If Lucy Howard’s West Sussex home could talk, it would no doubt be offering her its heartfelt thanks. From a property that appeared to be stuck in an Eighties rut – think colour combinations of oxblood red and apricot, plus black- stained beams – she has created a home that is stylish and supremely comfortable, with fresh country schemes that carefully respect the period style of the building.It is Lucy’s enthusiasm, drive and, in her own words, ‘a lot of bossing’ that has turned this Grade II-listed cottage into the welcoming home that she shares with her husband Joe, a lawyer, teenage sons Harry and Oliver and two miniature dachshunds, Lottie and Linus. The first time the couple, who were based in London, drove down to visit it in 2008, Lucy recalls that they took one look at the breathtaking view from the garden across the South Downs National Park and knew this was the one. ‘That was before we had even set foot inside the house,’ she laughs. ‘We’d been coming to the area for years because Joe’s parents have a house nearby, so we knew that places in a location like this rarely come up for sale.’ The building, which was formerly two workers’ cottages serving the nearby farm, dates back to 1660, with later additions in the 1900s.
As well as undertaking a complete decorative overhaul, Lucy and Joe also wanted to convert the stables into guest quarters and rebuild a traditional oak outbuilding that had been destroyed in a storm. Fortunately, Lucy loves nothing better than a project. ‘I trained and worked as a lawyer but I’ve always had a strong creative streak, which I’ve channelled into doing up properties,’ she confides.
Having worked with Leeds-based builder-joiner Philip Hogg on the family’s previous home, Lucy persuaded him to take on this project. ‘Phil is a proper old-school craftsman; I would draw what I wanted on the back of an envelope and he would interpret it,’ she recalls. ‘He and his team set themselves up in the former agricultural barn, which already had a kitchenette, and they would come down for 10 days at a time, then return to Yorkshire for four days.’
Philip’s work includes the beautiful painted kitchen, which is traditionally made using solid wood. ‘People think I’m barking mad opting for wood rather than MDF but I wanted to be able to see the grain through the paint,’ says Lucy, who confesses to being ‘utterly fastidious’, adding, ‘I tried 12 different cupboard handles before choosing these pewter ones; they pretty much blew my kitchen budget out of the water but were worth every penny.’ Another indulgence is the choice of Calacatta Oro for the worksurfaces, a pure white marble that Lucy admits to being totally impractical. ‘I went for the aesthetics. It’s rather
like wearing high heels – you sometimes have to suffer to look good,’ she explains.
Lucy’s attention to detail is evident everywhere, from the traditionally forged wrought-iron latches on the doors to the whitish-grey hue she has used for all the walls. ‘I won’t tell you how many years it took to find that grey – it has no yellow in it and it is perfect,’ she says. The soft colour serves as a foil for natural fabrics that span gentle shades of watery greens and duck-egg blues, through to dusty pinks and corals. ‘I wouldn’t want a home without colour, but I tend to opt for muted hues,’ she adds.
And while Lucy confesses to being ‘the nightmare overseer’, she isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and pitch in. During one of the worst winters on recent record, she climbed the scaffolding in the snow to help the roofers nail old Sussex tiles to the stables roof. ‘I wanted to see if I could do it; this is all about making our home,’ she explains.
The former stables now play host to a steady stream of guests, who come to enjoy the beautiful countryside and the Howards’ genial hospitality. Lucy, meanwhile, is busy tending to her beloved gardens while dreaming up the next project. ‘I have been taking a course in ceramics for the last four years and my plan is to install a studio and a kiln in the oak outbuilding,’ she enthuses. Chances are, this indomitable spirit will always have a new plan up her sleeve