How great isn’t this? The mix of chairs & the ceilinglamp, the marble in the kitchen, the colorful chesterfield pouf or the bedroom wallpaper.. The genious who transformed this huge Jane Austen-house into a modern family home is Ilse Crawford, of course!
Dinder House, a historic Georgian building in Somerset, England, is like a child’s drawing of a house: three stories high, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a slate roof. Completed in 1801 for the Rev. William Somerville (think Jane Austen), it sits on 23 acres of landscaped and walled gardens, in a valley with a Constable-worthy view of the church spire in the village after which it is named. Like many large old English houses, Dinder House was converted to commercial use (in this case by a shoe company rather than, say, a hotel) in recent times, but in 2004 it was bought by Chris and Jo Mycock, the owners of a successful I.T. company. Four years (and five architects) later, they finally moved in, once the soul of the building had been restored — as a family house, for a modern family — by the London designer Ilse Crawford.
When the Mycocks, who are from Lancashire, in the north of England, decided that they wanted a big house for themselves and their four small sons, they also decided that it should be Georgian. “They make the best family houses,” Chris explained. “The rooms are the right size. They are full of light. The proportions work.” They saw a photograph of Dinder House in Country Life and snapped it up.
Chris and Jo, art collectors and keen cooks, wanted to give their boys lots of room to run around, and they wanted to grow their own food. (Don’t be deceived, though: Jo, with her fashion-editor looks, wears Louboutin heels while she peels vegetables.) They didn’t want to subdivide the house’s rooms or have built-in furniture, but apart from that, their needs were pretty straightforward. So why did it take so long for them to move in?
“We had to convert it from offices back into a house,” Jo recalled. “But we didn’t want to change Dinder itself. The architects we worked with were full of big ideas. One suggested building a glass atrium all the way through the house.” She pauses and laughs. “We didn’t want to make statements like that. It was only when we found Studioilse [Crawford’s firm] that everything clicked into place. What Ilse wanted was to know about the history of the house and how we wanted to live as a family. We immediately thought, She understands it. We call her ‘the big brain.’ ”
Crawford, the shelter magazine editor turned star designer, is indeed brainy. But her work is also grounded in particular human experience. “The question is whether you think about the life lived within a building,” Crawford said, “or about the building as a form. And we’re the former. The Mycocks had gone through five architects, and once we started working with them, I understood why. They had bought an iconic, well-built building. The only tricky thing was how to apply it to contemporary life.
“They’d been told, for example, that they should keep their ballroom for parties,” she continued, “but they are a working couple. They don’t have many parties. And houses are like people. If spaces aren’t used, they die. What we had to do was get activity into every room.” Right. But what does a modern family of six do with a ballroom — and 39 other rooms?
At Crawford’s suggestion, they turned the ballroom into the kitchen and created a Lego room. If a room with a perfect view dedicated to Lego sounds ostentatious, it isn’t here; it’s used daily. Likewise, instead of endless guest bedrooms, some of the lightest and best rooms on the second floor are now bathrooms. The basement, once a series of kitchens and cold-storage rooms when there was a household staff, is now home to a dream playroom, complete with a sink and Aga stove. A couple of rooms are dedicated to laundry drying, with wooden racks. The Mycocks aren’t big on things like dryers, nor do they have a swimming pool. Chris wrinkles his nose ever so slightly when asked.
He and Jo are not so much puritanical as they are particular. The best drawing room, with its hand-blocked Zuber wallpaper from Paris, fabulously oversize Venini colored-glass chandelier and bespoke George Smith sofa, is used not for chamber music or serious debate (though these may occur) but for table tennis tournaments. Why relegate Ping-Pong to the garage when you can put it in one of the most beautiful rooms in England? Now the Venini chandelier is admired daily, as Ping-Pong balls sail through its curlicues.
And the ballroom — or, rather, kitchen? “We haven’t messed with it,” Crawford said of the grand space. “Instead, we dropped a big marble block in the middle so as not to interfere with the architecture.” It is a big room, but rather than being overwhelming, it seems calm and expansive, with Coeur d’Artichaut (a deep purple-brown) walls to give it warmth. Resisting the temptation to fill the space with furniture, Crawford added just a few pieces — a dining table designed by her office, Rody Graumans’s famous hanging light for Droog made from 85 bulbs, an antique Georgian mirror and a custom cabinet by Studio Job that tells Dinder’s story in marquetry.
This approach makes the house beautiful and welcoming — and fun, respecting its history without leaving it stuck in its period or turning it into an ersatz version of a stately home. Crawford and the Mycocks have given Dinder its own look. Georgian tallboys sit in bedrooms covered in Marthe Armitage wallpaper and lit by Marianna Kennedy resin lamps. New sits happily alongside old. (And very good. There is no trace of shabby chic here, though playfulness is everywhere.) The boys can ride their bikes on the oiled parquet floor, “which looks nicer when it’s a bit used and abused,” Crawford says. And they can leave their half-finished painting and Lego projects in situ, just as their parents have space to hang their growing contemporary art collection among their framed holiday photographs. How do you live in a place like Dinder if you are a young family new to country-house life? Very comfortably.