The character and charm that old houses possess is unlike anything else. Crooked walls, original floorboards and all the beautiful patina create a unique, almost magical feeling that can be difficult to achieve in a new build. There’s something truly special about the perfectly imperfect details of these timeworn spaces.
Jane Ashton and her husband Richard have always been drawn to older properties for these same features. So far, they have been unable to resist the temptation of lovingly enhancing the period homes in which they have lived. After renovating several old homes, getting formally qualified felt like a natural step for Jane, an interior designer who now specializes in period properties. “It is now my career and I couldn’t be happier doing what I love,” Jane says. “Older character properties are what inspire me the most — this is where I am most creative and useful,” she adds.
When Jane and Richard began looking for their next renovation project six years ago, they had to be patient. Finding a period property in the Hertfordshire area of England that hadn’t been unsympathetically renovated or overly modernized proved challenging. When the couple eventually found an old 3,500-square-foot farmhouse, with parts dating all the way back to the 17th century, they immediately knew it was “the one.” Although the house needed updating and a few structural changes, the soul of the property was intact.
Because the farmhouse is a grade II listed historic building, the renovation process included more rigorous planning procedures than usual. “When you take on an old property, almost every part of the renovation is a challenge, from the planning to the fact that there is not a straight wall in the house! But that is what I love about it, the challenges and overcoming them, finding solutions — they are always there,” Jane explains. After plenty of consultation with conservation planners, a design plan that included a kitchen extension was finalized. The new layout allowed the couple to have an add-on informal dining area off the kitchen, and a more open-plan layout on the ground floor.
When Jane begins work on a new project, she usually creates a story about the property to get her creative juices flowing. When it was time to turn her farmhouse into a home, Jane used stories about the lives of the previous owners as inspiration — old furniture mixed with youthfulness and some glamour all played a part in the development of the farmhouse design concept. With all her children flown from the nest, Jane’s goal for the farmhouse was a bit different from her previous design priorities. Jane and Richard wanted the farmhouse to first and foremost be an escape from the city, where they could easily relax with family and friends. Jane sought to create an elegant yet relaxed space for cozy weekends and entertaining.
The age and patina of the house has been front and center throughout the design process, and Jane has taken great care in preserving old materials and surfaces. “These for me are the ‘bones’ of the property, the layer I add is the dressing!” she exclaims. When touring the house, it is clear that Jane and Richard’s farmhouse has been updated respectfully and with skill, preserving the details that are unique to their country home. “I like to think we have made the past relevant to the present, rather than over-modernizing and losing the heart and soul of the property, as so often is the case with period property renovation,” Jane explains. Scroll down to see the beautiful end result of a challenging and thoroughly rewarding renovation! —Sofia
Photography by James Balston
Image above: With an elegantly executed mix of styles and a dash of humor, the farmhouse hallway is a perfect representation of its owners. “I believe hallways are one of the most important areas in a home, even if they are not large they should be welcoming and interesting and give a taste of the personalities that reside,” Jane explains. The walls are painted in “True Taupe” by Little Greene.