Delia Phillips swapped her London terrace for a Buckinghamshire barn with urban appeal.
After living in London for almost two decades, Delia and Scott Phillips craved a new start in the country. Looking for more space, fresh air and an enhanced quality of life for their growing family, they began investigating properties in rural areas that were still in commuting distance from the capital. ‘We have always been passionate about renovated spaces – our first flat was a former Victorian piano factory,’ explains Delia, ‘and at that time we had our sights set on a barn.’
Using dedicated website Barns Etc, the couple found a complex of converted animal sheds in Leckhampstead, Buckinghamshire. They were immediately attracted to the tranquil location – away from the main road and not overlooked by neighbouring properties – and the outstanding views. ‘Despite the gloomy interiors, we could see the potential,’ recalls Delia. The family moved in six months after the first viewing and wasted no time transforming the buildings into their dream home.
‘Our vision was to open everything up and make the space flow throughout,’ Delia says. ‘We were keen to modernise the floors and walls with contemporary finishes and give it a fresh feel. Scott and I did all the decorating ourselves, painting and wallpapering over the dark walls and modernising every room.
After four years of living in the conversion and seeing how they used the space, the couple tackled the kitchen. ‘As it’s a large, sociable room, we wanted to maximise this by adding a central island with bar stools, as well as a sofa for relaxing on,’ says Delia. With the help of the experts at Poggenpohl, the couple opted for handleless glossy units teamed with a rich granite worktop, bronze mirrored splashbacks and statement pendant shades to create a sleek yet welcoming look. ‘It’s the centre of our home and I like nothing more than cooking for family and friends here.’
The deep, earthy greys of the kitchen continue in the neighbouring dining and living areas, with dramatic statement walls dominating the rooms. ‘We both love minimal interiors that feel comfortable, and are drawn to contemporary furniture that has a simple aesthetic,’ Delia explains. ‘This dark wall colour brings instant warmth and drama, plus it is the perfect backdrop for showcasing striking furniture or vibrant artwork.’
Boldly patterned wallpapers featuring glamorous metallic designs also play a large role in the decor. For example, Delia spotted The Cranes wallpaper in a New York hotel and knew she just had to have it for the master bedroom. ‘I had to get it shipped over,’ she says. ‘It was well worth the wait though: I love the gentle lustre of the surface when it catches the light.’
The biggest challenge the couple faced was finding the right company to deliver the polished concrete finish they wanted over the huge floor area. After lengthy research, they discovered Luxury Coatings, which although a specialist in commercial spaces decided the project was big enough to take on. ‘The attention to detail was incredible,’ recalls Delia. ‘It took three weeks and was all done by hand. We decamped to my parents’ house to escape the chaos and the fumes.’ The firm did an incredible job maintaining the same colour throughout and got the couple’s desired shade spot on. ‘We asked for a cloudy grey with a marble finish and that’s exactly what we ended up with,’ says Delia. ‘We love it – it’s so practical and versatile.’
Despite the hurdles that needed to be overcome to decorate such large areas, Delia and Scott have succeeded in achieving their dream of combining contemporary living in a rural environment. Their children have flourished with the abundance of space, while the couple have been able to indulge in outdoor activities, such as tennis and cycling. The family has also embraced pastoral pursuits like gardening, growing vegetables and keeping chickens. With three-quarters of an acre to look after, the couple did most of the landscaping themselves, including the central courtyard where they cleared away all the existing foliage, reshaped the lawns and flowerbeds and removed hundreds of old agricultural stones.
Scott and I both love nature and we were keen to throw ourselves into every aspect of countryside living,’ Delia enthuses. ‘As well as planting new trees and shrubs and trying to create a natural habitat for birds and bees, we wanted to grow fresh produce and encourage our children to appreciate what it is like to sow, tend to, and then pick and enjoy your own food.’
Recently, the couple hired the help of landscapers Hendy Curzon Gardens and had a new sunken patio area built, which includes wooden seating and a pagoda. ‘The low benches provide privacy and peace – the only sound is the bird song all around. It’s also a great social space. When we light the fire pit at night and snuggle under blankets, it’s fantastic,’ says Delia. The patio leads on to the property’s paddock via a mini wildflower meadow that Scott is maintaining with care.
‘There’s always something that needs looking after or a job that has to be done as that’s simply the nature of living within such a rural landscape,’ Delia admits, ‘but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We adore our country retreat and everything that living in it entails.’
Photography: Rachel Smith