Step into a grand estate in the North of England that has been totally modernized


In order to secure this gargantuan project, designer Emma Sims Hilditch presented a thoughtful proposal, keeping the spirit of the Georgian-style house with modern embellishments to gracefully give a more contemporary feel. “In the end, I think [the client] chose us because of [small] size of our firm,” shares Sims Hilditch, whose namesake firm has offices in London and Gloucestershire. “He knew we needed the scale” of a commission like this, adds the designer, who started her eponymous business in 2009. Well, if there’s one thing a project of 14 000 square feet can provide is much scale.

The sprawling estate in northern England has been owned by the same family for over 500 years. The current owner, Sims customer Hilditch, inherited it from a distant cousin. In order to carry out the necessary repairs and updates, part of the land of the property has been sold in order to finance an extensive renovation.

The early stages of the project were the most exciting. “We discovered so many rooms in the house,” recalls Sims Hilditch with residual vertigo. The old stone walls have been stripped of the false chimneys; the carpets have been removed to reveal a forgotten floor tile.

Other aspects of the discovery posed challenges: the center of the house, for example, was a maze of Victorian-era domestic spaces, intended primarily to serve the dozens of employees who would have operated the house. A historical marvel, yes, but not exactly functional for a current single-family home.

To open up the space, the client conceptualized a large atrium with a stunning octagonal skylight that flooded the area with light from above. “It really became this wonderful central meeting point of the house,” adds the designer. With a cozy array of pillow-spotted sofas surrounding a plush ottoman, the room looks like the perfect hangout spot. But the grandiosity still hovers: Above a strikingly ornate fireplace, family portraits and ancestral hunting trophies nestle in the expansive double-height wall panels, flanked by balconies that look out to either side. Above, a Vaughan chandelier emits a soft glow. Sims Hilditch used the London-based lighting company throughout most of the house.

The rest of the renovation became a delicate balance between maintaining the integrity of the grand building steeped in history and its infusion of tasteful modern additions. “Our client didn’t want the house to be too heavy, but rather a fresh English country interior suitable for the next generation,” says Sims Hilditch. “So we wanted to have a little fun with that.”

This approach is revealed in endless detail throughout the interiors. One example is a downstairs powder room, where a seemingly traditional Braquenié print covers the walls. The addition, which features a custom print of the owner’s home, estate and even dogs, was a surprise from Sims Hilditch for its client. Elsewhere, an antique canary-yellow clawfoot tub in a guest bath and colorful kitchen help liven up an otherwise traditional palette.

In the case of the formal dining room, a soft shade of blue adds a contemporary touch to a room otherwise so traditional it seems tied to a bygone era. Originally the walls were painted a dark, rich red, which was complemented by deep mahogany paneling. “I wanted to soften the edges, remove the gloom and lighten it up,” the designer shares. Red was quickly replaced with Benjamin Moore’s Denim Wash Blue, and the intricately detailed dark wood paneling was largely painted white. (Accents, such as the doors, fireplace, and mantel, remain a true homage to the original). The dining table is a custom replacement, while the chairs are among the endless antiques that were found stored in the house.

As for the decorative items, as well as most of the furniture, the designer was given an extensive printed catalog of basement antiques to choose from. “It was nice to choose pieces we wanted and combine them with contemporary furniture,” shares Sims Hilditch, adding that it didn’t always make the choices easy. While Georgian furniture was a delight, many Victorian designs felt a little too heavy. “At the end, I had no problem saying, ‘No, it doesn’t fit in the house! “”


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