samples resume contact  

click image for larger view
Only Connect
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 says.

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.