Elle Decoration magazine feature Botelet Cornwall November 2000
Remember Frenchman's Creek? That Daphne du Maurier novel where romantic tryst between parties and lady folk take place betwixt the deep waters that run from the sea and woodland glades that fill the southern coast of Cornwall? Well, little has changed - there are still narrow lanes shrouded in mammoth ancient hedges, larks high in the sky and hidden hollows for secret embraces. And farms that have nestled among the hills for centuries still quietly get on with life while the rest of the world rushes by.
Botelet is hard to find. Just the odd sign on a tiny junction guides you there. You know you've made it when Marigold the goat bounds up out of nowhere and a Rhodesian Red chicken dashes in front of hte car with the kind of scary death wish that could embarrass a new guest. You're met by a last-century farmhouse. Victorian in style, its large, square rooms house a tranquil and peacefulness that's inherent in the purity of its building materials.
"I am trying to strip the house back to how it was 100 years ago," explains Richard. "I grew up surrounded by clutter and I want to put it aside, to catch my breath and clear my head before I decide what I want to live with. To live for a spell on my own before it [the clutter] comes back. I suppose what I am doing is taking out comfort and modernity, the carpets and wallpaper. I am trying to find the house's purity."
Richard wants to make the house easy to maintain and is putting his trust in materials that were used 100 years ago. "They're proven to last" he points out, and natural materials are easy to care for. That's why the downstairs floor is entirely slate. "It gives individuality to a place. When people have walked on slate, it gains character; with a carpet you'd have to throw it out eventually. Slate might scratch, but just mop over and the scratch has gone - it becomes part of the slate."
The former dairy at the back of the house has become a kitchen. "We needed somewhere we could cook breakfasts, and I promised Helen she would have a proper cooker and dishwasher," says Richard. After four months of work, Richard transformed it: "I kept to the original line of slate, but built in a cooker and dishwasher." He used reclaimed bricks - "somebody is always throwing out what you need" - to create the units adn used more slate for the worktop. The walls had never been painted and Richad left them that way - they're simply limewashed annually. "You just shave away the flakiness and add a coat," he explains. "This gives the effect of layering that you can't get any other way.
"I feel I am making decisions about the house that will affect it in 20 years' time," continues Richard. "It's cheaper to use original materials because, if you use something new, the company will probably be gone when you come to replace it. Take the Gaggenau dishwasher - it took ten weeks to get it repaired." You get the feeling Richard wishes he could have done it himself.
There were originally three rooms connected with cooking and eating: the dairy, kitchen and pantry. But what was the kitchen is now a mix of sitting room and dining room. Here, breakfast is served on rainy days and guests can sit by the fire and read. Similar to the dairy, this room has been stripped back to simplicity. "The difference between fussy furniture and imperfect pieces is that hte latter gives character and is easy on the eye," explains Richard of the lack of chintz or squidy sofas. Instead, here is the scrubbed kitchen table that you'll find in any farmhouse, a beach, deep wooden chairs and a settle by the huge fire, which is nearly always lit, even in summer.
Upstairs, it's comfort in true rural fashion: iron beds with deep mattresses in each of the three bedrooms, big quilts, flowers on the dressers and polished floorboards with soft rugs. But the ceilings are stripped of their paint to reveal the lime plaster. "Some people hate it when they come to stay," smiles Richard. "They think they should have £10 deducted because it looks unfinished! But that's how I like it."
So now that Richard is back at Botelet, doesn't he ever hanker after the urban life? "I need to go to London sometimes to experience speed. Ten years can pass quickly in the country without you noticing. I need the occasional shot of city life to be content here. But really Helen has given me a connection to another [urban] life, so I don't feel trapped now. Much of what we have here is really due to her." Richard smiles. "Ironically when people come to stay, they always say this is where they'd rather be." And you get the feeling that Botelet is where Richard is going to stay - keeping it in the family.
Cornish farmhouse, the kind of place urbanites positively pine for. The good news is, you can stay there ...
By Jo Denby photographer Chris Tubbs