‘You’ll see that I’m a bit of a magpie,’ says interior designer Henriette von Stockhausen as we arrive at her Dorset home, and the truth of her words strikes you the second you step inside. The house is a treasure trove of beautiful things, where antique benches sit beneath contemporary portraits, straw hats perch on the tips of wall-mounted antlers, and family heirlooms jostle for space with more recent souvenirs from far-flung corners of the world.
‘In my job, I see so many wonderful things all the time,’ says Henriette. ‘I stash them away and wait for the perfect time to use them. When I’m decorating a client’s house, I tend to err more on the side of caution, so generally I have to wait until it’s time to do up my own house to really let loose.’
Thus when Henriette and her family moved into their 18th-century stable block conversion last year, she seized the opportunity to display all her favourite finds. However, before she could begin, the interior needed to undergo a serious face lift. The building had not been lived in for several years and was infested with rats – a fact which did not go down well at all with her children. ‘When we first bought the house, the children didn’t want to come in at all,’ says Henriette. ‘Every time we went to visit, they would stay in car. They really didn’t want to move in. But as soon as it was ready, they absolutely loved it.’
Decorating her own home not only gave Henriette the chance to indulge her personal sense of style, it also allowed her to create a practical space suited to her family’s needs. With three children in the house, as well as a German short-haired pointer and a husband with a penchant for shooting and fishing, it was important to make sure the rooms were functional as well as beautiful.
A prime example of this is the kitchen. ‘I’ve done so many Shaker-style kitchens over the years, but for my own home I wanted something very simple and easy to clean, especially with all the children,’ says Henriette. So she chose sleek lacquered units with concrete work surfaces, which she designed and produced herself, using homemade crate frames. The more contemporary feel of the kitchen also makes it the ideal space in which to showcase the family’s modern artworks. These include an eye-catching portrait of Minty the hawk, who belonged to Henriette’s husband, Mark. Henriette commissioned the portrait as a Christmas present from local artist Rory Nugent.
Henriette herself is a keen horsewoman, evidence of which can be found all over the house, from the riding boots in the entrance hall to the etchings of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, which hang in pride of place on the sitting room wall. ‘My grandmother was Viennese,’ says Henriette, ‘so I went to see the Spanish Riding School a lot when I was younger. I treated myself to these pictures to remind me of those times.’ Another reminder of her own happy childhood is the unusually positioned staircase, which leads from the first-floor landing straight down to the dining room. It makes me think of all those times when I was young and I would sit at the top of the stairs peering down while my parents had all these amazing dinner parties. I love the idea that my children might be able to have that experience as well.
Despite its large size, the house has a cosy, welcoming feel. Some rooms even have an international flavour, thanks to years of globe-trotting on Henriette’s part. ‘Travelling is one of the things I enjoy most in life,’ she says. ‘I get a huge amount of inspiration every time I go somewhere. Whenever I arrive in a new country, I feel I have to go straight to the nearest flea market or souk and hunt for treasure.’ Hence the TV room has an Argentinian ‘gaucho’ look about it, with a few Moroccan cushions scattered about for good measure, while the vivid colours in the main bedroom exude more than a hint of Mexico.
In fact, ‘colourful’ is probably the best word to sum up the overall atmosphere of the house. The rooms present a feast for the eyes, from the teal-painted entrance hall to the elaborate Zoffany wallpaper in the sitting room and the bright kilim rugs which adorn the dining room and bedroom floors. ‘I just wanted to have a bit of fun with it,’ says Henriette, ‘and I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out. I love every single part of the house. And the best thing is that every room I walk into has something that makes me smile.’
Henriette chose a vibrant teal paint for the entrance hall to create instant impact when visitors walk through the front door. ‘I think it’s a myth that you have to paint small, dark rooms in light colours,’ she says.
Henriette grew up in Austria and Germany, where she says there are always ‘millions of antlers everywhere’. In her own home, they serve as both ornament and as quirky hooks on which to hang the family’s coats and hats.
Many of the items in the sitting room hold personal value for Henriette, including an intricate marquetry cabinet inherited from her parents, and a bronze sculpture of one of her old horses.
‘I fell in love with the Zoffany wallpaper on the sitting room walls the second I saw it,’ says Henriette. ‘I was disappointed that none of my clients wanted to use it, so I saved it up for myself.’
In order to keep costs down, Henriette made the concrete worktops in the kitchen herself using wooden crates lined with bin bags. The results were so successful that she is now using the same technique in clients’ homes.
A self-confessed magpie, Henriette adds to her collections, such as these antique African Tonga winnowing baskets, whenever an interesting item catches her eye.
The dining room wallpaper was a bit on the bland side for Henriette’s taste, so she decided to give it a ‘colour punch’ by going over the printed birds with one of her daughter’s green crayons.
Henriette was always rather envious of the rainbow-coloured quilt in the guest bedroom at her old house, so when the family moved home she claimed it for her own bed and designed the rest of the scheme around it.
The bed in six-year-old Henry’s room was once Henriette’s childhood bed, and belonged to her father and grandmother before that.
Photography/ Mark Bolton
Interior designer/ Henriette von Stockhausen