Zoe and James Davis and their children were living in a converted barn in East Sussex when they began to consider how they could follow a more sustainable lifestyle.
‘We were keen for a project – somewhere with land and the potential to generate an income so we could become more self-sufficient,’ says Zoe.
Fortunately, the couple loved the very first property that they came across – a Grade II-listed six-bedroom farmhouse, complete with holiday cottages and outbuildings, just a few miles away. In July 2015, they moved in with their three children.
The age of the farmhouse – it dates back to the 12th century – gives it its distinctive charm, with wonky walls and sloping floors. ‘The property has subsided over the years, although it remains structurally safe. While that might have put some people off, we think it creates a wonderful quirky feel,’ says Zoe.
After first overhauling the holiday cottages so they could start generating an income, the couple’s attention turned to the main house. The interior was dated and it needed new electrics, plumbing and redecorating.
‘The house has low ceilings and small windows, which is lovely when it’s cold and dark outside but in the summer it can sometimes feel oppressive,’ says Zoe.
Downstairs, in an attempt to optimise the light, Zoe started off by painting most of the walls white, but was uninspired by the end result. ‘It made the place feel quite gloomy,’ she says. ‘We realised that painting the walls in richer tones gave a warmer, more inviting feel, and the brighter colours worked better against the exposed brickwork and beams.’
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For little cost, Zoe transformed this family space by painting the walls, tiles and chairs in eye-catching shades.
In the kitchen, Zoe kept the existing units and tiles but painted them in rich blue and pink. The pink tiles bring vibrancy to the stove area.
A display of ceramics, painted floorboards and bold wallpaper give this area its own identity.
See: Farmhouse kitchen ideas – introduce modern rustic elements for a laid-back look
A collection of hats adds interest to the staircase.
This traditional space is perfect for storing the family’s essentials. You can see more pantry ideas in our dedicated guide.
Shades of pink and blue create a playful feel in the living room, while Zoe’s fabrics add a modern edge to the period space.
- See: Modern farmhouse living room ideas – rustic designs for a cozy scheme
Zoe uses this practical area to display plants.
Vivid wallpaper and soft furnishings contrast with the dark ceiling in the loft bedroom.
Colorful designs give this bedroom a playful feel.
White painted surfaces lend a restful air in the main bedroom.
See: Farmhouse bedroom ideas – rustic designs for your sleep space
Zoe’s own fabric lines the walls of the corridor to brighten up this narrow area.
The farmhouse and its surrounding gardens have given the family the rural idyll they craved.
In addition to the main house and cottages, Zoe and James have converted another outbuilding into an office and studio for Zoe’s textile business, Zobo Designs. Her vibrant fabrics can be seen peppered throughout the house in the form of cushions and, notably, lining the walls in the upstairs corridor.
The property has needed a lot of work and there are their pigs and alpacas to care for, too. ‘It’s definitely a lifestyle choice, as there’s always something to be done, whether it’s in the veg garden or the holiday cottages, or fixing and maintaining the buildings and the land. The list goes on,’ says Zoe.
It has been a huge learning curve and they've had their fair share of mishaps. ‘There have been pigs on the road, escaped alpacas and even a holiday guest who had to call for help when 50 sheep decided to herd themselves into the cottage garden.’
It’s clear, however, that the family relish their new lifestyle. ‘With what's been happening in the world over the last year, I will never underestimate how lucky we are,’ says Zoe. ‘We love the open space, the greenery and being surrounded by the animals. When I breathe in the country air, I can feel the stress leaving my body.’
For more information on Zoe’s holiday cottages visit Eatonden Manor Farm
Photographs/ Richard Gadsby
Text/ Amy Maynard
Interiors have always been Vivienne's passion – from bold and bright to Scandi white. After studying at Leeds University, she worked at the Financial Times, before moving to Radio Times. She did an interior design course and then worked for Homes & Gardens, Country Living and House Beautiful. Vivienne’s always enjoyed reader homes and loves to spot a house she knows is perfect for a magazine (she has even knocked on the doors of houses with curb appeal!), so she became a houses editor, commissioning reader homes, writing features and styling and art directing photo shoots. She worked on Country Homes & Interiors for 15 years, before returning to Homes & Gardens as houses editor four years ago.
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