This beautiful millhouse conversion is an object lesson in how to take neutrals from background decor to standout feature, utilizing the natural beauty of stone, wood, gravel and grain.
The dramatic mix of texture, patina, pattern and tone is the work of its owners, interior designer Laura Stubbs, founder of Epitome Styling (opens in new tab)and her husband Mark, managing director of the family construction company.
Yet even these serial renovators thought they had met their match when they first saw the property.
Four hundred years old, the property was once the village flour mill. When Laura and Mark viewed it, it had long since been converted into a three-bedroom house, but it had stood empty for six years and was covered in ivy.
The couple decided to extend the original house by converting the attached barns and integrating them into the building, creating a five-bedroom family home. What was once a single story barn is now two stories with a spacious living room with bedrooms upstairs. The interior of the original house was renovated to create flow and integrate the new additions.
With the structure restored, Laura was able to bring her design skills to the decor and take her idea from the building itself.
1. A conspicuous hearth
Stone excavated during remedial structural work was used to create features including the lounge fireplace. ‘We wanted to keep as much of the character as possible,’ says Laura.
Laura loves candlelight, a real fire and lamplight to bring atmosphere to her neutral decor scheme. All her lamps are on separate circuits to produce different lighting combinations.
As for her Christmas mantel decor, Laura says that the fireplace is always the last thing to be dressed from the mountains of foliage she brings into the house. It is a favorite time of year for the whole family.
2. Surprising exposed stone sections
The lounge is housed in the former barn. The couple sandblasted the walls to expose the stone, but thick bitumen (presumably for waterproofing) was impossible to shift, resulting in attractive exposed stone insets.
“Had we rebuilt to those original plans in one go, rather than taking a phased approach, we probably would have ended up with a modern, open-plan box,” says Laura. “What we have now is a bit more scratchy in places, but I like having separate rooms and I like that we’ve kept that original feel.”
3. Dialed up tone and texture
It’s a deceptively limited color palette – look close and the ‘neutral’ scheme ranges from black to charcoal, ochre, russet and sand, to lighter shades of chalk, cream and stone. What enhances the scheme even further is the use of texture to add depth and detail.
In this corner of the living room, the striking raw wood cabinet, beautifully shaped lamp base, patterned curtain and display of dried flower heads combine to create a rich tableau.
4. Unusual festive details
Here in the living room, Laura created an Advent calendar from Kraft paper boxes that both matches her home’s decor and offers a quirky holiday extra.
This space is part of the new addition to the house, where it makes the perfect day room, with a comfortable corner sofa.
Style-wise, Laura saw her approach change over the course of the project. ‘It used to have a Victorian edge, but it’s evolved now that we’re doing round two of decorating; it has a softer, country feel,’ she says. “I like to think I was sympathetic to the features of the house.”
5. A property in every corner
What gives a house flow is when each element of the space has a relationship with the others; where no corner is left unloved; and no element pots in terms of style, color or effect.
Here, under the stairs, is a good example of this ethos in action. The black ironwork frame of the mirror and the console table echo the paintwork of the staircase. At the same time, the display of bottlebrush Christmas trees reflected in the mirror transforms an awkward space into a festive vignette.
6. Big and bold backsplash and range
The kitchen was moved to the front of the house and made open plan to the dining area. While the main scheme is a tone-to-tone symphony of cream and stone, the large black range hob and black tiled backsplash add definition to the space.
‘We are not a family for clear worksheets. A layer of accessories builds character in every space,’ says Laura.
7. Winding shapes and unexpected contrasts
Form and scale are a key factor of great home design, and they are just as effective against a neutral background as they are in the most maximalist schemes.
In the dining room, molded Kartell dining chairs contrast with a table that Laura and Mark made themselves using old cast iron sewing machine table legs with a piece of elm they picked out at the lumber yard.
8. A dramatic triangular window – and a Christmas tree
Conversion of the sheds created space for a spacious bedroom with space to relax in the eaves. By opening in the beams, they created a dramatic peaked roof, with a triangular full window on one side of the room.
‘I also love a real tree in the bedroom which has become a bit of a naughty treat,’ says Laura. She looks for foliage in the village and the surrounding countryside. She knows where the best dried thistle heads will be and when the bushes will be filled with orange berries, and she regularly holds Christmas wreath-making events.
9. Unusual refurbished wood
In the second bedroom, one of the original barn doors was reused as a headboard. Setting its rough, rusted wood against a dark blue wall (Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue) only serves to emphasize its aged pitting and patina.
Bedside tables constructed from old wooden crates continue the new theme and connect the scheme to the property’s working roots.
10. Formed hexagonal accessories
The bathroom has been given a striking honeycomb effect, with hexagonal mirrors suspended over matching painted shapes. The vanity unit is an old coffee table painted a dark gray color.
Together, these dramatic features transform what could be a conventional shower room into an eye-catching bath space, without adding bold color.
11. Beautiful backyard garden room
This cute garden room was built using lots of materials and leftovers from the site. It turns a corner of the yard into a space for outdoor entertaining, regardless of the weather. And presented in Laura’s signature pared-down palette, it’s completely in keeping with the rest of the project.