Photo © Mark Scott

Summerhouse… and the Living is Easy

18th May 2018

Sue Blakeley’s relaxed Edwardian home reflects a unique style that combines French vintage items, heritage plants and gardenalia, set against pale, soft chalky shades

By Natalie Flaum

For years, Sue Blakeley had been admiring a striking Edwardian house tucked away down a country lane in the heart of the Chiltern Hills. “I had heard that the house had a somewhat dilapidated yet beautiful original summerhouse and, being a garden designer, I was intrigued” she says. “We were looking for a bigger house but we didn’t want to move away from the area as it’s so beautiful. Then I discovered that the owner of the house, who was renovating it, was eager to move back to London. We negotiated with him, assuring him that we would continue the renovations, and within a week he had agreed to a private sale before the property went on the open market. We were thrilled!” The summerhouse now plays a pivotal role in Sue’s garden business, as it’s the perfect setting for showing her summer and winter collections.

The garden then became the main focus of Sue’s attention. Inspired by the work of the famous 1920s garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, she designed a potager at the bottom of her garden, using box hedges to divide six traditional flowerbeds planted with fruit, vegetables and flowers. The potager is also home to her Indian Runner ducks, Dorothy, Matilda and Gertie.

Inside the house, the first task was to demolish the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room to create a kitchen/diner. “The original kitchen was very small so we removed the large inglenook chimney breast and the old stove and were able to steal further space from the narrow hallway to create an even larger room,” says Sue. Time-honoured aspects of the new kitchen include a butler’s sink and traditional painted cabinets by Plain English Design. The oak dining table and chairs are family pieces. The blind and curtains were made by Su Chase Interiors, Old Amersham, in a Vanessa Arbuthnott fabric.

Over the next 18 months the Blakeleys redecorated and then started work on a two-storey extension to include a spacious sitting room and main bedroom with en suite. “This was our biggest project to date. As the plot is wide to the side and rear, we chose to have a double-height extension,” says Sue. “We hired a brilliant local builder, who sourced all original materials – he did such a good job that you can’t even see the join where the original building ends and the new extension begins.”

The family lived in the original part of the house while work took place. Sue and Tony concentrated on finding and restoring original features, including roof tiles, reclaimed doors, radiators and floorboards, throughout the downstairs living areas until the extension was ready. “I was so excited when the two buildings were finally knocked through,” recalls Sue.

When it came to decorating, Sue was keen to stick to a theme of soft chalky shades throughout. The kitchen and breakfast area, for instance, share off-white and grey tones with touches of blue in the painted cabinetry, striped wallpaper and wall paint. To create a French feel, Sue bought a now much-loved antique white painted dresser and plate rack on a trip to France and has collected blue and white French china and powder blue accessories to fit in with the vintage theme.

Upstairs, a warm neutral paint by Zoffany on the walls allows colour to come from fabrics and soft furnishings. “Amazingly, the walls look different in every single room,” she says. The rooms have been finished with Cath Kidston wallpapers, Vanessa Arbuthnott fabrics and French-style furniture pieces Sue has collected on her buying trips.

Despite frequently working away on other people’s gardens, Sue always finds time to enjoy her own home and garden with her family. “The house is a great place for parties – we held a party for my 40th birthday here and we’ve had 25 friends in the summerhouse for the children’s birthday parties – it’s like having your own village hall!”

QUICK CHECK

The Property:
Edwardian family home near Stokenchurch

Who Lives Here:
Sue Blakeley who runs her own garden design business (sueblakeley.com)
and husband Tony, a teacher and their two sons Charlie and Jack

What They Did:
Restored original features wherever possible; demolished an internal wall and removed a fireplace to create a large kitchen/diner; built a double-storey extension; decorated throughout

What They Love:
‘It’s an incredibly safe and sociable area and I like to cross the stile at the bottom of our garden and go to visit friends. The children love playing in the surrounding fields.’

Find Your Local