Designers Sue and Dave Johnson combined talents to create their contemporary home in Rutland.
Towards the end of 2013, Sue and Dave Johnson had rented out their large, rural family house and were looking for a property that would become their new, downsized home. The couple knew Rutland well and had always hankered to move to one of the tiny county’s pretty market towns. ‘We were living in a small flat temporarily while we scouted the area for a suitable property to buy,’ remembers Sue.
They didn’t have too far to look, as they soon spotted a neglected Sixties house on the nearby high street. ‘It was truly the ugly duckling of the street at that time, and stood out like a sore thumb among its smart Victorian neighbours. We decided to approach the owner directly to see if he was interested in selling. Luckily for us, he was rarely there and used the house primarily for storage, so he was immediately interested in our proposal. We ended up buying it in early 2014,’ Sue explains.
The house was badly in need of renovation from the roof down, so Dave designed a new interior layout and brought an architect on board to help formalise the ideas. ‘Thankfully, we had no major problems with planning permission, despite the house being in a conservation area. We were always conscious of the elegant surrounding properties, and our brief from the conservation officer was to become a “neutral presence on the high street” – something we knew we could achieve,’ says Dave.
As soon as planning was granted in May 2014, work began. The original kitchen was small and at the front of the house, so the couple designed a large two-storey extension to create a new, open-plan kitchen-diner at the rear of the property, with a spacious studio/work room above. A large chimney running through the centre of the building also had to be removed. ‘Our first task was to strip out all the interior walls so we were left with a shell,’ remembers Sue. Veterans of several successful renovations, the couple took time out from their work as freelance textile designers to work full-time on the project, with the assistance of a local builder. ‘Our priorities were to have lots of light, lots of warmth and no draughts, which had been the bane of our lives in our previous period home.’
Having spent many hours researching online and seeking advice from experts at trade and design shows, the couple took the best ideas on the market and applied them to reconstructing the interior. The house now benefits from many environmentally friendly features, including aluminium windows, a zinc-covered roof, and a highly efficient ventilation system that lets fresh air circulate without having to open windows.
Such a large renovation project made teamwork essential. While the builder tackled the extension, Dave took care of the rewiring, plumbing, and plasterboarding the ceilings, and Sue worked on the exterior landscaping. ‘We were still living a hundred yards up the road throughout the project,’ says Dave, ‘which meant we could devote all our time to working on the house, with no travel involved.’
The building and remodelling took around 18 months, after which time the couple turned their attention to the decor. ‘As we were starting from scratch, we felt that choosing an overall design element would help pull the scheme together and ensure the whole house had a cohesive feel,’ says Sue. ‘Our vision was of something modern and inspired by the style of the Sixties. Having worked with textiles and design all our professional lives, we are very involved in the regional art scene and wanted a bright and sunny space filled with items created by the designers and makers we love.’
The stylish, contemporary kitchen-diner boasts polished concrete worktops, a bold orange glass-tiled splashback and underfloor heating, which the couple love for its luxurious feel in the colder months.
Decorated in Farrow & Ball’s strong white, the living room provides the perfect backdrop to the couple’s mid-century art and ceramics collections. Throughout the house Sue and Dave have chosen simple, well-designed furnishings and accessories from their favourite suppliers, and customised Ikea storage units for a unique and personal finish.
‘There is a streamlined, uncluttered feel to the place now, and friends say it feels welcoming and warm. Local people also tell us they love how well the house blends into its surroundings. All the hard work has paid off, and the house works brilliantly for us now. We are definitely here to stay.’
Words: Amander Meade, Photographer: Rachel Smith