This interior design duo took on an abandoned renovation project and won. The result is a commodious home of grand proportions and calming neutrals.
Partners in business and in life, Iain and Glenn were perfectly positioned to pick up this half-finished renovation project with both sets of expert eyes seeing the property’s potential beyond the bare boards, the materials left lying about, and the cacophony of dust and mess left behind by builders. As two halves of interior design studio Alexander Thomas, the pair know a thing or two about creating dream homes. Not only do they offer a comprehensive design service but they also boast their own line of lampshades, soft furnishings, and furniture pieces, too. “The property had been left empty for a number of years,” explains Glenn. “But it still had an amazing feeling.” The couple share their grand Georgian house (complete with a later Victorian addition of the main drawing room) with their pack of six dogs. “Although four of them are really tiny, so we always say that two count as one,” Glenn concedes.
Iain tells me that the project came to life with a whole lot of hard work, patience, time, energy, and not to mention deep pockets. “We definitely had a strong vision for how we wanted the house to look and feel,” he says. “But it grew as we worked our way from room to room. We spent many months with bare boards and moving boxes while we tackled each space. It takes time to create a lived in, homely space, layering with art, antiques and soft furnishings… We never feel a space is ever truly finished. We’re always changing things around, moving furniture, switching cushions and art… It keeps the space alive and real.” While the couple were determined to stay true to the heritage of the period property during the renovation process, Iain explains that the house isn’t without its modern creature comforts, not least the large, eat-in kitchen with its smart navy cabinetry, stone flooring, and expansive four oven AGA. “We feel our signature look is Modern Country House,” he says. “A nod to a bygone era, but with a fresh approach. For instance, we love to blend a bleached antique burr walnut chest with a piece of modern British or contemporary art. Equally, we’ll hang an 18th century oil portrait over a glass contemporary console. It’s about the juxtaposition and element of surprise. Often things that shouldn’t work on paper do in real life.”
Iain and Glenn like to source their antiques from every corner of the UK and Europe, and it helps that they have excellent relationships with various dealers. “We especially love a good auction and are particularly excited when there’s a sale from a prominent country house,” says Glenn. “Very few items in our home are new. We’ll often buy old chairs and have them re-upholstered rather than sourcing new.” One of the couple’s most cherished possessions is the late 18th century bleached oak linen press that sits stately in the drawing room. “We love the pediment detailing to the top and the scale is perfect for the room,” says Iain. “Also in our drawing room are a pair of antique blue and white lamps, which we picked up from a great antiques shop in Herefordshire one Saturday afternoon. They were one of those finds that if we didn’t buy them there and then, they would be gone.”
Both designers are also keen art collectors, citing works by Shirin Tabeshfar and Trudy Montgomery (who they now represent through Alexander Thomas) as particular favourites. Not afraid to mix styles and genres, these works hang in sharp contrast to the magnificent oil painting positioned over the mantelpiece in the drawing room. “It came out of a very important country house in Derbyshire,” says Iain, proudly.
With its expansive floor plan, there’s plenty of luxury living space here for Iain and Glenn to spread out in, but if they had to choose a favourite spot, it would be a toss-up between the drawing room and the master bedroom. “They are both spaces we spend the most time in and are probably the rooms we’ve given the most focus and attention to. The drawing room is grand, which gave us the scope to hang artworks by stacking them above one another,” explains Glenn. “There is nothing worse than large walls with the postage stamp look,” adds Iain. “The original marble open fireplace nearly always has a roaring fire going in the autumn and winter months and the three huge floor-length sash windows give us a wonderful view of the gardens we’ve created,” says Glenn. “In contrast, our bedroom is serene, calm, and has incredible views. We kept the palette in here very neutral and soft.”
It’s hard to imagine that these perfectly serene spaces were not so long ago covered in dirt and dust, but that’s of course testament to the couple’s ability to deliver jaw-dropping transformations.
I wonder what advice they’d give to anyone looking to tackle a project like this. “Be patient and double your budget and time to get it done,” says Glenn, not even joking. “A big house will always take more time and money that you think. Live in it if you can, before making final decisions. Sometimes in life I think we all have grand ideas to use rooms in a different way, or plan to move a kitchen, for example, to another part of the house. But when you live in it, you notice the way the light moves around, the way you live and function day to day, and you inevitably find the house reminds you that it’s just perfect the way it has always been.”