Whitewashed from top to toe in a palette of fifteen shades of white, Rosalind Sack unearths the tales of this light-filled Berkshire home which refuses to stand still
SIMONE’S LIGHT-FILLED KITCHEN AND DINESEN DOUGLAS WOOD FLOOR. IMAGE: THE MODERN HOUSE
When Simone Bunting renovated her 19th century former farmhouse in Pangbourne, Berkshire, she set out to create a beautiful home not just with her family in mind, but driven by a strong sense of stewardship. With meticulous historical sensitivity she has achieved just that. Yet the story doesn’t end there.
She has created a space that is constantly shifting and evolving; in look, in tone and in feeling. In fact, it’s likely that you have seen her home before without realising. Such is the triumph of her renovation enhanced by the magical natural light that floods its rooms, that major brands including The White Company, Little Greene, Paint and Paper Library and Bert and May – as well as Simone’s own lovingly-sourced homeware brand Grace Sisters – have shot their campaigns here, often temporarily transforming the space in the process. The house also sailed through the strict vetting process of highly respected design-led estate agency The Modern House, where it is currently listed for sale.
“The house was built in 1884 but I feel like it was built for me, which probably sounds really odd!” says interior designer and stylist Simone. “It feels like it was waiting for me to arrive 17 years ago and I know every single piece of plasterwork and cornicing. I’ve never had this overwhelming sense of home in any other place that I’ve lived and it’s been a real labour of love. It has been a privilege and an enormous pleasure to live and work here.”
THE COSY AND WELCOMING TELEVISION ROOM. IMAGE: THE MODERN HOUSE
Simone’s sensitive touch has coaxed this classically beautiful building into the 21st century without compromising on its fundamental authenticity and structure. Shunning cheaper shortcuts and incongruous materials, Simone insisted on refurbishing ceilings using the original lath and plaster rather than plasterboard, replacing all of the hardware with pieces appropriate to the age of the house and seeking out internal glazing produced using the same handmade techniques as the original. “I believe that it’s that attention to detail that makes or breaks a scheme,” she says.
Simone’s dedication to provenance also led to her reusing and repurposing every architrave, skirting board, glass window and shutter. Her respect for the house’s craftsmanship was rewarded when she unexpectedly uncovered the signatures and dates of the local carpenters who originally worked on the house hidden inside the sash windows and on the back of the panelling and shutters. “It was so joyous,” recalls Simone. “Respecting the heritage and the craftsmanship that has gone into the structure of the building is so important to me.”
Although whitewashed from top to toe, there’s not a drip of pure brilliant white in sight. Instead, Simone has painstakingly selected the perfect colour for every surface from a palette of around 15 different shades of white, mainly from British Standard Colour, Little Greene and Marston and Langinger. The result is a space with a unique lightness that feels welcoming and tranquil and not at all clinical or precious – a £3 Magic Eraser Sponge from her local hardware shop is Simone’s remedy for scuffs or scrapes inflicted by her sons or the family dog.
A HIGHLY COVETABLE CLOAK AND BOOT ROOM. IMAGE: THE MODERN HOUSE
“It sounds quite anal, but I could use maybe 20 different whites in a room and it would feel very different with each one, depending on the light, the size of the windows, the ceiling height, how much wood is in there and so on,” says Simone. It’s a technique that has served her well over the years. Indeed she even whitewashed her very first home; a squat in London. “I was very pleased with myself. We still had to go outside to go to the toilet, but it looked amazing inside!
“Before moving here, we lived in a beautiful 16th century canal house in Amsterdam for five years. It had been painted in a very sludgy cream colour which looked so old fashioned and stale. So I painted every room in a white and it suddenly looked like a very modern apartment. It’s amazing how the colour can have that effect.”
While white provides a serene backdrop for Simone’s collection of carefully sourced and beautifully styled furnishings, it doesn’t always work for the brands using her home as a photoshoot location. In fact, for some, it’s the antithesis of the look they are trying to create.
A PAIRED BACK AND SOOTHING BEDROOM WITH STUNNING VIEWS. IMAGE: THE MODERN HOUSE
“Little Greene were shooting here on one occasion and I came back to find all the rooms were papered in designs from their vintage collection and all the architraves had been painted to match. The change was quite remarkable,” says Simone. Part of the agreement is that her home is always returned to its original décor by the brand after a shoot. Little Greene wasn’t alone; Simone recalls a feature in the Sunday Times on the revival of wallpaper in which every image that was used, from several different brands, had been shot at her house.
Few of us have the opportunity to view their home through the eyes of other stylists and photographers and see a very different vision of the space brought to life. So does that ever prompt Simone to try something different? “No, it doesn’t make me want to try any of it!” she laughs.
“That’s not because I don’t respect them or think that what they have created is great. It’s exciting to see their creative execution and how they view the different rooms, but it is always lovely to have it returned back to white. I tend to breathe a sigh of relief.
SIMONE’S ELEGANT DINING ROOM. IMAGE: THE MODERN HOUSE
“Every house I have owned since I was 24 has been white and it’s been a very conscious decision. I change the space all the time; I’m forever moving objects and artwork around and I find that white is such a transient colour. When you have a space that is ornately decorated, or very colourful, or heavy with print, the room becomes defined by the walls and it becomes quite restrictive.
“My space is the other way around. By moving props, pieces of furniture and greenery, I can change the whole tone of this house and create very different spaces. Often friends will visit and notice something in my home and ask, ‘Is that new?’ and I say, ‘No, I’ve just rearranged it’.”
While Simone positively embraces change, her approach is never wasteful. Her collection of furniture, lighting and decorative pieces, all carefully chosen for their resonance and story, are a constant. “I always buy for longevity. Whether it’s a £5 bottle from an antique fair or a new piece of furniture that cost several thousand pounds, most of my pieces stay with me through the years.
“I love having pieces that are a talking point. I invite people round for dinner and they might say, ‘We’re just admiring that beautiful jug,’ and I can tell them, ‘Actually, that’s from the 16th century and I picked it up in a farmyard on the outskirts of Paris and the guy I bought it from had no teeth…’ It’s those pieces that hold so much charm.”
(LEFT) A SELECTION OF STRIKING HOMEWARE IN THE OPEN PLAN KITCHEN, SOURCED FOR GRACE SISTERS; (RIGHT) A STRIKING ENTRANCE. IMAGES: THE MODERN HOUSE
It’s a marriage of ethics and aesthetics that filters through to the Grace Sisters store Simone has created alongside her friend and business partner Rachel Murray. “There’s a narrative behind every piece that we’ve found and every designer that we’ve worked with and when choosing our collections, I always consider whether I would want each piece in my house in 20 years. I never design or scheme anything as a response to fashion, it’s always about knowing that those pieces have a presence and will travel from room to room, home to home.”
And so the story of this special house continues to evolve. However its next chapter may read and whoever will shape it, its story has been made all the richer by Simone’s tenure and the love she has poured into it.
Discover more about Simone’s store for design lovers, Grace Sisters, here.
[CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT] BEAUTIFUL NATURAL WOOD ADDS WARMTH TO THE SCHEME; A BATH WITH A VIEW; MODERN TOUCHES IN PERIOD SURROUNDINGS; SCULPTURAL SHAPES AND TEXTURE ADD INTEREST; HANDMADE INTERNAL GLAZING STAYS TRUE TO THE ORIGINAL. IMAGES: THE MODERN HOUSE
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