House & Garden, April 2005
He knew he had to have the place as soon as he looked at the collection
of tumbledown stone buildings from a distance. They nestled into
their Northamptonshire surroundings like a storybook illustration.
Never mind that nettles climbed at least six feet up what remained
of the walls which had been ruined by people swiping stones from
the structures uninhabited for 50 years after a suicide.
Charles Edwards saw Tile Barn on a Sunday and unfazed by its history,
placed a bid on Monday, the same day he put his home on the market.
It took more than a year, but in 1986, he got the place, including
the site where the farm’s original stones were quarried in
the 1830s, a lake-in-waiting.
Creating the ambience of an elegantly evolved, unpretentious country
home from an echoing heap of buildings took some doing. It helps
that Edwards and his partner of 10 years, Julia Boston, are antiques
dealers, with adjoining shops on London’s King’s Road
and each has that magical ability to combine family pieces with
new finds so rooms have the right scale and flow. He specializes
in lighting and makes internationally coveted reproduction fixtures
as well as ceiling roses and canopies. Boston specializes in eighteenth-and
nineteenth-century French furniture, decorations and tapestry “cartoons”
the paintinglike patterns from which tapestries are woven.
Edwards began by making two cottages into one. Many of the original
stones encasing them were missing; he replaced some through a building
supplier, and obtained the rest from a ruin of neighboring barn
that he bought for its stones. It took 18 months to finish work
on the cottage, which now has three bedrooms, a kitchen and a small
sitting room. He built a passageway to link the cottage and barn
– which once had a tiled roof, an unusual feature –
before starting on the barn itself, which is now dominated by a
huge sitting room.
With the structures linked, Edwards began working on the 3,800
square foot interior. He owned “masses” of old curtains
which helped soften the space. Thirteen mahogany doors that he’d
bought over the years at auction and from post-demolition sites
added considerable substance. He unified the house by covering most
of it in shades of pale stone from Papers and Paints. He finished
the central passage and main hall in
natural lime plaster incised to look like stone blocks; together
the areas serve as the formal entry and the formal dining area,
lit by one of Edwards’ octagonal chandeliers. The long connecting
route of stone flooring is punctuated with art, bookcases, sunlight
and furniture. “It makes me think that I live in a huge house,”
He painted the kitchen and sitting room a pale, pale “Italian-ish”
yellow terracotta color that makes both rooms feel sunny on even
the bleakest winter days.
In the former barn, one of Boston’s Aubusson tapestry verdure
cartoons dominates a wall of the sitting room with its heavenly
26-foot ceiling. “The scale is wonderful,” she said.
“It is a great, enormous picture of trees, the countryside
and ruins. Beneath it is an antique Knole sofa – “it
sleeps 12” Edwards says – that he inherited from his
mother, Mollie who was also an antiques dealer. With a Chinese-made
mid-nineteenth-century-brass-fitted navy trunk used as a table,
and English nineteenth- century grocers’ dry goods chests
on either side, this is one of the welcoming focal points in the
room and suggests the kind of coziness that comes from being with
friends who remember your
birthday but not your age.
Although the couple insist the big sitting room is their favorite,
“we live in the kitchen,’’ says Edwards. Friends
eat at the long kitchen table set with pieces from Edwards’
blue-and-white ware collection; French bentwood chairs encourage
conversation. The room is “where everyone gathers,”
he says. “It was made that way on purpose.” In the summer,
dining moves outdoors to the adjoining column barn, which was once
the cow barn. When Edwards began work on it, hundreds of rabbits
and one fox called it home. Now a window set into the gabled end
looks over the lake, and Edwards’ European Gothic lanterns
provide low-wattage illumination in the evenings.
The master bedroom has a view of the lake and the sheep field. Over
the bed hang one of Boston’s cartoons, a poppy painting and
partly colored engravings from the late eighteenth- or early-nineteenth-century.
On either side of the bed are mismatched nineteenth-century English
military chests, a pair of “1900-ish” bronze lamps that
Edwards couldn’t bring himself to sell and 1840 French mirrors.
It is a room of many parts, including a rug and furniture from his
mother, that come together for sweet dreams and fresh mornings.
With the house finished, Edwards basks in this bucolic splendor
he always knew he could wrest from a wreck. Yes, there were moments
such as the Christmas morning bath flood of ’98, but all is
as it should be now. A stairway, not a ladder, leads to the second
floor. It’s paradise.