The Chief Creative Officer of The White Company, Mark Winstanley, has brought his masterful eye for detail to his family home. But, as he tells Jessica Jonzen, its beauty goes far beyond the decoration
THE HOUSE, FORMERLY CALLED ‘THE REST’, SITS WITHIN BEAUTIFULLY RESTORED TERRACED GARDENS AND ENJOYS MAGNIFICENT VIEWS ACROSS THE SOUTH DOWNS. IMAGE: CHRIS EVERARD
We are only ever the temporary custodians of the homes we live in but sometimes, when we’re lucky, one comes along which feels like it was meant for us. Over time, they can come to embody the spirit of the people who live within them, representing not only their tastes and experiences but also the way they want to live their lives.
This is absolutely the case in the East Sussex farmhouse of Mark Winstanley, which he shares with his wife, Sally, their children Felix, 16 and Mabel, 13, and their Labradoodle, Hector. When Mark chanced upon the house advertised for sale in a copy of Country Life magazine nearly seven years ago, he was immediately captivated. It had plenty of space, a beautiful garden and was in an area he knew and loved. But more than anything it had the elusive quality that Mark had been searching for: “It made my heart beat faster,” he says.
Having lived for many years in an old almshouse in Roehampton, South-West London, Mark and Sally had been considering a move to the country for years. “We’d been looking around the periphery of London and everything was so suburban. I was getting so depressed that we couldn’t afford anything that I was excited about,” says Mark.
THE HALLWAY, WITH ITS RECLAIMED FRENCH TERRACOTTA TILE FLOOR AND ANTIQUE STAIRCASE, SOLD THE HOUSE TO MARK AND SALLY. IMAGE: CHRIS EVERARD
Despite having previously dismissed Lewes as a potential location for being too far from The White Company’s head office in West London, Mark found himself making an appointment to view the farmhouse, which is a ten-minute drive from the town. “I wasn’t considering any practicalities,” he admits. “It was just after New Year and there had been really thick snow. I remember getting to the front door and I just looked at Sally and said, ‘we’ve got to buy this house.’” Thankfully, Sally agreed.
A delightful brick and flint farmhouse, the house dates in part to the 17th century and is brimming with history and character. Once known as ‘The Rest’, the house served for many years as a travellers’ rest and, together with its extraordinary setting on the edge of the South Downs, it retains a peaceful and restorative quality today. “The move was driven by me and by the house more than anything else. We didn’t really consider much else – schools and things,” says Mark “We just thought, ‘we’ll come up with a plan and sort it out.’ I think some things are just meant to be.”
I remember getting to the front door and I just looked at Sally and said, ‘we’ve got to buy this house.’”
While the house had been sensitively extended and renovated by its previous owners, who installed reclaimed beams, terracotta tiles and an antique spiral staircase in the hallway, the Winstanleys, of course, wanted to put their own creative stamp on it. Decoration is Mark’s domain: “I’m very fortunate in that Sally knows that it’s my passion, so I just get on and do it,” says Mark. “Thankfully we like similar things – she knows that decorating is what gives me the greatest pleasure, and it’s about creating a home for us all to enjoy.”
Aside from the bedrooms, the house’s lime plastered walls are painted in Earthborn’s White and the woodwork painted in Farrow & Ball’s Manor House Gray, apart from Charleston Grey in the sitting room and Off-Black in the office. The subdued colour palette means the rooms flow effortlessly into one another, giving the house a considered but wonderfully welcoming atmosphere.
TOP: THE KITCHEN HAS A PAIR OF REFECTORY TABLES – ONE SERVES AS AN ISLAND, THE OTHER AS A DINING TABLE. BOTTOM LEFT: MARK FOUND THE MIRRORED PANEL BEFORE HE BOUGHT THE HOUSE, AND WAS DELIGHTED WHEN IT FITTED PERFECTLY OVER THE BELFAST SINK. BOTTOM RIGHT: MARK’S COLLECTION OF CHINA AND ANTIQUE GLASSWEAR
“The basis of the house is white and neutral and I want it to have a timeless quality,” says Mark. “It doesn’t matter what’s on trend, or what the trends will be in ten years’ time, the house will still feel right and it will continue to evolve.” In fact, the house is so in keeping with The White Company’s classic neutral aesthetic that it features in For the Love of White, the beautiful new coffee table book written by the company’s Founder, Chrissie Rucker.
Mark has had a lifelong passion for interiors: “I bought my first copy of House & Garden magazine aged 11 on a rainy holiday in Scotland,” he says. “It was rather bizarre but I knew from that age that I wanted to be an architect – I spent my time looking at features in interiors magazines trying to work out what the floor plans were and drawing them,” he says.
It doesn’t matter what’s on trend, or what the trends will be in 10 years’ time, the house will still feel right and it will continue to evolve.”
When Mark realised that his maths wasn’t quite up to a career in architecture, he decided he wanted to go into interior design instead. “I was brought up in the North-West, went to the local comprehensive school and I remember talking to my careers advisor about being an interior designer and him looking at me and saying, ‘a what?’”
Despite not growing up in a creative family, Mark had a strong sense of wanting to create a beautiful domestic environment. “I don’t really know where it came from. I grew up with a lovely family in a nice house surrounded by nice things but it wasn’t some beautiful 19th century vicarage full of amazing antiques, not at all,” he says. “I just always loved old things which told a story and started buying antiques when I was 14. I was hugely fortunate that my parents were always totally supportive and there was never any question of, ‘what’s that all about?’”
LEFT: TACTILE FURNISHINGS IN A NEUTRAL PALETTE GIVE THE SITTING ROOM A WELCOMING AND COMFORTABLE FEEL. RIGHT: MARK USED FARROW & BALL’S OFF-BLACK ON THE WOODWORK IN HIS OFFICE. IMAGES: CHRIS EVERARD
Mark didn’t become an interior designer but his creative eye and innate sense of how things should be put together led him to his role at The White Company, where he has worked for the past 14 years, following a 17-year career at Laura Ashley – first as a textile designer and eventually as Creative Director. It’s also where he and Sally met.
The influences of both brands are in evidence in their home. The print and colour of Mark’s years at Laura Ashley have been replaced by a restrained palette and an artful use of texture. Beautiful antiques which Mark has collected for most of his life look as if they were always meant to be in this house. Natural materials of wood, wool and linen provide a wonderfully soft and tactile environment. What really shows though, is that everything in the house is truly loved. “I’ll never buy something for the sake of it. It has to be right – that way I know I’ll always appreciate it, no matter where we live.”
A home is not just there for the good times – it’s there to nurture.”
Colour comes in the form of the paintings on the walls and abundant greenery and flowers from the garden, which is tended to by the former head garden of nearby Charleston – the country seat of the Bloomsbury Group. “Give me an hour with a pair of secateurs and a huge vase and I’m in my element,” says Mark of the abundant floral displays he creates. “I do it all the time – not just for visitors but because I want the house to be lovely. It’s how I want us to live.”
But a beautiful home can’t protect us from the harsh realities of life. In November 2018, Mark was diagnosed with cancer, and the comfort provided by the home he has created has become even more significant. “A home is not just there for the good times – it’s there to nurture. When I had my surgery last November and Sally picked me up from hospital 24 hours later, I instantly felt better the moment we pulled into the drive. I thought, ‘ok, I can start to get better now,’” says Mark. “I suppose it anchored me even more to why home is so important – what home means in terms of your family. When shit happens, you realise what’s important.”
THE MASTER BEDROOM, WHERE MARK HAS CHOSEN RUSTIC GARDEN TABLES TO SIT EITHER SIDE OF THE BED. “I LOVE THAT THEY’RE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT BUT THAT THERE’S STILL SYMMETRY.” IMAGE: CHRIS EVERARD
The house also gave Mark a sense of legacy. “When I was having my darkest moments after I was diagnosed – that feeling of ‘does that mean I’m going to die?’ the one thing that reassured me, to a degree, was that Sally and the children have the house and that would help,” he says. “So much of you is in there – it’s more than just a photograph: it’s your books, it’s in everything that surrounds them – you’ve touched all of that. Thankfully, it’s not going to happen, but it’s important to remember.”
As Mark continues his recovery, he delights even more in the everyday pleasures he finds in his home. “Homes are so special – they are where you spend all of your personal time and they are an accumulation of your life, your aspirations, your dreams and your memories,” he says. “They contain the things you want to share with your children – it’s the environment that they are growing up in, and that you hope will help shape their futures, their aspirations and dreams, and their taste to a certain degree.”
Homes are so special – they are where you spend all of your personal time and they are an accumulation of your life, your aspirations, your dreams and your memories.”
While Felix doesn’t share his father’s passion for interiors (“he has a quiet appreciation of it”) Mabel is already taking after Mark. “Felix loves his sport, as does my wife, so they’ll do that and Mabel and I will go into the office and flick through an interiors book together. She’s moved bedrooms three times and is about to redecorate – she has a very strong point of view and I have to learn to let go!”
But Mark’s approach to creating a beautiful home for his family is about far more than just having somewhere pretty to live. It’s about cultivating an appreciation of beauty in all its forms: “I’d love for Mabel to do an art foundation course, even if she goes on to do something different. She’ll learn to use her eyes, so wherever she is, she’ll be able to see something she appreciates which is of beauty,” he says. “Hopefully, that’s the spirit that the house creates for the children, so that in this really tough world they’re coming into they can find those moments of security and comfort for themselves because they’ll know how to find them and what’s important.”
Homes, like their owners, evolve and will see them through the good times and bad. “I always said to Sally when we were looking to move that I needed a house that would kind of feed my soul,” he says. “And that’s exactly what our home does.”
For the Love of White: The White & Neutral Home by Chrissie Rucker & The White Company is published by Mitchell Beazley, £30. Photographer: Chris Everard
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