Kim Partridge’s vision for a Grade II listed farmhouse has seen its tranfsormation from a dark and gothic interior to an informal and relaxed space with a strong family vibe
The dream of finding an idyllic rural retreat steeped in history and glorious countryside is one that many of us have. Dormestone Farm, not far from the pretty village of Charing is a complete manifestation of this fantasy. The sixteenth century farmhouse, near to the Pilgrims way is set in the rich rural landscape of the North Downs – a designated area of outstanding natural beauty. It feels remote here, as if we have travelled back in time as well as space. In reality, this lovely part of Kent is deceptively close to the fast train link in Ashford and not very far from the county town of Maidstone. A wish come true for owner Kim and her family. Except not what they had planned.
‘Our dream was to have a VW camper van.’ She laughs. ‘In fact we bought the very last one on the production line. We owned it for about two weeks and then it was stolen. So, we thought, okay, forget that, let’s look for a holiday home – something with solid foundations.’
They bought the Grade II listed farmhouse ten years ago and set about transforming it. Listed properties can be a challenge. Owners are really custodians and have responsibility for maintaining the features and authenticity of the building. Luckily no big structural alterations were needed here and most of the work was cosmetic, although the previous owners had given the house a strong look which couldn’t have been easy to overhaul.
‘The house was Gothic’ says Kim. ‘Armourial. There were suits of armour around the place, the walls were dark red and the beams were black. It was a different house completely. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course – it was lovely, but we just wanted it to look different and to put our own stamp on it.’ Says Kim. ‘We wanted it to have a family vibe, to be informal and relaxed. A house with low beams needs lighter colours and streamlined interior.’
A daunting task for most, but something that Kim, an award winning Interior Designer, took in her stride.The building has been given the interiors equivalent of a face lift and is now light, bright and welcoming, a million miles away from medieval darkness.
They started with the black beams, and set about sanding them back to their original oak. It was a painstaking job,’ says Kim; ‘and after we’d been at it for about four and a half months, my father said (as only fathers can) “I hate to tell you, but there’s not much difference.” So after that we called in the professionals and got all the beams properly sandblasted.’ They are now a wonderful feature throughout the house. ‘This area was known for ship building.’ She says. ‘It’s thought that they were originally from boatyards and could have been used as ship’s timbers. Looking at the huge and very solid pillars and posts on the landing it’s not hard to imagine this timber standing up to storms at sea – they appear to be as strong and solid as they were five hundred years ago.
The previous owners added even more wood to the oak-framed building – in the form of panelling above the staircase, which again was dark and gothic looking, and also in an oak dividing panel that screens the TV snug from the wider living area. ‘I like the gothic screen,’ she says, ‘but we painted the panelling on the stairs to make it lighter.’ Kim chose an airy blue-grey colour – Slate 5 from the Paint and Paper Library.
The panelling continues on the ground floor, where Kim has cleverly incorporated some useful (some might say indispensable when you live in a country house) storage for extra outdoor boots and other kit. ‘These were just units from good old Ikea.’ She painted in the same colour so that they disappear into the panelling and maintain the uncluttered look.
With streamlining in mind, Kim and her husband decided to reconfigure the layout of the ground floor. A billiard and games room has been put into the space where the kitchen was and the kitchen is now nearer to the dining area, which works much better. A large and useful dresser style unit was constructed in the kitchen. ‘We had the shelves made and wanted it to be open so that everything could be seen at a glance.’ The traditional, warm wooden shelving contrasts perfectly with the adjacent state of the art units, which are sleek and grey with durable leathered granite worktops – a charming and effortless juxtaposition of comfortable classic farmhouse meets contemporary country style.
The dining space is ideally situated in the light filled conservatory and has views out across the well kept grounds. A dining table runs horizontally under the double gable of the conservatory. This is a big, airy room and makes a great entertaining space. I notice a stylish and comfortable looking dog basket in here – a good place, as the family dog can be near to people, and near to the garden. It’s important that everyone’s needs are met. ’Ah yes,’ she remembers, ‘the house has been voted in the top ten places to stay with your dog in the Telegraph, which is a lovely accolade’.
It appears that the care and comfort of canines – and many other animals has been a feature of life at Dormestone Farm through its history. ‘Apparently people used to bring their sick animals here to be healed, ‘ says Kim. ‘There is certainly a lovely feel here – and I can believe that it was a place of care and healing.’
The warmth of natural materials contributes to the lovely feel, I’m sure. Floorboards throughout the ground floor have been sanded back and gleam like tawny gold, occasionally dressed with a friendly rug or two; ‘to hide the holes.’ Kim laughs. Comfortable sizal flooring is used in the sitting room, the stairs and across the top floor of the house, which again helps to unify the space. ‘Sizal is very hardwearing and forgiving.’ It is also adds texture and its neutral colour effectively underpins all the colour schemes. Used in the sitting room at Dormestone Farm, the sizal blends comfort with practicality and helps to bring a simple, uncluttered feel and ties in well with the warm wood of the beams. Walls are painted in Sanderson’s cool Scotch Grey, which works well as a contrast and to unite the furnishings into the scheme, including the three beautiful Chinese panels that Kim found on her travels. Calico coloured sofas and armchairs are gathered around the open fire, the focal point of the room, framed by an elegant and simple Limestone surround.
The panneling at the bottom of the staircase incorporates useful storage
There is another smaller sitting area, the reading room, which has a double aspect and French doors that lead onto the garden, so despite its low ceilings is flooded with natural light – making it a serene, bright place for some holiday reading. The leaded windows have subtle, full length curtains, helping to create an illusion of height and enhance the garden views.
Uncomplicated window treatments – either pale pleated curtains or Roman blinds in neutral shades, have been used on the windows of the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms too, which again adds to the uncluttered feel of the house and draws the eye out to the restful scenes in the garden and countryside beyond.
There are four spacious double bedrooms on the first floor, one is classed as a family room, so the house sleeps ten people – twelve, if you count the Figgy – a sweet little lodge in the grounds of the estate. The largest family bedroom is situated in the newer part of the house, which has a dramatic vaulted ceiling and is painted mainly in white, with a statement end wall behind the bed in Amber gris by Fired Earth, a deep grey that matches the coverlet and is picked up again in a large wrapped canvas abstract painting. This would be the master bedroom, ‘except that I never think of it as the master.’ says Kim. ‘My favourite bedroom and the one we sleep in is in the middle of the house, overlooking the walled garden.’ This is a cosier room with a warmer look and feel, painted in an earthy green and featuring a large mirrored armoire.
Throughout the house, both modern and antique furniture have been carefully mixed with eclectic finds and artworks that Kim comes across. ’I pick up things on my travels and find a lot of furniture on trips, but some things have been around for a while. She is adept at repurposing and finding just the right piece for a space. ‘The washstand in the panelled bathroom was once a garden table.’ Kim laughs. ‘It’s been in the family for years.’ Furniture is more often relegated from house to garden and so this piece must have been relieved to be back inside. It works perfectly as an elegant washstand, becoming the focal point in that corner of the room. Kim has employed a neat little trick in this low ceilinged room, by placing pictures on a slim shelf that runs around the top of the panelling and avoiding hanging them on the walls focuses the eye on the pictures, not the wall.
There’s no doubt that these days Dormestone has leisure on its mind rather than farming. The Billiard room, painted in the smoky blue of Farrow and Ball’s Prague Blue is at the centre of the house and outside in the grounds there is both a tennis court and a swimming pool. Already a winner in the dog friendly category of holiday stays, this fabulously well appointed farmhouse has also been voted into the top ten places to stay with a pool. The house and attached Figgy are available to rent via Bloom Stays, a small independent boutique agency based in Kent.
The journey that Dormestone House has been on is less a renovation and more a reimagining of how to use a family home, and how to bring a unique and characterful period building into the contemporary era without eradicating its original charm. Dormestone Farm may once have been a healing place for animals, but under the considerable talent and care of Kim, it is now a sanctuary for humans too.
words: Jo Arnell
photographs: David Merewether
styling: Holly Levett
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