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Look through the keyhole of this beautiful 1830’s cottage

PUBLISHED: 15:42 22 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:42 22 December 2016

Chrissy Harris meets a modest home owner who is adept at doing much more than making do and mend

Being at East Lower Lodge is an altogether very calming experience. This small but perfectly formed little gatehouse sits in the Dart Valley, surrounded by trees, a rushing river and plenty of passing wildlife. Its occupant too, is one of those people who seems to radiate tranquillity. Ceramicist Pauline Lee gently potters about the kitchen as she makes a cup of tea and chats about her work, life, children, grandchildren and home. This is just the tonic after a mad 45 minutes spent trying to find the place, in which I passed some crucial turnings, doubled-backed a couple of times and ended up in the middle of Dartmoor on a road with grass growing up the middle. A friendly local dog walker took pity on me and pointed me in the right direction. Sat here now in Pauline’s cosy kitchen, all that has melted away as she tells me about life in the gatehouse she and partner Jeff Sedgwick have made their home.

East Lower Lodge, near the village of Poundsgate, is one of a pair of cottages, built in 1830, which make up the entrance to the Spitchwick Manor estate.

“We don’t own this house but it feels like ours,” says Pauline, 67, who has lived here for nearly 20 years. “I mean, it’s our home. I don’t want to live anywhere else.

“Because it’s small, I’m very often painting it and changing colours. You need to make changes somehow.”

“Every time I visit, a wall has changed colour,” says Pauline’s daughter Isabel, who has just walked in. She lives in East London and is visiting her mum for a few days.

It’s a good job she’s here. When I ask Pauline if she does much sewing, she tells me she sometimes “runs up curtains”, even though she’s “not hugely” into it.

“I feel like I need to answer your questions,” says Isabel, before revealing that her mum is, in fact, amazing at making do and mending.

“You know the whole thing with upcycling?” says Isabel. “Mum was doing that way before it was fashionable.

“Things like the cushions in the living room. She’ll take an old jumper apart and turn it into a cover.

“And is that the mantelpiece?” she says, pointing to a gorgeous rustic shelf in the kitchen.

“You found that in a recycling centre, didn’t you? And she’ll do things like turn an Indian sari into a curtain. Anyway, I’m going to butt out of it now!” she laughs.

Pauline is obviously hugely talented but just quietly gets on with it. Much of her furniture has been salvaged from recycling centres and given a new lease of life.

“I try not to do too much,” she says. “I don’t want to fill my house with loads of stuff.

“I don’t really like that consumer thing where you ‘consume’ loads of stuff and then get rid of it. Often, the things I have here go through lots of transformations.”

Like the kitchen table in the bedroom, which has been turned into a desk, and the garden bench seat in the lounge.

Then there’s the piano stool that was rescued and given a new cover and the old lamp, transformed with a shade made out of a scarf.

It’s clever stuff and so bang on-trend.

“Right…” says Pauline. “It’s just been a necessity for me because I prefer to not to be buying things. I just try to be resourceful and make the most of wherever it is I’m living. They’re quick fixes.”

It later becomes clear that Pauline sees furniture, fixtures and fittings simply as necessary requirements to kit out her home.

Her real interest lies outside the back door and the beautiful woodland garden she and Jeff have created.

The ¾ of an acre grounds have been divided into countless zones with a mind-boggling array of plants and flowers.

To add to the intrigue, there are examples of Pauline’s artwork everywhere, some hidden and others in plain sight (I spotted a face sculpture on a birch tree).

The couple open up the gardens in the summer to visitors through the National Gardens Scheme (NGS).

“We have just improvised, really,” says Pauline, after admitting that Jeff, a gardener by trade, does a lot of the hard work and she is more focussed on the planting.

“I’ve obviously got some facility for it. Although the setting is so fantastic, you couldn’t really go wrong.”

The backdrop here is incredible and we take a moment on one of the strategically placed benches to drink it all in.

“I’ve always wanted to be right in the countryside,” says Pauline, who went to art college in London before moving to Bath and then Devon in 1986.

I’ve always loved plants, ever since I was a tiny child.

“I can remember collecting these little Brooke Bond wildflower cards that were in boxes of tea.

“They were lovely watercolour paintings of wildflowers. I had them all in an elastic band in my pocket and I’d go out and try to find the flowers. That interest has always been there.”

How lucky that she’s ended up in a charming, peaceful place that’s probably home to all of the flowers in her childhood card collection.

“Oh absolutely,” says Pauline. “I’ve got the fruition of my life, in a way, in terms of my real interests. This is me in my element, really.”

For more information, see paulineleeceramics.com, ngs.org.uk or e-mail: paulineleeceramics@hotmail.com

Pauline’s Garden Studio

Pauline has been making ceramics for about 25 years and also spends time painting.

Her work, which she says is influenced by the countryside and the natural world, can be seen at exhibitions across the UK and in her garden gallery.

“The torsos are what I’ve really been known for. I’ve been doing them for about 20 years,” says Pauline.

“I’ve always experimented a lot. My style has evolved. I thought everything had to have a purpose to begin with but then thought, well, it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t. It could just look beautiful or interesting.”

You can see examples of Pauline’s work at at the Byre gallery in Millbrook Plymouth, and The Bowie Gallery Totnes.

Her sculptures are also in show in her Garden Gallery and studio - visits by arrangement. To find out more, e-mail paulineleeceramics@hotmail.com

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