Gorgeous Home Guide: Tour this French-style country interior

Artist and designer Valerie Wall has transformed a dark and dated Edwardian house into a bright and light-filled country home with a distinctly French feel. Take a look inside the home as she shares her top decorating tips…

In 2010, Valerie moved into her detached Edwardian country house, which was built in 1910, and went about stamping her mark on the place. Here she shares her top tips:

‘When painting old furniture, preparing the surface is the most important part of the process; rub everything down well and apply a proper primer first, otherwise the painted finish won’t stand the test of time.’

‘Take a photograph of the room you’re decorating before you make any decisions about where to place your furniture, as this will allow you to look more objectively at the space when planning your scheme.’

‘When choosing your décor, be sure to pick your favourite colours, rather than whatever shades happen to be fashionable at the moment. That way, you’ll create a scheme that you’ll always enjoy living with.’

Valerie had lived and worked abroad for over thirty years, in destinations as far-flung as Paris, Rome and Cape Cod, but in 2010, she decided that she wanted to return home to England, in order to be closer to her grown-up children and family. As it happened, Valerie’s current home was the last of six properties that she viewed. ‘I had almost given up hope, but my spirits soared at my first glimpse of this lovely, square-set Edwardian house nestling in the midst of a Constable-like landscape,’ she says. Disregarding the fact that the building hadn’t been updated since the 1980s and that a great deal of work was required, Valerie fell head over heels in love with the setting. ‘By the time I stepped through the door and saw the heavenly country views from every window, I’d already decided that I wanted to live here, and that this was the house for me!’

Valerie intuitively sensed that her new home had a distinctly French ambience, and was intrigued to discover that it had been built in 1910 by a French tea-planter as his English country retreat. By a happy coincidence, the previous owners had recently converted the attic storey of the house into a vast, loft-like room that seemed virtually purpose-built as an artist’s studio for Valerie. ‘Light pours in from every window, so I couldn’t ask for a better space to paint in,’ she says.

Valerie envisioned the décor as a “melange“ of her favourite French and New England styles. ‘I saw the house as the most wonderful blank canvas, and my top priority was to maximise the sense of light and space,’ she says. ‘I’ve worked with interior designer Lynn Morgan for over twenty years in the States, and she’s had a tremendous influence on my decorating style. Lynn taught me how to use a soft palette to create a calm, restful look. Using her principle, I chose the same pale lavender colour for both the drawing room and dining room walls, to make the space look larger and lighter, with splashes of scarlet and orange to add punch to the scheme.' She then commissioned local craftsman carpenter Michael Bye to build fit wooden shutters throughout the main receptions rooms, adding extra French style.

Valerie’s coastal-inspired scheme includes her favourite shades of pale duck egg blue, teal and turquoise, combined with lavender and citron yellow and liberal amounts of silver leaf. ‘I always make a point of using my favourite colours when I’m designing the decor for a new home - if you’re fond of a particular colour, it stands to reason that you’ll be totally happy living with it every day,’ she states.

For the upholstery and soft furnishings, elegant monochrome striped cottons and pastel toiles were teamed with smart, jewel-coloured silks to create a stylish backdrop for her own portraits and paintings.

Valerie also enlisted the help of local interior designer Suzanne Peterson to help source soft furnishings and furniture for her new home. 'Suzanne and I had such fun choosing fabrics and trawling the local shops and antiques markets for paintable pieces,' says Valerie, who undertook all the decorative painting herself.  In addition, Valerie hand-painted much of the furniture she chose for her new home, along with the delicate floral murals that now adorn several of the bathroom walls and floors. 'Once I start painting, I can’t stop,' she laughs. 'It’s a standing joke in our family that anything that can’t move out of the way gets painted, so it was wonderful to have so much new furniture to decorate!'

Words adapted by Jane Bowles. Photos by Colin Poole

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Emily Peck, Editor

View all posts by Emily Peck, Editor