Ten years ago I made the big step of moving from London to the countryside. It’s a move many people make, particularly when planning a family life. But with the pandemic there has been an even bigger shift of families moving to the countryside. Having done it myself I now love where I live and wouldn’t change it for the world. But I also know it can take time to adapt and not all elements of country life are rosy! So I thought I’d share some tips on what to expect, from both an interiors and a life perspective.
EXPECT TO FEEL A BIT WOBBLY AT THE BEGINNING
It’s totally normal to feel a little odd at the beginning when you are used to the hustle and bustle of a town. I didn’t sleep the first night when I moved as it felt deafeningly quiet! From my perspective I’d say it took at least a year for me to feel at home, perhaps even closer to two! But everyone is different and it’s fine to shed a tear or two for your old life even if you love your new home.
Even though people are friendly in the countryside you tend to be perceived as “newcomers” for quite a long time! I know in my village that unless you have lived there for more than twenty years you are very much seen as new. And in country villages, there is definitely a sense of hierarchy. I think you need to treat this approach with a sense of humour rather than taking it too personally!
TAKE YOUR TIME
The move from a city to the countryside is a big one. Enjoy settling into your new lifestyle before making major decisions. I think it is always useful to live in a house for six months to understand how you use the house and simple things like the way the light changes throughout the day.
Of course, there are exceptions. If you are moving to a house that needs a major renovation then these decisions have to be accelerated. That is when I advise asking for professional advice. The number of decisions can be overwhelming and when you are used to city living it can be difficult to envisage your country home.
DON’T FEEL YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR STYLE AND ADOPT A “COUNTRY’ LOOK
I’ve lost track of the number of people who have told me they don’t quite know what to do with their country home. The sense of space feels so different from a city home. Even though your new country home might have more space they are often badly configured. My home is a series of rooms that don’t quite flow together whereas city homes tend to be a little more symmetrical! With older period properties come wonky walls and ceilings too.
With this change in style, it can feel tempting to adopt a classic country look that totally fits with the style of the house. Which is obviously fine if you love a classic English country look! But if that style doesn’t quite fit your personality that style can feel a bit fussy. So if you go down the path of “how SHOULD I decorate my country home” you’ll end up with a home that doesn’t feel quite you. I’ve been there myself! One room in my house I did when I first moved (and before I was an interior designer ) is classic country – full on Colefax and Fowler. Although I actually really like it and can appreciate it I rarely use the room. It just doesn’t feel like me!
Then what can you do to create a home that works for modern country life? There are many simple design ideas that help bring together a more contemporary feel in a country setting. Ways that I do this include selecting traditional furniture styles but upholstering in a modern fabric, or doing the opposite! So selecting a modern sofa and upholstering in a classic fabric such as herringbone. I also use calm fresh colour palettes and introduce more traditional colours as accents.
I outline lots more tips in one of the first articles I wrote for my website Modern Country Style for Contemporary Living.
NOTICE THE LIGHT
One major point to note is that the light is so different in a country home. This has been my main learning point. I had a desperate call from a potential client recently who couldn’t understand why the neutral she had used in her kitchen looked a pale pistachio green. It was simple to me – in that the fields and green trees surrounding her kitchen were reflecting green light directly onto her walls. Almost like a cinema screen! Neutrals in country homes are really hard to choose as you are always battling against the green light. I come onto a few tips in my next point.
CONSIDER NEUTRALS WITH EARTHIER UNDERTONES OR “NEW” NEUTRALS
The paints I use for country homes tend to have a different undertone than the selections I would choose for a city home. I avoid cool blue undertones in my neutral paints as the crisp contemporary feel they bring just doesn’t seem to work in a country home. I also think they can end up looking slightly lavender!
Earthier palettes work well in country homes, particularly those with beams. I just don’t find the grey palettes tone with oak beams, plus light is often such an issue in old homes. I would normally choose from Farrow and Ball’s Traditional or Red Based neutral groups. Their website outlines which colours make up each palette. My favourite neutral from that group is Slipper Satin which works wherever it goes! I personally find their Easy Neutrals and Architectural Greys don’t quite work. But every house is different and I normally choose my neutrals to work with the fabrics and metal finishes I’ve chosen.
Also consider what I call “new neutrals”. So dusky pinks and sages greens which don’t scream colour but provide a lovely warm backdrop in a room. The new neutrals are not the stars of the room but add much more warmth than an off white. My favourite example is Setting Plaster by Farrow and Ball. You can pair this with most colours and it goes! But has more warmth than a classic white and works throughout the seasons.
A BOOTROOM IS ESSENTIAL
If you’re concerned by potential challenges caused by mud, dogs, and storage, may space for a bootroom. A space with its own entryway, bootrooms provide the perfect spot for shedding the day before enjoying the rest of your home. And it doesn’t have to be reserved for muddy paws, children’s shoes, coats and bags, either. Your bootroom could double as a utility room, if you want to free up space in your kitchen. In my own bootroom we hid away the washing machine and dryer behind doors to avoid the whole space feeling fussy. Now I have this space I have no idea how I did without it! All I know is that my main hallway was always cluttered with coats and muddy shoes and now at least it feels like a welcoming space.
PUT WARMTH AND COMFORT AT THE HEART OF DECISION MAKING
In larger and older houses, the temperature can come as a surprise. Underfloor heating is a must for keeping you warm should you choose stone flooring. But you may find you can’t install underfloor heating in a period property that is listed. If that is the case then layer up with rugs. Choose a patterned wool flatweave rug with texture to add warmth and a sense of cosiness. Avoid sisal where you want to feel cosy. Much as it adds amazing texture it’s not warm. And under bare feet can feel really scratchy. I tend to reserve it for areas such as stairs and landings where it’s darker colour is great for hiding the odd bit of mud! For advice on choosing carpet see my article here.
For fabric choose natural textures such as chunky linens, soft cotton and wool. I also love velvet but just be a little careful about the ones you choose if you have kids and dogs as they can be hard to clean. Pattern is also your best friend as it just doesn’t show up marks as much as a plain fabric will. So if your dog tends to brush against a sofa or chair then choose a darker or patterned fabric to avoid seeing the tide mark they leave!
Enjoy getting to know the area around your new home. I have lost count of the number of times a lovely walk in nature has saved me from a bad mood! During lockdown, my daily walks in the wood were my saviour. So if you’ve made the choice to move because of the pandemic you have made the right choice! Just give yourself some time to enjoy it, slowly plan your new home and enjoy some simple family moments.