Farrow & Ball Living With Colour by Ros Byam Shaw remains a timeless celebration of how colour can be used to create atmosphere, character and charm. To celebrate the book’s reissue, this extract tells the story of a peaceful rural cottage in the Home Counties
THE LIVING ROOM, WHICH OCCUPIES THE GROUND FLOOR OF THE ORIGINAL COTTAGE, WOULD HAVE BEEN DIVIDED INTO SEPARATE ROOMS. BETWEEN THE DARK OAK BEAMS THE WALLS ARE PAINTED IN ‘POINTING’ AND THE WINDOWS ARE ‘CASTLE GRAY’. IMAGE: JAN BALDWIN
“When I first saw this house many moons ago, there were oil lamps glowing in the windows,” says Sandra Whitmore. “The old lady who lived here had no electricity. Eventually she got a fridge, but she kept biscuits in it because she didn’t appreciate what it was useful for.” Deep in a wooded common, as far ‘off-road’ as you are ever likely to find a house in the well-populated Home Counties, Sandra Whitmore’s cottage retains all the romance of rural isolation, while having gained every modern convenience, including a handsome Smeg fridge.
Ten years ago, when she and her husband John first moved here, Sandra gave up a long career as an art director in advertising to devote herself to painting. Her large, freely drawn canvasses are inspired by the nature that envelops her home and by the mudflats and seascapes that lap at the door of the cottage on the coast nearby, where they like to de-camp for winter. The cottage on the common sits in the middle of its informal garden, some of which has clambered up its walls, as snug as a red brick chicken in a nest of greenery.
THE GROUND FLOOR OF THE COTTAGE HAS BEEN EXTENDED IN ALL DIRECTIONS. THE WALLS ARE IN ‘POINTING’ AND THE WINDOW FRAMES IN ‘BLUE GRAY’. IMAGE: JAN BALDWIN
There is a network of paths, some also made of brick, some of gravel, punctuated by clusters of stone sinks, pots and mossy staddle stones, and behind the house there are three small buildings, along with a barn. “I love sheds,” says Sandra, which doesn’t really do justice to the trio of sturdy little buildings. One is her studio, stacked with canvasses and work in progress, one is a utility room and one is John’s office.
The barn is for storage. “As you get older I think you need more space,” Sandra muses. “I hesitate to throw things away, even little pieces of paper – anything can be an inspiration – books, feathers, shells, minerals.” Sandra has surrounded herself with artistic inspiration, both inside and out. Beyond the garden is a meadow that belongs to the cottage. “The land has never been ploughed and it is a haven for unusual wild flowers and insects. The meadow attracted me more than the house.” Sandra loves insects and has based a series of paintings on her observations of them.
THE KITCHEN WAS BUILT AGAINST THE REAR WALL OF THE ORIGINAL COTTAGE AND MORE RECENTLY EXTENDED AT THIS END WHERE THERE IS A DOOR ONTO THE TERRACE. UNITS BY PLAIN ENGLISH ARE ‘CARD ROOM GREEN’, THE WALLS ARE ‘POINTING’. IMAGE: JAN BALDWIN
The boundaries between the informal garden and the surrounding common are blurred and there is the same blurring between the interior and exterior of the house. When the weather is warm, the four doors and any number of windows stand open, but even on colder days there is a strong sense that the outdoors has been welcomed inside. Garden furniture is dotted around the living room and a garden table and chairs sit at one end of the kitchen where, just outside the back door, the arrangement is repeated on a paved terrace. The floor in the kitchen and living room is brick, as if the garden paths have walked inside, and today a big green glass vase holds branches of medlar and quince cut from the trees just beyond the window. Even the paint colour, ‘Blue Gray‘, has been used both inside and out.
Even on colder days there is a strong sense that the outdoors has been welcomed inside.”
Natural forms provide sculptural decoration throughout the house. Sandra is a collector of many things, from antique steel scissors and Indian textiles, to minerals, shells and kitchen colanders. A copse of coral sprouts from the top of a chest in the living room and the serrated edges of giant clam shells are silhouetted on windowsills, while old stone and marble mortars of various sizes are heaped with smaller shells. On a sideboard, the vertebra of a whale looks more like a contemporary sculpture in wood than the remains of an animal.
SANDRA’S FAVOURED PALETTE OF PALE GREYS AND OFF-WHITES, WHICH FORMS A PEACEFUL BACKDROP, REIGNS SUPREME HERE, WITH TILING A SLIGHTLY DARKER SHADE THAN THE ‘BLUE GRAY’ OF THE MATCHBOARDING AND WALLS PAINTED IN ‘POINTING’. IMAGE: JAN BALDWIN
There are great stacks of magazines and columns of books, and folded piles of embroidered fabrics that Sandra buys on trips to India. There is so much stuff it ought to be chaotic, but her artist’s eye has gathered and arranged it so that the effect is visual richness rather than muddle. The kitchen is the biggest room in the house, built as a lean-to against the back wall of the original timber-framed building of two rooms downstairs and two above. The house has been extended in other directions, adding a smaller sitting room and a large entrance hall downstairs, with a bedroom and bathroom above it. The result is a rambling and surprisingly spacious interior, despite the diminutive proportions of the oldest part of the house.
Consistent paint colours help to tie the different periods of architecture together. ‘Blue Gray‘ has been used for all the woodwork apart from the kitchen, which is ‘Card Room Green‘, and ‘Pointing‘ has been used for all the walls. Sandra has been known to use Farrow & Ball eggshell for her paintings on canvas and for their frames. “I find the colours very peaceful,” she says. Which from someone who values rural isolation so highly is praise indeed.
Extract taken from Farrow & Ball Living with Colour by Ros Byam Shaw with photography by Jan Baldwin, published by Ryland Peters & Small, pieced £30.
Discover more inspiring real homes on The Home Page and share this article using the share buttons at the top of the page