'Neutrals have a calming effect' – this light-filled farmhouse is a masterclass in how to use them to create a timeless haven

A palette of natural shades and displays of fresh flowers create a tranquil country retreat

small grey kitchen with a mix of wall and floor cabinetry and marble splashback and wooden flooring
(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

Floral stylist Karen Attwood is no stranger to the countryside – she’s lived in rural properties all over Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. But her attachment to the land goes even deeper. ‘My family has been farming for generations, so weekends as a child were spent working with the cows,’ she says.

So when Karen and husband Jules were looking to swap their 16th-century cottage in bustling Coggeshall for something a bit more remote, she wasn’t put off by this extended Victorian farmstead just outside Saffron Walden, which shares a dirt track with only a few neighbours.

exterior of farmhouse with white render and grey slate roof

(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

Lighten up

‘It’s pretty isolated here,’ she explains, ‘but Jules and I knew it was perfect for us. It felt familiar and comforting, like the land was putting a protective arm around us.’

Rectory Farmhouse required little in the way of building work and structural repairs. ‘It had already been extended to create the lovely light kitchen with a veranda outside,’ says Karen.

small grey kitchen with a mix of wall and floor cabinetry and marble splashback and wooden flooring

(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

‘I simply had to update that room with new worktop ideas and a lick of paint on the previously dark green handmade units. It’s now such a lovely sociable space, perfect for gatherings with friends and family who like to come over.’

farmhouse kitchen wooden table with blue chairs in glazed extension

(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

Decorative touches

Elsewhere, the couple ripped up a few old carpets. ‘They had seen better days, so we decided to replace them with natural floor coverings.’ 

You can't beat marble bathroom ideas when it comes to creating a timeless look. The couple fitted a new white and chrome bathroom suite and added marble bathroom tiles. They did the same in the en suite and repainted all the rooms with a fresh palette of off-white tones.

‘My style is quite minimal,’ Karen admits, ‘so this house suits me well.'

corner of living room with grey walls and sofa and dark blue chest of drawers with flowers and painting of a woman above

(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

Stylish updates

'The house doesn’t feel too traditional,' says Karen. 'While other people may crave period details such as coving and fireplaces, I’m happy with a clean contemporary style, layering various neutrals with just a few bolder items such as the grey sofas, a few painted pieces of furniture, chunky picture frames and headboard ideas.'

'I did try painting a room burgundy once, but I found I couldn’t relax; neutrals have a hugely calming effect on me, so I had to repaint it as soon as possible,' says Karen. 'And of course, being a floral stylist (@flowersandlifestylebymargot), I have fresh flowers in every room, and I believe the neutral backdrop makes them stand out much better.’ Having cut flowers in your home is great for your mental health and also adds a beautiful, decorative touch. 

farmhouse bedroom with neutral colour scheme grey upholstered bed with white linen and brown wood dresser against wall1

(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

Snug spot

One room the couple was keen to revamp was the garage. ‘I thought it would be lovely to have a cosy snug off the kitchen,’ Karen says. ‘The pitched roof has given the room character while providing us with a space that’s less formal than the sitting room. That has more of a Victorian drawing room feel even though it was probably built in the 1970s; a previous owner added period features to recreate the look.’

living room with grey sofas and picture rail on the wall displaying armwork. Flowers on a chest that serves as a coffee table

(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

The garden

While the interior makeovers were straightforward, taking care of the outside space was another matter. ‘We were naïve about garden landscaping,’ admits Karen. ‘It was quite a shock to discover the amount of work involved in restructuring the plot and taking down trees.'

exterior of renovated garage with outdoor dining tables and chairs on gravel patio in front

(Image credit: Future/Talbot Photography)

'The garden had large conifers that had gone feral, and as much as I’ve always loved gardening, we needed the help of a tree surgeon to get to grips with it all.'

‘I had a vision and was determined to make it happen. Jules would happily let me plan it all out, then together we’d discuss what we thought would work and I’d make any revisions needed to move forwards. We make a great team and I’m incredibly proud of the results.'

‘Our home is such a sturdy, safe and reliably warm house throughout the seasons,’ she continues. ‘The land is pretty flat in these parts, so we are quite exposed to the elements when the bad weather rolls in. But this place takes care of us as we take care of it.’

Interiors writer & stylist

Naomi has been writing about homes and interiors for 20 years. She was the features editor of Period Living magazine for several years, commissioning and directing photographers and stylists, and has been a freelance writer, stylist and art director since 2012.