Dubliner and editor of Essential Kitchens Bathrooms and Bedrooms Ciara Elliott’s move to the UK in many ways resembled an episode of Escape to the Country. Despite having a hectic day job in the media, the farmhouse she returns to every night is akin to a movie set; whimsical and inviting. Ciara often documents this juxtaposition on her Instagram. Though the farmhouse renovation is still a work in progress, we couldn’t wait to have a peak into what Ciara and her family have done so far.
From the get-go, Ciara and her partner Ben knew that the Red House was the kind of country oasis that came with its own brand of magic. The Georgian farmhouse once belonged to artist Peter Coker who maintained the garden in a French Monet style; a lily pond surrounded by lavender, pretty flower beds and magnolia, pear, fig and olive trees. Just twenty minutes away is where the Romans built their capital Camulodunum, or Colchester as it’s now known, when they conquered England. A short drive from there, Ciara, Ben and their two daughters Edie, 8, and Astrid, 6, spend their weekends at the seaside. Indeed, the kind of stuff of Escape to the Country dreams.
Immediately after winning the property at an auction, however, things became a lot more Room to Improve! Peeling wallpaper, rising damp and dry rot- “You name it, it was here!” Ciara explains. “The house was in such a bad state that we had to go back to bare bones and build up again from there.”
During the farmhouse renovation, Ciara had time to think about the style she wanted to decorate in. Or, as the case was, styles- plural. “I have too much choice in my job and I change my style all the time! I am always drawn to beautiful shapes, sculpture, items and artwork. I physically couldn't live without colour and embellishment and pictures everywhere, so maybe I am sort of hippy boho?”
What’s Ciara’s take on budgeting? “I do believe in paying a price for original furniture and artwork and would rather hold out and have nothing than fill my house with Ikea lookalikes.”
One thing the couple were committed to investing in were the windows. “Reinstating proper sash windows costs a fortune and I literally feel like weeping every time we get one done.” But once the farmhouse renovation is completed and the house is fully furnished, Ciara has another investment in mind; “In the future, when we have the money, my dream investment would be to buy a painting of the garden that was done by the artist who lived here. He was a Royal Academy artist and also designed prints for stores such as Heals and Habitat. He was very respected and his paintings go for a fortune, but I would love to have one if we could ever afford it.”
Until then, Ciara is busy collecting bits and pieces for the remainder of the farmhouse renovation. Her knack for creating soulful, layered vignettes requires some legwork. “Without sounding like a total cliché I really do shop everywhere! Most of our furniture has been bought at auction or bought on eBay and given a new lease of life – a paint job, upholstered etc.” And for anyone visiting England’s south east, Ciara has some interior hotspots she recommends for stylish Scandi pieces; “Vanil and Tea and Kate. I could shop in either shop and furnish my whole house”. Ciara also recommends larger chain stores like Heals, Anthropologie and The Conran Shop.
Red House is a lovely example of a layered, collected home; something Ciara is proud of- “I don’t want to buy only one ‘look’” she explains. “Nothing is too contrived or trendy. A home should be about who you are and what you do.” One way this house has avoided looking too overdone is by keeping the paint colours neutral and the lighting soft. “I am all about no overhead lights and lots of pools of lighting in different corners of the room. So a chair with a reading light overhead, for instance, or a table with hanging pendants, defining that space. I also love floor lamps and exposed bulbs and all of the fun you can have with bedside lights”.
Still, even with all of that lighting, nothing beats those sash windows! When asked what her favourite part of the house is, Ciara excitedly tells me that it’s the incomparable charm of Red House (even in its current, semi-dishevelled, still-under-construction state!). Giant windows, high ceilings and even quaint features like the original maids’ bells aren’t something every homeowner is lucky enough to have. But in this case, they certainly don’t go under-appreciated.
Words: Louise Dockery
Photography: Malcolm Menzies at 82mm.com