Many prospective house-buyers discover that a checklist of property requirements drawn up before a viewing may be overturned in an instant when a house speaks to the heart. For Zoe Mossman and her family, however, their first impression of an eighteenth-
century stone farmhouse made their hearts sink. “My stepmother cried, my daughter cried and James, my husband, refused to live in it,” Zoe says.
It was a growing dissatisfaction with their existing home – a vast, sprawling property described by Zoe as “permanently cold” – that prompted her, in December 2015, to explore other options. James, whose company specialises in sourcing and supplying bricks for all types of building projects, wanted only to remain in beautiful rural Rutland, but suitable properties were scarce and none matched their expectations.
Zoe’s thoughts kept returning to the unpromising farmhouse her husband had dismissed. “There really wasn’t anything nice about it, and yet I knew I could do something with it,” she says. The Grade II listed property with its Collyweston stone roof required complete modernisation, but came with a large adjoining L-shaped brick outbuilding which had potential for incorporation within the house. Its location on the edge of a quiet hamlet of mainly period properties clustered around a picturesque parish church was attractive but, more importantly, the house was set in some 29 acres of pasture and offered excellent riding on the doorstep. “Horses are a big part of our life,” explains Zoe. “James and I returned to the property and walked for two hours in the surrounding countryside. I asked him what he’d heard in that time and, of course, there was nothing except the sound of country life.”
With James on board, Zoe’s first call was to Kavan Brook Shanahan of Pavilion Estates, whose specialists design and refurbish listed and period properties throughout the East Midlands. “Kavan arrived with
pen and paper and asked me what I wanted to gain from the house,” she says. “I love to cook and occasionally give cooking lessons to students. What I wanted most of all was an enormous, sociable kitchen which would also be a beautiful entertaining space, so Kavan, with his clever eye, began sketching his designs
over the sales particulars.” Plans were drawn up to transform the house into a six-bedroom home tailored exactly to the family’s needs, including what Zoe playfully describes as the “rugby room, where everyone can pile in to watch a game”, and a riding room
for equestrian equipment.
With the necessary permissions in place, local builder David Mee was brought in to carry out the work whilst Zoe took on the role of project manager. “We’d sit down every day and agree what needed to be done,” she says, adding that there was never a cross word between them. As a measure of their successful working relationship, the work was completed on time and within budget. “Even the weather was on our side,” Zoe observes. It took 15 months for the unsatisfactory layout of the existing farmhouse to
be completely reconfigured by the incorporation and major overhaul of the outbuilding. One consideration of the design was to create cohesion between the old and new parts of the house so a light-flooded link room leading to the large kitchen-diner now ensures
that the space functions as beautifully as it looks.
Having previously lived in a house where the vast dining room needed to be brought up to temperature hours in advance so guests didn’t freeze, Zoe was keen to make her new home welcoming and inviting. Local soft-furnishing specialist Chloe Jonason stepped in to imaginatively help with alterations to existing curtains and make all the curtains in the old part of the house.
Then, to continue the fresh, classically contemporary look she wanted to achieve, Zoe approached designer Elizabeth Stanhope to help with the new rooms. “I was a regular visitor to her shop and we’d become friends. We have similar tastes; I got her and she got me, so I knew that we would work well together.”
Elizabeth took the pieces of furniture and art that Zoe and James had brought with them from their old home as her starting point, blending them with new lighting, textures and an easy-to-live-with palette of stone hues enlivened by vibrant bursts of colour in a composition that immediately makes a comfortable home. Elizabeth modestly suggests that the fruitful collaboration was due to her clients, “Zoe and James are a joy to work with and their house is a beautiful reflection of them both. That, to me, is the definition of a successful project,” she says.
Today, the house is far removed from the dated rather joyless property the family first viewed and is an oasis of calm surrounded by rolling countryside. With her clarity of vision and dedication, Zoe has transformed the farmhouse into a spacious, inviting home where her family can relax and guests feel welcome. Any lingering memories of shivering in their previous home are dissipating. “My three children live and work in London but regularly return at weekends, often with a gang,” Zoe says, with a smile. “My son,
Max, was here recently and one of the first things he said was, ‘Isn’t it lovely that you can walk in any room and be warm and not have to think about it.’”