Look through the keyhole of Tavy House
PUBLISHED: 11:20 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:20 18 April 2017
The superbly stylish Tavy House is a triumph of city chic and rural charm. Chrissy Harris went to meet the owners who have certainly made their mark on this very contemporary Victorian villa
Tavy House is a prime example of what can happen when you take a girl out of the city and move her to a Victorian villa in the middle of Dartmoor.
Nina Bowden has created a masterful display of urban cool-meets-country-living at the family home in Mary Tavy, near Tavistock,
The very latest in design trends are here – concrete floors and statement wallpaper - alongside traditional period doors and windows.
A ‘Downton Abbey-style’ sweeping staircase is the showstopper but this key piece of the building’s heritage contrasts with the modern stark white walls and dark grey ceilings.
As a sucker for stylishly renovated enormous Victorian houses, this former captain’s residence has well and truly captured my heart.
Who cares if the fog is sometimes so thick outside that you can’t see out of the window? And it doesn’t matter that the nearest city is a 20-mile drive away. This place is worth a few sacrifices, hey?
“None of my friends ever thought I’d move out of London,” says Nina, 42, a writer and former film editor, who says adjusting to life on Dartmoor has taken her a little longer than husband James, 43, who grew up in Exeter.
“But now I love the landscape and as a writer I love the moors. I do miss the lifestyle but at the same time, I think, when you have kids, it is different.”
Rain, eight, and Hunter, six, have seriously lucked-out here with fabulous bedrooms, a playroom looking out over the fields, a music room, garden, stream and orchard.
“There is just so much space,” agrees Nina. “Our previous house was a three-bed semi-detached and when we moved in here, the kids just ran up and down the stairs for ages.
“They had a plastic bow and arrow and they were just tearing around. Even though the house was old, they loved it.”
That was three years ago and since then Tavy House has been well and truly renovated.
Although not much has changed structurally, the whole building has undergone a makeover on the grandest of scales.
Every fixture and fitting, wall colour and carpet has been thoroughly researched and sourced from companies all over the world, as well as local firms.
From the vintage Thomas Crapper toilet to the custom-made ladder and ‘hang-out area’ in the playroom, every detail combines good taste with practicality. It all adds up to a superbly finished family home. Some people are simply brilliant at this interiors lark.
“I think you’ve got to love it,” says Nina, smiling, adding that it helps to have the courage of your convictions.
“When it came to expressing my ideas to the builders, they weren’t always convinced, like the green ceiling in the dining room, which was met with blank stares.
“But they understood when they saw it in the end.”
I would love to have been a fly on the (exposed) wall when Nina also told the workmen she wanted to leave the living room unfinished.
“Even my mum didn’t get it at first. She said: when are you going to put the wallpaper up?” says Nina.
“I said that I wanted it to look rough! I love glamour and luxury and high-end pieces but at the same time, I don’t like things to look too polished or precious. Also, we have a budget, so we have to spend wisely.”
Nina and artist James, who runs a leading experiential digital agency and divides his time between Devon and East London, spent six months doing up Tavy House and admit the refurbishment has cost more than they’d planned.
It has meant ‘laying low’ for a couple of years before they have been able to think about adding the finishing touches and starting on the outside.
“A friend of mine has just got some Kunekune pigs and I’d love to get some for our orchard and we’ll maybe get some chickens. I’m trying to embrace it all, you know, have that sort of lifestyle,” says Nina, who has recently finished writing a book and has plans for more.
“We really love it here. It’s such great house for socialising, the kids are settled, we like the village, we’ve got a routine.”
It sounds like this city dweller is a country convert.
“You’ve got to give it a go, haven’t you?” she says.
The family pet
Potter the Bassett Hound is a recent addition to the family and loves life at Tavy House. “He’s got such a loud bark!” says Nina, as Potter begins a sustained campaign to get our attention. It turns out he just needed to go outside for a wee.