Monday, 13 January 2014

Real homes: a 50s hilltop bungalow surrounded by deer

Having been born and raised in the city, I often think I could never live in the country. 

But when, late last year, we went to stay at the house of some of my boyfriend's oldest friends in the Wye Valley, I was almost swayed. In our bit of London, we often hear drug deals being done outside our windows. There, as we discovered when we stayed, the noises outside are usually inquisitive deer.

Jill and her husband Terence live in a little village there, up on a very steep hill overlooking the valley. The three-bedroom house is a 1950 converted bungalow – the previous owners added an upstairs connected to the garden with sliding glass doors and a wooden deck. As the house, which they moved to from Cardiff in 2006, sits on two acres of land – with woodland at the top of the garden – it's quite a view.

As such, says Jill, the top living area is where they hang out in the summer to get the most from the airy space and greenery outside. In the winter, they move the TV downstairs where there is another living room, the one with the woodburner.

The pair have some really lovely things and Jill is quite the car boot and charity shop fanatic and has a good eye for gems. Like these birds...

"We bought them in a thrift shop in San Fransisco," she explains. "We have since spotted them in an episode of Mad Men. You can find them on eBay: 'Vintage Masketeers wood and metal flying geese wall hanging art retro duck birds'. We love them."

It's pretty cosy upstairs at night too, though. Here's the same room after dark.

"The wooden spokey thing is a sort of folding fruit bowl," says Jill, "and we bought the lamp in Cardiff about 20 years ago.

"We are always looking out for bits and pieces from charity shops and markets and second hand places... and we much prefer buying second hand furniture and paintings and fabrics as they are much more interesting to us. I love Etsy too." And if you're wondering about that striking wallpaper...

"We bought two rolls from a flea market in Berlin – there was just enough to cover the wall."

Here is the downstairs living room (woodburner just out of sight – well, it was a sunny morning...)


"The framed painting is by my very talented cousin and artist, Olivia Bradley," says Jill. "We visited her in Berlin and I saw the painting in her studio and she said I could have it. Unfortunately I couldn't get it in my case and she said her neighbour would post it on for us. About two years later the postman delivered it here... I'm not quite sure what happened in between but as soon as it arrived I had it framed and it is one of my fave things in the house. Have a look at Olibradley.com and click on 'paintings' to see other work from the same time."

This colourful corner is on the other side of the room. "The big vase is Poole pottery, maybe from the 60s. It belonged to our neighbour's mum and when she died a few years ago he passed it onto me. It is beautiful. I made the deer/stag mask using a plastic milk bottle cut in half length ways and then papier-mâché and other bits added and painted on."

One of the things that really struck me about Jill and Terence's place was how many plants they have indoors. I was inspired to try harder to stop killing my poor house-plants. They really do give you a nice feeling.

This one is in the hallway. The photograph you can see a little bit of was taken at one of Jill's birthday
parties out the back of the house. They had a scarecrow-making competition. These were the entries.

The office: "The painting on the easel is a print of Hindsgarth summit, we bought it in the Lake District. The framed photo behind is by Gary Hulme, one of a series created for the London Paralympics 2012.

The bathroom: "The black and white photo is of the Norwegian Church on Cardiff Bay, where we
had our wedding reception. The plant pot is from a garden centre." 

"We have always loved having lots of plants in the house. We have a  big palm tree sort of plant downstairs that we bought about 20 years ago and one or two that friends have bought for us as housewarming gifts."

This is the spare room, where we got to sleep. Lovely isn't it?

"The piano is mine," says Jill, "I've had it since I had piano lessons when I was about 10. It is now out of tune and a bit mouldy and it has a broken leg and is always a pain to move. But  it is very special to me as my mum and dad bought it for me and I really don't have much furniture now that belonged to them or us as a family. The wicker chair with the high back is from a second hand shop in Ross on Wye. I like that sort of style – retro conservatory or garden furniture."

This was on the wall above our bed, one of Jill's collage/paintings. "It's based on our front garden," she explains. "I love adding collage to a painting, cutting up magazines etc. I like the effect as you build up different images and shapes. Since we moved here I have painted birds and animals and I've been a lot more creative."

The bedside mural is another of Jill's. "This was inspired by a painting by Eric Ravilious that I saw somewhere online," she says. "And also by our tree line at the top of the field. I would like to work on it again."

 This is a view of the back of the house. The decking was being repaired at the time and the rainy weather doesn't show how wonderful a platform this must be in the summer. Some vista, huh?

Terence is gradually perfecting a little summer house at the top of the garden, which he has built from scratch using as much salvaged material as possible – love the red windows.

Jill had told us that they occasionally looked out of the kitchen window to find a deer peering in, right back at them. They took us for a night-time walk in the garden and with a torch, we did see at least one stag lurking behind a tree. It was very exciting... but the deer have their downsides, too.

"We have struggled to grow things in the garden," Jill says. "The deer come in regularly and will eat anything that isn't protected with wire fencing and netting. We now have a 'no deer area' as our friends' children call it; a veg patch and a flower bed full of colour in the summer. We must remember to lock the gate to keep them out.

"It has been a lovely experience living here and sharing the house, field, views and garden and wildlife with family and friends," says Jill. "You really see the seasons here... and the weather: mowing the field in June, struggling to get up the hill in the snow in January, and taking photographs of it all along the way."


Photography by Jill Dixon. Post by Kate

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