This elegant farmhouse is counting down to the festive season with a show-stopping Christmas tree

This retired couple wanted to downsize but their building project grew and became a family affair

Sussex farmhouse colourful sofa and cushions
(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

Gentle undulating meadows, blanketed in frost at Christmas time, form a peaceful backdrop to Sally and Harry Arbuthnot’s new Sussex home.  

The couple bought the farmhouse just before lockdown when, not being able to see friends or family, it became their all-consuming project. ‘Both our children, David and Sophie, are now married and have flown the nest,’ Sally explains. ‘As this property included several outbuildings, two cottages, a barn to convert and a guest house, it was perfect for us. We wanted to offer our children weekend homes. 

'David and his wife Lucinda have since refurbished the barn and Sophie and her husband did up one of the cottages. They each enjoy their own separate homes and drop in on us for family get-togethers, especially at Christmas.’ 

Celebrating original features

Sussex farmhouse hallway

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

When Sally and Harry moved in, all the interiors were tired and due for an upgrade but compensated by some promising inherited features – old beams and original shutters in the drawing room, open fires, a pretty conservatory and best of all, the double-height barn conversion with windows on three sides. This was the obvious perfect space to use for the kitchen and family living.

Friends and family are greeted in the hall with an Oxford stone floor and a mahogany console table decorated with one of Sally’s flower arrangements mixing faux with natural greenery.

Replacing the doors

Sussex farmhouse porch

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

Sally began by tackling the obvious eyesores, beginning with the doors. Most had been chosen from dated 1980’s catalogues. Scouring reclamation yards auctions and antique shops, she found characterful replacements. Some were made bespoke to her design, like the half-glass doors with panels below which boost the light flow between rooms.

Laying out the living room

Sussex farmhouse fireplace in drawing room

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

On one side of the hallway is the formal living room. Here, Sally's first task was to find an elegant fireplace to replace an ugly and draughty inglenook. It set the tone of the space, which is now furnished in vintage antiques and designed to be used for entertaining. The fireplace comes into its own at Christmas, when it is decked out in seasonal trimmings.

Family sitting room

Sussex farmhouse colourful sofa and cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

The double-height converted barn features original beams and wooden flooring, and is decorated in a contemporary style, enriched with vibrant colours from cushions and throws. The furniture is arranged around a woodburning stove, for ultimate comfort, and there are views to the surrounding fields from windows on three sides of the room. 

Upcycled and vintage style

Sussex farmhouse sideboard

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

Sally says having a holiday house in France has been a source of special treasures. ‘I found a vintage French clock, vibrant handpainted ceramics and an exquisite chandelier for the kitchen, plus other one-off accessories from French street markets. They add colour and a sunny vibe.’  

Local auctions have proved another source of furniture for Sally to upcycle, like the   Edwardian sideboard in the drawing room, which she painted in a deep blue-green paint. ‘Every room benefits from at least one standalone piece,’ she says.


Sussex farmhouse kitchen island

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

The bespoke kitchen was designed and supplied by the builder, with stunning marble worktops and cabinets painted in Shadow White by Farrow & Ball.

The white tree on the island is a favourite with the couple's grandchildren, who like to decorate it with teddies, trolls and snowmen. The crystal chandelier, above, was found in France.

Kitchen dining area

Sussex farmhouse kitchen table dressed for christmas

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

An attractive table and chairs divides the family sitting room from the kitchen in this large, open-plan space.

Dining room

Sussex farmhouse dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

Open to the sky for starlit dinners, the formal dining room, which used to be the kitchen, seats up to eight guests. For Christmas, it is decorated with wreaths at the windows and twinkling lights entwined with natural greenery on the mahogany table.  

Main bedroom

Sussex farmhouse bedroom

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

Shades of white imbue the master bedroom with a sense of glamour and calm. The bedside tables came from France, for similar, try The French Bedroom Company. The bedspread is from The White Company and the lamps from Pooky. The Kiss cushion was made for Sally by a friend.

Ensuite bathroom

Sussex farmhouse bathroom with rolltop bath

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

The ensuite bathroom in the main bedroom is full of character, with original beams and views over the Sussex hills. The reclaimed Victorian style bath was painted in Marine Blue by Little Greene.

Festive styling

christmas tree decorated

(Image credit: Future PLC/Robert Sanderson)

Sally’s Christmas tree decoration ideas are lavish, a stunning collection she has curated and added to year by year. The family has nicknamed her the ‘Queen of Christmas Trees.’ As an interior designer, sculptor and florist, she has been known to decorate a three-metre tree in under half an hour with glittering results, arguably outshining any displayed in a West End Shop window. ‘It is just due to years of practice,’ she smiles.

Her Christmas flower arrangements are equally spectacular, adorning most flat surfaces throughout the house. Big and generous is the hallmark of her Christmas style. 

'This house renovation has been a joyful experience for both of us,' Sally says. 'We made choices together, shared the ups and downs and now celebrate the results, which are better than we could have imagined. We love the flow of space and contrast of styles.'

Freelance interiors writer