Our homes are the ultimate reflections of who we are, where we’ve come from and what we’ve created, as Jessica Jonzen discovers when she meets the woman who brought a slice of Norwegian style to Buckinghamshire
When Cathrine Tjore and her husband, Simon Keeley, found their first home together in Long Crendon in Buckinghamshire 10 years ago, they had a powerful sense that it was the right house for them. A two-bedroom 1970s bungalow “with a billion doors”, it was no beauty but having been built by an artist, it was full of light with a pretty and well-planted garden. “The house had a lovely, open feeling and we fell in love with it,” says Cathrine. Little did they know it would also be what kept them together.
Having come to the UK from her native Norway as a 20-year-old in 1996, Cathrine met her British husband while visiting home during her holidays from the University of Gloucestershire. Simon had lived in Norway for a decade, spoke fluent Norwegian and had no plans to return home, but Cathrine persuaded him. “It’s funny that it was me who brought him back to the UK,” says Cathrine. “I always had a plan to go home to Norway after five years – that’s still the case now, nearly 25 years later,” she laughs.
I always had a plan to go home to Norway after five years – that’s still the case now, nearly 25 years later.”
The couple started a business together in 2004, selling coffee out of a Vespa van to bleary-eyed commuters at a Buckinghamshire train station. They worked 18-hour days and despite the financial crash, the business grew into a successful chain of train station coffee shops – the Little Italy Espresso Bar. By 2009, Cathrine and Simon were ready to buy a home of their own. “I think all the people who would have seen the house as a plot to develop were being cautious,” says Cathrine. “We probably wouldn’t have been able to buy it if it hadn’t been for the financial crash.”
WIDE OAK FLOORBOARDS RUN THROUGHOUT THE GROUND FLOOR, AND WOOD PANELLING ADDS TEXTURE TO THE WALLS. MODERN SCANDINAVIAN DESIGN IS JUXTAPOSED WITH TRADITIONAL ENGLISH FURNITURE. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
They initially lost out to another couple in sealed bids but Cathrine had set her sights on the house. “I kept calling the estate agent and telling them how much I loved it and asking if the sale was going through,” says Cathrine. Then at the end of June 2009, just a month before the couple’s wedding in Norway, the estate agent called to say the sale had fallen through. It was theirs if they wanted it. “We got the keys two weeks before the wedding and handed them straight to the decorator who painted the whole house white, including the floorboards, so when we got back we moved straight in.”
LEFT: THE EXTERIOR OF CATHRINE AND SIMON’S HOME. THE COUPLE ADDED A FIRST FLOOR WITH LARGE DORMER WINDOWS TO CREATE TO BEDROOMS, WHILE A SIDE AND REAR EXTENSION ADDED LIVING SPACE. RIGHT: CATHRINE IN THE KITCHEN SHE DESIGNED. THE STEEL FRAMED SCREEN IS FITTED WITH OLD PANES OF GLASS AND THE SINK WAS AN EBAY FIND AND HAD BEEN USED BY KODAK TO DEVELOP PHOTOGRAPHS. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
In 2011, the couple started devising plans to build a garage at the front of the house. “Then ideas started flying around about ‘what if we do it in the style of a Norwegian summer house?’” says Cathrine, who grew up moments from the sea in Kristiansand, a beautiful archipelago in Southern Norway, and her family had a traditional summer house. Inevitably, the garage morphed into having a guest bedroom upstairs “and then we thought it would be nice to have a kitchen downstairs, so we ended up building a second house!”
The summer house is a thing of beauty. Simply but stylishly decorated with concrete floors downstairs (warmed up with underfloor heating), the summer house showcases Cathrine’s natural eye for design and styling.
THE GARAGE WHICH BECAME A SUMMER HOUSE. CATHRINE DESIGNED THE KITCHEN HERSELF. THE EXTERIOR IS CLAD IN TRADITIONAL WEATHERBOARDING. THE EYE-LEVEL CABINET WAS A VINTAGE FIND WHICH FITTED PERFECTLY IN THE SCHEME. UPSTAIRS, A COSY BEDROOM AND BATHROOM MAKE THE SUMMER HOUSE A CALMING RETREAT. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
A lover of antiques and eBay, Cathrine bought the cabinet second hand and the table for £50 from a friend who was throwing it out. She painted it white, put it on casters. “My friend is so cross she got rid of it now!” Cathrine laughs. Upstairs, a spare bedroom and bathroom make the summer house a wonderfully cosy retreat and Cathrine and Simon lived in it for a year when they started work on the main house in 2014.
The entrance to the main house was originally on the side, so a clever side extension created a front door and a double height hallway with a polished concrete floor which leads straight through to the back of the kitchen – perfect for muddy boots. “We put in the kitchen, then we built the landing upstairs with two big dormer windows, converted the loft into a bedroom then we had to stop due to money. Then I got ill.”
THE RICH BLUE OF LITTLE GREENE’S JUNIPER ASH CREATES A COSY AND ENVELOPING SPACE IN CATHRINE AND SIMON’S BEDROOM, BUILT INTO THE FIRST FLOOR EXTENSION. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
In December 2015, Cathrine was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and life as she had known it changed irrevocably. “We had opened two more cafes, I’d been told a month before that my dad had cancer, me and Simon were going through a rocky patch and then I found out I had cancer myself,” Cathrine says. She had booked tickets to Norway for Christmas, ostensibly to say goodbye to her father, and convinced the doctors to delay her surgery until she returned to England. She ended up staying in Norway for a year and had all her treatment in Oslo, while Simon remained at the house.
In between it being the most horrible year of my life it was also the best in that I could just do everything that made me happy”
“In between it being the most horrible year of my life, it was also the best in that I could just do everything that made me happy,” Cathrine says. “It was the first time in 11 years of running the business where I didn’t have to get up at four o’clock – I could just focus on myself. I always dreamt of moving back to Norway in five years and I had this chance to be at home and not think about anything else but getting better. I think lots of things happen for a reason. I think the stress of everything I had at work, things falling apart with me and Simon – it was my body saying ‘stop.’”
LARGE DORMER WINDOWS FLOOD THE LANDING WITH LIGHT. THE COUPLE’S LOVE OF MUSIC, PHOTOGRAPHY AND EYE-CATCHING PRINTS IS ON DISPLAY IN THE UPSTAIRS EXTENSION. THE SPARE BEDROOM WAS BUILT INTO WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL LOFT. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
After six months of chemotherapy and surgery, Cathrine had to have a course of radiotherapy. Before she started it, she returned to the UK for a visit. “After being away for nine months, it was a strange feeling to be back in our house,” says Cathrine. “My love had disappeared from it. Simon had looked after it but it’s something about a woman’s love for a place. We were talking about having to sell the house but I was quite adamant that I didn’t want to deal with it while I was still having treatment and Simon agreed.”
In January 2017, Cathrine completed her treatment and returned to the UK. “We still weren’t together, but that’s when it’s handy to have two houses,” Cathrine laughs. “I came back with a new energy and I wanted to finish what we’d started. I decided to rebrand our main café in Haddenham as a Norwegian café and lifestyle store – NORSK. – and told Simon that I couldn’t sell the house before we finished the work, so we got the builders in and put the dining room extension on at the back.”
We kind of found our way back to each other… I think almost that it was the house that kept us together.”
Building work is stressful enough in a happy relationship – how did Cathrine and Simon cope having a house full of builders again while they picked through the embers of their marriage? “We kind of found our way back to each other,” Cathrine says. “We realised that we have built up a lot together with the business and the house. I think almost that it was the house that kept us together, along with the business. We don’t have children – the coffee bars almost are our babies so we didn’t want to get rid of them, and the house is something we’re both very proud of and just love to be in. We didn’t want to lose that.”
THE DOWNSTAIRS GUEST BEDROOM IS PAINTED IN VIBRANT INDIA YELLOW BY FARROW & BALL. BOTTOM LEFT: A PORTRAIT OF CATHRINE AND SIMON ON THEIR WEDDING DAY. BOTTOM RIGHT: ANTIQUES ARE BROUGHT UP TO DATE WITH MODERN PHOTOGRAPHY PRINTS. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
Today, Cathrine and Simon have changed the way they run their business so they can be more creative and step back from the day-to-day stresses. Their home, meanwhile, is a testament to two lives entwined. While Cathrine’s Norwegian heritage gives the house its clean lines and sense of space, there is also Simon’s mid-century furniture and beloved records on display. Classic prints of 60s and 70s icons sit with a glorious portrait of David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust era which Cathrine commissioned from local artist Robin Eckardt. Bold colour punctuates the otherwise white walls, and the extensions look as though they were always part of the house. It is a house which tells the stories of its inhabitants and the lives they have made there.
THE REAR EXTENSION COMPLETED THE HOUSE AND ADDED A DRAMATIC DINING ROOM. TO THE LEFT, THE PORTRAIT OF DAVID BOWIE BY ARTIST ROBIN ECKARDT WHICH CATHRINE COMMISSIONED FOR SIMON’S BIRTHDAY. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
Creating a home, rather like a long-term relationship, is rarely a linear and straightforward process. There will be highs and lows and it will weather triumphs and tragedies along the way, but those four walls will ultimately provide a grounding place of sanctuary. Our idiosyncrasies and experiences will eventually cover the walls, sit on shelves and lie quietly in drawers, ready to be remembered. When we feel lost, our homes can help us to find ourselves. And that’s something worth holding on to.
Discover more at NORSK.
Feeling inspired? You can share this article with friends and followers using the share buttons at the top of the page. Discover more real homes here.