removing the gloss paint, orange and dark-green carpet and illuminated exit signs that were a legacy of when the house was a bed and breakfast. Most transformative of all, however, was lifting the nylon carpet on the stairs to reveal a magnificent stone floor that glows beneath the vast glass cupola that spans it.
The furniture Miss Conran has assembled helps promote the impression that nothing has been done. ‘I’m a sucker for what the patina of age lends to a space,’ she reveals. Yet she is no slave to the burden of historicism and was adamant that the house should ‘never look like a museum’.
Most of the chosen antiques have a simplicity that creates a pared-back feel. The fresh, contemporary atmosphere is enhanced by pale upholstery punctuated with splashes of colour, notably in the drawing room, where cushions and throws in jewel-like colours bring the space to life in a manner not often associated with houses of the period. She also has a quiet knack of challenging the status quo when things get in the way of her desire for simplicity, in particular ‘the faux Victorian picture rail’ that she says ‘messed everything up’.
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The pervasive feeling of calm on the ground floor is facilitated by a warren of ancillary rooms in the basement that take the pressure off the main spaces. Functional they might be, but prosaic they certainly aren’t; the laundry room has a row of cupboards with floral curtains rather than doors and the flower room is painted in a vivid green.
Colour is a passion and Miss Conran is an advocate of the depth and breadth of hues offered by Dulux’s vast rainbow of choice to avoid a ‘cookie-cutter’ look. Elsewhere in the house, there are other immersive colour experiences, notably in a circular guest bedroom, the one space where she kept the vibrant yellow walls she inherited.
Her own bathroom has been transformed with a vibrant pink, whereas, next door, her bedroom is a riot not only of shade, but also pattern in the form of bed hangings in a discontinued design by Brunschwig & Fils. Her desire for colour extends to the garden to which the eye is drawn, depending on the season, by generous swathes of tulips, lavender, sweet peas and dahlias.
As the daughter of the late Sir Terence Conran, nature and nurture have given her an understanding of identifying pieces that are pleasing, not only to her, but also to her guests: ‘I wanted to bring together the ingredients of a happy home.’
It is at the two happy homes she has created, in west London and Wiltshire that she evolves ideas for her tableware collection and the burgeoning range she sells on her eponymous online shop, www.sophieconran.com. As cook and home maker, they are inspired by her own experience of what works and what doesn’t.
Both her 20-something children, Felix and Coco, have followed in the footsteps of their grandfather and have their own collections of, respectively, furniture and fashion. In her view, ‘a happy home is less about aesthetics and more about the experiences enjoyed by family and friends — comfort, informality and plenty of cake’. For guests, it’s an experience that is as beguiling as it is delicious.
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