Buying a house is an emotive act, fuelled by all kinds of desire - protecting a family, starting a new life, following a dream. Three Muddy readers open the door to their homes to share their personal stories.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
Is there anything more fun than looking around other people’s houses? Er, NO! Every home tells a tale of histories, personal tastes and eccentricities, and we’ve been given the keys to three stunning houses owned by Muddy readers across Bucks & Oxon.
THE HOME FROM HOME
“My Scandinavian-style house staves off any homesickness,” says Cathrine Tjore
As soon as I walked into my house in Long Crendon in Bucks, I knew I wanted to buy it. It was empty, badly overgrown, a tiny two bedroom bungalow on a big plot, but I just had a great feeling about it. And when I spotted the identical wood burner that I have in my family home in Kristiansand, Norway, that was that. We had to have it.
I was 33 and it was the first property my husband Simon and I bought so we were quite late starters on the property ladder. This was because we’d started a café business together and had to wait several years to qualify for a mortgage.
When we moved in I already had all the furnishings as I’d been collecting for years. I’m a total vintage interiors fanatic. I couldn’t stop buying – you should have seen our tiny rented flat, it was packed! All the china, glass, tables, you name it, mainly because as I love to buy vintage, if I see something I know I probably won’t see it again and have to grab it. We’ve expanded the house, building a top floor, landscaping the garden and nudging out the perimeters. My latest idea is to build a glasshouse down the side of the property that you can look into from the living room – tumbling tomatoes as part of the view! I’m always thinking of ways to improve the house, but I absolutely love the space and how it looks and I’ve started being approached to help interior design other people’s houses which is amazing.
My most precious addition has been our Norwegian-style summer house. The idea for the summer house grew from an initial thought to build a garage, then it turned into a garage with a room above and before I knew it, I’d designed a typical South Norwegian retreat with kitchen, bedroom and verandah.
I’ve lived away from Norway since I was 19 and I do feel homesick from time to time so I wanted a place that reminded me of home and so when my family and friends visited they could have their own space. Also, before I had breast cancer I had hoped to have children so had thought it could work as a nanny annex.
Simon and I use the summer house mainly for dinner parties or to watch TV (we don’t have a box in the main house). And we’ve started renting it out as an Airbnb which is working well – we’ve met some amazing people and they seem to really love the space. I never get bored of looking at it either – every time I look up across the garden from the main house, it makes me smile.
CATHRINE’S LOCAL TIPS:
Best shop: There’s a brilliant local concept store in Thame called FROM that I absolutely love – it sells pieces by local artisans and the quality is amazing.
Best cafe: I renamed, redesigned and rebranded my cafe as NORSK last year and I’m really proud of it, there’s much more of a Scandi aesthetic and I’m even selling a small collection of homeware there too.
Best pub: The Hundred of Ashendon is a fantastic local place that you need to know about – it’s in a small village nearby and Matt, the chef there, used to work at St John in London.
THE MULTI-GEN FAMILY
“A multi-generational house works perfectly for our family,” says Charlotte Thomas
I live in the village of Aston Tirrold in South Oxfordshire with my two daughters: 16-year-old Izzy, Amélie who’s 11 and my 81-year-old father, Errol. He was living on his own in Surrey and missed the bustling atmosphere of a family home and we had enough room – so it made sense. We’ve got the house really well set up so everyone has their own space. The house is double-fronted with two sitting rooms, so my father has his own one and I have the other.
The only occasional downside of our set-up is the volume wars on the TVs. When the kids are watching it in our sitting room and he’s got his on loudly in the next room, the noise can be a bit much! But we all love living together and helping each other out. He’s an ex-banker and helps me with the financial side of my business and his advice and experience was invaluable when I took out the mortgage. He’s also brilliant at helping with the children’s homework, especially maths. He’s much more patient than I am.
The key to a happy household is everyone having a space of their own, particularly when you have different generations under one roof. But for me that has to be balanced out with coming together as a family. We added a kitchen extension to create an orangery at the back of the house and that’s the hub of the home. We always have Sunday lunch together as a family – it’s the defining moment of the week. I have a limited culinary repertoire but I’ll do a roast chicken and we’ll all swap notes on our weeks. I think when we all lead such busy lives, it’s important to make everyone stop and sit down together.
I was initially drawn to the house because it looks French, with its white, Georgian, symmetrical façade. My parents have lived on and off in France so that style is in my veins. It reminds me of a relaxed French farm house. Inside, there are lots of pieces I’ve picked up at French flea markets over the years. My parents had a place in the Luberon and the flea markets in L’Isle-sur-La-Sorgue are the best ones outside of Paris. But I also like modern pieces, so the decor is a blend old and new – I have an industrial, concrete-topped coffee table in the oldest part of the house, for example. My mother used to be an interior designer and antiques dealer and my sister is an interior designer too but I didn’t plan each room in a meticulous way like a professional might. It’s just become how it is over the years.
You’ll find me in my sitting room, with a glass of Rioja in one hand, a glossy magazine in the other, a log fire burning and a scented candle flickering away. It’s my favourite room. The centrepiece is a curved Queen Anne fireplace and it has four windows, so it’s really light.
One day, I’ll probably need somewhere smaller – when the kids are at university it’ll be extravagant to have a five bedroom house. But it’s perfect for us now. It’s the place we can all relax, recharge and then go back out there into the world.
CHARLOTTE’S LOCAL TIPS:
Best boutique: Life at Nettlebed – an inspiring interiors & homewares shop in an old church that also houses a great café – The Field Kitchen.
Best coffee shop: Pierreponts in Goring – the most delicious healthy smoothies, salads and my all-time favourite mushrooms on toast – by the river in this pretty village.
Best restaurant: Le Clos in the local market town of Wallingford – delicious wines and tartes flambées in such a relaxing atmosphere in this ski-chalet-style wine bar.
Favourite walk: up and down the hills of the Wittenham Clumps with my Nordic Walking group.
Charlotte Thomas is the founder of Rosehip – a luxury brand marketing and communications consultancy.
3/ THE LONDON EMIGRÉS
“I moved from city to country and found my tribe,” says Lizzie Owen
My husband Ed and I lived in London, had London careers and had our two girls, Issy and Poppy, in London. But by the time Poppy came along in 2008 we’d outgrown our two-bedroom place in Battersea, and I was starting to find the city quite isolating after having children because everyone is so busy with work. We didn’t really know where we wanted to move to but I had a friend in Amersham who said, ‘Come have a look around here’. As we drove through Marlow I spotted a Space NK so it seemed cosmopolitan enough! I had been worried about leaving all the conveniences and services of London behind. Marlow was also appealing as it was en route to my family in Staffordshire.
This was the very first house we looked at. I just knew as soon as we walked in. There was this magical light streaming in through the French doors and it had a large garden with three lovely apple trees – I thought, ‘That’s where my art studio will go’. And I immediately knew where all my furniture would fit. It’s a bit suburban and boring looking from the front and not at the posh end of Marlow but it was the one! We didn’t consider schools, commutes, anything, and we also had to take on a bigger mortgage to get the house (our London place had sold for much less than we’d hoped due to the property crash) but we were convinced it was the right move.
The transition from city life wasn’t all plain sailing. I was massively lonely as I was on maternity leave from my job as head of PR at Laura Ashley. I couldn’t wait to go back to work. My husband was struggling with the commute as I was the one who needed the car while looking after the children. In those early months, I did sometimes think, ‘Have we done the right thing?’ But slowly you start to find your tribe and settle. My neighbour introduced herself and took me to baby groups. I met mums in a similar line of work to me. I’m a reiki healer and met a lovely group who are also into healing. I went back to work and struggled with a 90 minute daily commute for 18 months before going freelance and only popping in to the city occasionally. I have to admit it took me a while to be 100 percent truly happy in Marlow – it took me a while to get that London thing out of my system. But there’s definitely a much stronger community here and I cherish that.
I grew up on a farm and am a country girl at heart, so I love contemporary country interiors – that’s what we used to call it at Laura Ashley. We’re spoilt for great rustic interiors shops around here, like Home Barn, so I try to buy local whenever possible. I have a recycled wooden kitchen table and bench, vintage Ercol chairs and the classic middle class with Farrow & Ball on the walls!
I brought my babies up here and they always say to me, ‘Don’t you dare ever sell this house, mummy.’ So I guess it’s our forever home! I always used to dream about living in a country cottage but actually I don’t really want to be that cut off. I’m a people person, I need buzz around me. I feel very much at home here.
Our open plan kitchen/living/dining area is wonderfully quiet during the day when everyone else out. I love working at the kitchen table, with our new puppy, Willow, sitting on my feet. One of the reasons we got the dog was to get the girls off their phones. It worked! At weekends we spend a lot of time as a family in this room, playing Game Of Life and Monopoly.
My second favourite place in the house is my studio at the end of the garden, where I paint and draw. Oil painting is so messy so it’s all contained in there. I have a log burner to keep it cosy and Poppy is a bit of an artist now so she’ll come down with her canvases. It’s a She Shed!
LIZZIE’S LOCAL TIPS
Best interiors store: Home Barn – did you even need to ask?! I think from the pics and my insta feed you can tell I love it! It’s on the main road into Little Marlow and everyone should stop there.
Best coffee shop: Satollo in central Marlow is my favourite, we all pile in for their Italian rocket fuel after yoga on a Friday!
Best pub: The Coach, for Michelin food and having a good old gossip with Tom Kerridge and team
Best walk: There’s definitely something magical about Thames Path from Higginson Park up to Hurley Lock and beyond – then up to Happy Valley and round Marlow Common – walks are endless around there.
Lizzie Owen is an artist and illustrator.
MOVING TO BUCKS OR OXON?
Habito have crunched the numbers…
- Average house price £380,712 (London £474,601)
- Increase over last 5 years +21% (London +17%)
- Cost of a cappuccino £2.68 (London £2.81)