Devon Life visits an Edwardian property in Seaton brought to life by artist Valerie Wall
PUBLISHED: 12:42 12 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:11 26 February 2013
Artist and interior designer Valerie Wall had lived and worked abroad for over 30 years, in destinations as far-flung as Paris, Rome and Cape Cod, but in 2010 she decided that she wanted to return home to England in order to be closer to her family
Artist Valerie Wall has transformed a dark and dated Edwardian house into a bright and light-filled country home with a distinctly French feel
Words by Jane Bowles
Photos by Colin Poole
Artist and interior designer Valerie Wall had lived and worked abroad for over 30 years, in destinations as far-flung as Paris, Rome and Cape Cod, but in 2010 she decided that she wanted to return home to England in order to be closer to her grown-up children and family. As I was still living in France full-time, I decided to employ a property search consultant to assemble a short-list of houses, says Valerie. I had quite a long wish list of requirements: I had decided that I wanted to live in Devon as its such a beautiful county, somewhere not far from the sea; I also needed to be near an airport, as I travel a great deal. And above all else, I wanted a house with a really peaceful rural location.
As it happened, Valeries current home was the last of six properties that she viewed. I had almost given up hope, but my spirits soared at my first glimpse of this lovely, square-set Edwardian house set in the midst of a Constable-like landscape, just a few miles from Seaton, she says. Disregarding the fact that the building hadnt been updated since the 1980s, and that a great deal of work was required, Valerie fell head over heels in love with the setting. By the time I stepped through the door and saw the heavenly country views from every window, Id already decided that I wanted to live here, and that this was the house for me!
Valerie sensed that her new home had a distinctly French ambience, and was intrigued to discover that it had been built in 1910 by a French tea-planter as his English country retreat. By happy coincidence, the previous owners had recently converted the attic storey of the house into a vast, loft-like room that seemed virtually purpose-built as an artists studio for Valerie. Light pours in from every window, so I couldnt ask for a better space to paint in, she says.
Downstairs, however, it was quite another story. Although I liked the basic layout of the main reception rooms, the kitchen felt very dark and enclosed, so I asked my builder, Tracey Chapple, to knock down the partition between the kitchen and the sitting room, to open up the space and allow more light into the rooms, says Valerie, who designed the open-shelved kitchen units herself. Having everything out on display is a great incentive to keeping everything tidy, she says.
Total refits were required in all the bathrooms too. When I moved in, there wasnt a single shower anywhere in the house. Another major task was laying new wooden floors throughout the ground floor. I pulled up the old carpets expecting to discover old oak floorboards, but all I found was acres of cement! Having such a highly skilled builder made the whole process far less stressful than it might have been. I cant recommend Tracey Chapple and his team highly enough, she adds.
Once the building works were complete, it was time for Valerie to turn her attention to the rather more pleasurable task of interior designing her new home. Lesser souls might have been daunted by the challenge of such a substantial property - the house has six bedrooms, three bathrooms and several large reception rooms - but with many years experience of working as an interior designer in England, France and the United States under her belt, Valerie was utterly unfazed; indeed, she relished the prospect.
I chose the same pale lavender colour for both the drawing room and dining room walls, to make the space look larger and lighter, with splashes of scarlet and orange to add punch to the scheme
Valerie envisioned the dcor as a melange of her favourite French and New England styles: I saw the house as the most wonderful blank canvas, and my top priority was to maximise the sense of light and space, she says. Ive worked with interior designer Lynn Morgan for over 20 years in the States, and shes had a tremendous influence on my decorating style. Lynn taught me how to use a soft palette as the foundation for creating a calm, restful look. Using this principle, I chose the same pale lavender colour for both the drawing room and dining room walls to make the space look larger and lighter, with splashes of scarlet and orange to add punch to the scheme, she adds. She then commissioned local craftsman carpenter Michael Bye to build and fit wooden shutters throughout the main receptions rooms, thus adding extra French style.
Valeries coastal-inspired scheme includes her favourite shades of pale duck-egg blue, teal and turquoise, combined with lavender and citron yellow, and liberal amounts of silver leaf. I always make a point of using my favourite colours when Im designing the decor for a new home. If youre fond of a particular shade, it stands to reason that youll enjoy living with it every day, she remarks. For the upholstery and soft furnishings, elegant monochrome striped cottons and pastel toiles, many purchased by Valerie in France, were teamed with smart, jewel-coloured silks to create a stylish backdrop for her own portraits and paintings.
Valerie also enlisted the help of local fellow interior designer Suzanne Peterson to help source soft furnishings and furniture for her new home. Suzanne and I had such fun choosing fabrics and trawling the local shops and antiques markets for paintable pieces, that one day we even said that we should go into business together!, says Valerie, who undertook all the decorative painting herself. In addition, Valerie also hand-painted much of the furniture she chose for her new home, along with the delicate floral murals that now adorn several of the bathroom walls and floors. Once I start painting, I cant stop, she laughs. Its a standing joke in our family that anything that cant move out of the way gets painted, so it was wonderful to have so many new pieces to decorate!
Renovating the house took five months in total, and Valerie is justifiably proud of the result. Every time I open the front door, I cant help noticing how delightfully light and peaceful the house feels, and I feel very much at home here. Living in such a wonderful part of Devon has also been a tremendous inspiration in my work as an artist. I have the perfect studio space in a wonderful house, in the loveliest part of the world imaginable. I dont really think that you could ask for more than that, do you?
Valerie Wall is also happy to undertake commissions for portraits, murals and bespoke decorative painting. 01297 631461 or 07713 591519, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.