Leaving the hectic city behind for a new life in the country may sound idyllic. Yet creating a home – and a business – in a rural village is not always as rosy as the bucolic daydream suggests, as Amy Hemmings-Batt, Founder of Coco and Wolf tells Rosalind Sack
AMY HEMMINGS-BATT, FOUNDER OF COCO AND WOLF, WHICH MAKES TIMELESS LUXURY BEDDING, INTERIORS AND CLOTHING FROM LIBERTY FABRIC
“I always knew that I was destined for city life,” says Amy Hemmings-Batt, Founder of Coco and Wolf, the phenomenally successful home and lifestyle brand. Leaving her native Somerset immediately after university for London, and a career in fashion, she recalls, “I was instinctively drawn to the cultural diversity, the vibe, the energy, the fact that anything goes. At one point I had three jobs just to get by, but I didn’t mind because I was so happy to be there. I could walk to work past Buckingham Palace and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve made it!’”
Several years later, expecting her first baby with husband Harry and keen to buy their first property, they planned to return to their native Somerset for the duration of Amy’s maternity leave from her job as a buyer for Topshop. So when she spotted a 17th Century, Grade II listed cottage for sale with an amazing garden in a beautiful village, she was immediately interested. The only drawback? It was derelict.
I couldn’t imagine going from the buzz and the noise of London to living in the countryside with a baby and feeling completely isolated.”
Despite Harry’s misgivings, it felt like the perfect place for Amy, particularly as the cottage was on the main road through the village. “We were living right by the Jubilee line in London, so you could hear the tube trains from the house and I couldn’t imagine going from the buzz and the noise to living in the countryside with a baby and feeling completely isolated.”
Excited by the challenge, Amy’s powers of persuasion prevailed and, together with baby Coco, she and Harry moved back into her childhood home with her Mum while they completed the work. It was that well-trodden path of the arrival of a baby coinciding, rather awkwardly, with the upheaval of renovating a home.
COCO AND WOLF’S SPRING SUMMER 2020 COLLECTION, THE WONDERLAND, INSPIRED BY THE TIMELESS AND MUCH-LOVED LEWIS CARROLL CLASSIC
Yet, the high of finally moving into their cottage six months later soon faded, as the reality of their new life hit home. With Harry’s company based in Somerset and now with a new home nearby, returning to London wasn’t going to happen and the commute would be too tough with a baby at home.
“I suddenly thought, ‘What have I done?’” recalls Amy. “I remember switching on the radio to Radio 1 and they played a song which reminded me of being at the annual Topshop brand conference for all the staff. I just sat in the kitchen sobbing, thinking that everyone would be there doing their thing and I was miles away. I’d gone from having a career and a flat and a social life in London, to having a baby in the countryside and what felt like having no purpose, aside from being a mum. I went through a grieving process for my old life. It was a massive, life-changing adjustment to make.”
To fill her time at home and feed her creativity, Amy set up her sewing machine and computer on an old kitchen table in the spare bedroom in the attic and started making clothes for her daughter. Gradually she started selling items and, as interest grew, Harry built Amy a pattern-cutting table that could be taken down and hidden under the bed if they had people to stay.
I went through a grieving process for my old life. It was a massive, life-changing adjustment to make.”
Those were the early days of Coco and Wolf, Amy’s award-winning luxury lifestyle brand that has grown to sell beautiful bedding, clothing and heirloom pieces for the home and nursery made from gorgeous Liberty fabric and soft linens. And as the business flourished, so Amy’s sense of contentment in the countryside grew, and her yearning for the streetlights and noise of the city softened.
“In the beginning I would take Coco to London to stay with friends overnight every four to six weeks, just to get my fix of city life. Then, gradually, each time I went it felt slightly different. Now, I love going to London but I can’t wait to get on the 6.30pm train home to Somerset. Finally, the switch has happened… it took a long time,” says Amy.
AMY AND HARRY’S PERSONALITIES SHINE IN THEIR SNUG LIVING ROOM PAINTED IN FARROW & BALL’S HAGUE BLUE, PEPPERED WITH ECLECTIC ART AND CURIOSITIES, INCLUDING A GOLDEN EMU’S HEAD FROM ROCKETT ST GEORGE AT LIBERTY LONDON
After selling their renovated cottage, their current home is another project – albeit on a slightly smaller scale. With ample space for Amy, Harry, Coco and little brother Wolf, it’s an elegant, evolving family home. It also boasts a separate two-storey outbuilding which now houses the Coco & Wolf studio and Amy’s growing team. Crucially it’s still on an all-important road, with its steady flow of cars and tractors serving as a reminder that they’re not far from civilisation.
The original mid-18th Century cottage, complete with lath and plaster walls and the original flagstone floor, has been extended twice by previous owners and Amy and Harry are gradually renovating and redecorating it to their style.
Their snug north-facing living room is painted in Farrow & Ball’s deep Hague Blue peppered with an eclectic collection of art and decorative objects, while the sweeping hallway walls are papered in Fruit by William Morris & Co. The staircase is painted in beautiful Studio Green by Farrow & Ball and internal doors boast fabulous Rockett St George brass jaguar door handles. In the newer part of the house, the light, bright, double aspect kitchen is designed by Amy and made by Harry’s company, Somerset Worktops. It has crisp crittal windows overlooking uninterrupted views across the Somerset Levels and the Mendip Hills.
(LEFT) MORRIS & CO FRUIT WALLPAPER LINE THE HALLWAY WALLS; (RIGHT) ROCKETT ST GEORGE BRASS JAGUAR DOOR HANDLES ADD A TOUCH OF WHIMSY
It’s a far cry from their cramped London flat, in the shadow of the Jubilee line. Amy’s commute to work is now just a short walk across the driveway and having that physical, and mental, separation between home life and work life has been crucial. “When the business was taking off I found it really hard having it at home. There were days when I literally didn’t leave the house because I was just going upstairs to the spare room, downstairs to the kitchen, upstairs, downstairs.
“Now it feels like I have a workplace and a home, rather than it all being as one, which is a really important distinction for me. Definitely for the head space, to be able to shut the door and say, ‘I’m done for the day,’ has a huge impact,” says Amy.
AMY DESIGNED THE LIGHT, BRIGHT DOUBLE ASPECT KITCHEN, WHICH WAS MADE BY HARRY’S COMPANY, SOMERSET WORKTOPS
Life in the country still has its challenges, but being away from the city has changed the way they live in their home. “There aren’t streetlights here so it’s absolutely pitch black outside. In Winter, when it goes dark at 3.30pm, it’s a totally different light from the city; it feels like that’s the end of your day. Then, in Summer, it’s the other way around; all that light feels liberating and you notice the changing seasons so much more here.
“We’ve all found our feet and we’ve each found our spaces in the house. It’s the home we can imagine our children creating childhood memories in,” says Amy. “Now I can appreciate this area where I grew up in a different way and I want the same for my children. I still take them to London every school holiday so they realise there’s a big wide world out there, yet they’re having the country upbringing that Harry and I had. And, for that, I couldn’t be happier.”