When Paula Sutton swapped her high-octane career in fashion for life in the Norfolk countryside, little did she know it would give her a platform to launch a second career as an interiors blogger. The Hill House Vintage founder talks to Jessica Jonzen about creating the quintessential English country home, and the power of positivity
THE GARDEN AND EXTERIOR AT HILL HOUSE, PAULA SUTTON’S GEORGIAN HOME IN NORFOLK. IMAGE: PAULA SUTTON
When we’re asked about our roots, we tend to think automatically of the ones we established in childhood – in the places we came from and the households we grew up in. But people can put down new roots later in life, too. It’s entirely possible to experience a profound sense of ‘coming home’ to a new place; to have a feeling of it simply being right and creating a different sort of life.
For Paula Sutton, Hill House – her beautiful Georgian home in Norfolk – is such a place. In 2010, Paula and her husband, Duncan, upped sticks with their three children, Tobias, then aged eight, and five-year-old twins Phoebe and Daisy, and moved from urban South London to the East Anglian countryside. With its grand double frontage, sweeping gravel drive and handsome rooms decked out in over-stuffed furniture and vases frothing with flowers, Hill House is the quintessential English country house. And it couldn’t be more different from the home – and lifestyle – Paula had before.
A born and bred Londoner, Paula was Head of Press for the Elite Premier model agency when supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista were in their heyday, before producing the glossy fashion shoots for Elle magazine. Her life was cosmopolitan, glamorous – and all-consuming. “I’d be flying out to New York for castings and even if I was at home, I was working till 9pm. If a model didn’t get on the plane, I was up all night trying to organise that,” says Paula. “I had three children and a live-in nanny who was amazing but I felt that my time with the children while they were little was going to be so short. It got to a point where enough was enough.”
PAULA AND HER BELOVED LABRADOR CROSS, COCO. IMAGES: PAULA SUTTON
Paula thought a change of job would help and moved to Premier Hair and Make-Up where she represented the legendary hairdresser Sam McKnight and celebrated makeup artist Mary Greenwell. “I thought that would give me a bit of a break but I was just as bad,” Paula says. “It was literally a case of ‘we have to move out of London for me to actually stop concentrating on work’ – it was that basic, really. I wanted just to be a mummy for a while and we knew we had to move before the children hated us for doing it.”
Having spent weekends visiting her parents-in-law who had moved to Norfolk from Richmond, Paula knew that was where she wanted to live. “I’ve always been obsessed with Georgian architecture and we’d see these beautiful Georgian houses which were far more affordable in Norfolk than they would have been in Oxfordshire.”
The couple fell in love with a house which wasn’t to be. “It slightly broke my heart,” Paula says. “It was the perfect Georgian house with several acres and had everything we wanted. We spent a couple of months up and down with that one before it fell through.” Hill House, built in 1822 as the Master Brewer’s house for the nearby defunct brewery and set in a comparatively modest acre of land, was the second choice. “We thought it was beautiful, like a dolls house, but it wasn’t what we wanted so we thought it was the second prize. We were actually saved from ourselves; what the hell would I do with six acres?” Paula laughs.
THE DRAWING ROOM AT HILL HOUSE. PAULA CHOSE A TRADITIONAL PALETTE OF FARROW & BALL COLOURS FOR THE WALLS, AND ADDED COLOUR THROUGH THE SOFT FURNISHINGS. IMAGES: PAULA SUTTON
Paula spent the first year at Hill House concentrating on settling the children into their new schools and getting to grips with living somewhere so different. “In London, we had a cinema at the end of our road, friends nearby and central London was very quick to get to. It couldn’t have been more different in Norfolk,” says Paula. “We had totally isolated ourselves from the sort of lifestyle and people I knew – it was actually quite liberating.”
With her husband commuting to London and the children out at school for most of the day, did she ever find it lonely? “I do remember there were times when I thought it would be lovely to have one or two good friends that you could pop in to have coffee with. That came eventually, but in those first two years it was slightly lonely – but not unpleasant,” she says. “One thing I’ve always known is that I’m happy in my own company. I really am a sociable recluse: I can be the life and soul but I’m equally happy on my own and for extended periods of time. That was something very important that I knew about myself and if I hadn’t known that I don’t think it would have worked.”
Having abandoned an early idea to start a homewares brand, Paula decided to start a blog about her home and new life in the country. The Hill House Diaries were born. Paula used her blog and later on her Instagram account to share pictures of her home and write about her day to day life and her transformation of Hill House’s dark, formal décor into a light, bright and cheerful family home. Buying pieces of furniture on eBay or at local auction houses and redecorating with a gentle palette of traditional Farrow & Ball colours such as French Gray and Bone, punctuated with vibrant dashes of pink, Paula has created a cosy and welcoming interior. “I had three children under 10 so it could never be precious and perfectly decorated,” she says.
PAULA RIPPED UP THE CARPETS THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE, APART FROM ON THE LANDING. PAULA BUYS HER FURNITURE AND ANTIQUES THROUGH LOCAL AUCTION HOUSES AND EBAY, AND RE-UPHOLSTERS IN TRADITIONAL FABRICS IN MODERN COLOURWAYS. IMAGES: PAULA SUTTON
With its beautiful pictures of Hill House, and Paula cheerfully smiling with her beloved Chocolate Labrador cross, Coco, the blog and Instagram account are a happy escape from the drab and depressing. “I love the creativity that it gives me. When I started out on Instagram, you followed the accounts which made you feel happy and left the others alone. In recent years, people have tried to take ownership of what you say,” says Paula. “Your space online is your own and I feel very strongly about that. We’re all very aware of all the awful things going on in the world but that’s not what my space is for. Everyone has their own choice about what they put on social media; if I want to show cushions all day when the world is ending, that’s completely my right!”
After nearly a decade in Norfolk and with her children in their teens, Paula is still absolutely happy with her decision to make the move. “London is – and was – amazing for starting my career, and for setting the groundwork for the person that I am today. I think that everyone needs those ‘heels and disco’ years!” she says. “However, I think that I was always a country girl at heart. I love the open space and big skies.”
Hill House has provided far more than space and beauty for Paula and her family. It has offered her a new way of life, and the chance to be truly herself. “Home to me is all about comfort, whether that’s your physical surroundings, or simply being comfortable in one’s own skin. I think that’s why I always have a smile on my face in my Instagram photos. I am truly happy and at peace at Hill House.”
PAULA CHOOSES TRADITIONAL FURNITURE SHAPES IN FRESH, FEMININE COLOURS TO ACHIEVE A HOMELY COUNTRY LOOK. IMAGES: PAULA SUTTON
You can find more country house inspiration from Paula at hillhousediaries.blogspot.com and you find her on Instagram @hillhousevintage
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