Case Study: Willow Crossley’s Oxfordshire Farmhouse
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With florist, nature writer and author of four lifestyle books on her CV (her most recent, The Wild Journal, was published in March this year), it’s hard to imagine Willow Crossley ever not living in the countryside. But nine years ago the possibility couldn’t have been further from her mind. ‘We had been living in France away from everyone for the last five years,’ Crossley explains. ‘I wanted to stay in London and be around our friends and family.’
In a twist of fate, the couple went to view a rambling Oxfordshire farmhouse, and fell in love instantly. ‘We took one look at this house and knew that we had to do it,’ she remembers. ‘The people we bought it from turned out to be old family friends so we thought it was meant to be.’ Virtually untouched for 30 years, the house was ‘very higgledy piggledy’, a charming hotch-potch of inglenook fireplaces, low-slung ceilings, weathered stone walls, wonky wooden doors and Crittall windows. The main jobs were ‘lots of repainting and wallpapering –I love wallpaper’ but constraints of a tiny budget and Grade II-listed status meant Crossley had to think outside of the box and be creative with original features.
It worked – over ten years the florist (who also did stints at Oka and Boden) has infused the storybook-quality of the interior with her own brand of modern cool, marrying principles of nature and harmony found in the outdoor surroundings. In the snug sitting room, this translates as clusters of patterned cushions and earthy, mossy paints that mellow the indoor light. Offbeat touches like a bright Elvis poster, or stack of art books inject contemporary fun and energising pops of colours.
Inspiration comes from all over, and Crossley looked to both British designers and afar to assemble a vibrant kaleidescope of different textiles, shades and patterns. ‘I adore colour, print and pattern and wanted to get in as many of my favourites as possible.’ A green palm-printed throw draped across the sitting room sofa is from India, and the blind was made with Indian block-print fabrics found on eBay. Meanwhile, other fabrics were sourced from Nina Campbell, Penny Morrison and Volga Linen.
The theme of nature is infused throughout by natural fabrics like cotton, linen and seagrass. While creating an earthy cosiness, they also bring the 16th-century features of the house bang up to date. This isn’t a home that goes with the all-neutral school of design, however; Crossley’s addiction to ‘crazy’ (her words) wallpapers adds artistic flair and vibrance. Roses and flowers ramble up the walls injecting life and colour, and transforming small, ordinary areas into feature spaces. ‘We just did our tiny downstairs loo in a very bold, pink and red tulip print wallpaper from Ottoline.’ For the mass of hand-printed flowers on the walls of a bathroom, a friend, Fiona McAlpine, was drafted in. ‘She used lots of colours but the background is a washy pale pink and is just so beautiful. It feels very peaceful.’
While humble in its beginnings, this is also one project that’s always evolving. One of Crossley’s favourite recent additions is the new kitchen. ‘We put in a new kitchen about three years ago. It’s dark green with marble sideboards and splashbacks and makes me so unbelievably happy. It feels quite slick compared to the rest of the house which is very old and characterful,’ she adds. ‘We live in there; cooking, eating, homework. It’s definitely the heart of the home.’
It might all seem perfectly orchestrated; a cooler, sharper, newer iteration of shabby chic. But for the most part it’s all been achieved working freehand with a small budget. ‘It’s just a mishmash of things that we loved,’ Crossley muses. ‘It feels very homely and comfortable. It’s not immaculate and neat but it feels colourful and happy, which is what we wanted.’
With warmth, character and charm radiating from every surface, it’s exactly the sort of place where you want to curl up in an armchair in front of the fire with a good book.