An Artist's Rural Idyll
PUBLISHED: 15:21 23 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:08 20 February 2013
Eye-catching fabrics and quirky pieces have made this 18th-century thatched farmhouse an artist's home
Keen to downsize because their three daughters were spending less time at home, Paul and Miranda Berrow first heard about their present home near Evershot in West Dorset after friends, who were also planning to move, had been to view it. Miranda clearly remembers her first sight of the old thatched stone cottage which stood at the end of a long bumpy track and offered wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. "I was attracted by its secrecy. It was unexpected and so unspoilt."
Dating from the 18th century, the former farmhouse with its thick stone walls and steeply slanting thatched roof, which stops only a few feet short of the ground on the rear elevation, had certainly undergone little change other than modernisation since it was built. The previous occupant, photographer George Wright, who took the evocative images of changing rural life in 20th-century Dorset for the companion volumes Dorset Man and Dorset Women, had lived in the property since the early 1980s. During this time George refitted the kitchen with solid wood units built by himself and converted the large stone barn nearby into a studio and darkroom.
As the cottage was in generally good order, the Berrows needed to do little other than re-paint the walls throughout in a range of soft pastel shades and refurbish the ground-floor bathroom. Here they installed a bath and hand washbasin sourced from a reclamation yard and added a wood-panelled splash-back with matching bath front panel. Although these are rarely seen in bathrooms nowadays, Paul and Miranda chose to fit a traditional 'thunderbox' with hinged wooden seat, which is certainly in keeping with the age of the property.
The present country-style kitchen, complete with oil-fired Aga, is housed in what may have been a later addition to the original house, or served an altogether different purpose such as a stable, as its floor level and roof height are lower than the main building. The entrance through the front door, from a central stone porch, leads directly into the sitting room with its original inglenook fireplace and blue lias flagstones, which extend into a passageway at the rear of the cottage, functioning as a dining room at present. A steep, narrow wooden staircase ascends from the sitting room to the three first-floor bedrooms, which all enjoy superb, far-reaching countryside views.
Distinctive fabrics are a notable feature in Paul and Miranda's home, particularly in the bedrooms where colourful woollen bedcovers compete for attention with floral lampshades and Roman blinds. Eye-catching, too, are the fabric-covered bed-heads: green and white check in the master bedroom and a bold red and white striped material in eldest daughter Grace's room, which came from a mattress.
Miranda adores fabrics of every description and the sizeable collection of interesting pieces she has accumulated over the years is stored in an old wooden cabinet in readiness for that creative moment of need or inspiration, which might produce a strikingly patterned cushion, lampshade, bedspread or throw for the sofa.
After growing up in Canada, where she was born, and later moving to Spain, multi-talented Miranda studied art at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and then fashion design at St Martin's College of Art in London. It was there she met Paul who, as the manager of a highly successful 1980s rock group at that time, was looking for someone to design fashionable 'band on tour' clothes.
Also a keen sailor, Paul and the group's lead singer later competed in the 1985-86 Whitbread 'Round the World' yacht race. The next few years were spent travelling the world in connection with Paul's music business, during which time Miranda devoted herself to fashion illustration, before their eventual return to England in 1992 and move to West Dorset two years later.
Since her early years in Canada, when she had been fascinated by the intricate crafts produced by American Inuit Indians, Miranda's passion for ceramics had grown. After learning about the art whilst living in South Africa, on her return to England she took lessons from the renowned ceramicist Sandy Brown. Inspired by her 'free-style' way of creating ceramic art, Miranda's take on this is "Why does a pot have to be perfectly round?" However, she does insist that everything she makes must have a practical use as well as being 'playful' and prefers to hand-coil pieces, rather than throw them on a wheel, to achieve her own attractive 'wonky' style. Not surprisingly, there are lots of decorative but also very practical items in everyday use at the cottage, such as teacups and teapots, vases and candle-holders, to name just some.
For the time being Miranda has set up a temporary studio in the small study adjoining the sitting room, with a larger work area in the barn, but the plan is eventually to convert the barn, which already has a mezzanine floor, to a studio combined with additional living accommodation.
The Berrows are busy people. At present, Paul is co-producing Solomon Kane, a film based on characters created by Robert E Howard, which stars Max von Sydow and James Purefoy, while Miranda is preparing work for 'The Travelling Souk', an important crafts event taking place in November at Parnham House in aid of the Dorset Parent and Child charity.
Although they lead such busy lives, their secluded cottage is an idyllic rural haven to which they are hoping eventually to introduce sheep and chickens. At least then they won't have to mow the grass or travel far for fresh eggs!
A selection of Miranda's ceramics is on display at The Little Art Gallery (above West Country Interiors at 2 Church Street) in Beaminster, or visit www.mirandaberrow.com.
Location: Near Evershot, West Dorset
Built: 18th century
Construction: Stone walls under thatched roof (catslide at rear)
Accommodation: Ground floor: sitting room, study/studio, kitchen, bathroom, passageway/dining room. First floor: three bedrooms
West Country Interiors, 2 Church Street, Beaminster,
Dorset DT8 3AZ, 01308 86131
Bathroom fittings, bath and hand washbasin:
Dorset Reclamation, The Yard, Bere Regis, Dorset BH20 7JZ, 01929 472200, www.dorsetreclamation.co.uk