In order to secure this gargantuan project, designer Emma Sims Hilditch presented a thoughtful proposal, keeping the spirit of the Georgian-style home with modern embellishments to gracefully provide a more contemporary edge. “In the end, I think [the client] chose us because of the [small] size of our practice,” Sims Hilditch, whose eponymous firm has offices in London and Gloucestershire, shares. “He knew we needed the breadth” of a commission like this, adds the designer, who launched her namesake firm in 2009. Well, if there is one thing a 14,000-square-foot project can provide, it is indeed breadth.
The sprawling Northern England estate has been in the same family for more than 500 years. The current owner—Sims Hilditch’s client—inherited it from a distant cousin. In order to make the necessary repairs and updates, some of the property’s land was sold off in order to fund an extensive renovation.
The early stages of the project were its most exciting. “We uncovered so many parts of the house,” Sims Hilditch recalls with a residual giddiness. Old stone walls were stripped back from false fireplaces; carpets were removed to reveal forgotten tiling.
Other aspects of discovery posed challenges: The center of the house, for one, was a rabbit warren of Victorian-era domestic spaces, meant mainly to serve the dozens of staff who would’ve been operating the house. A historical marvel, yes, but not exactly functional for a present day single-family home.
To open up the space, the client conceptualized a large atrium with a stunning octagonal skylight that flooded the area with light from above. “It really became this wonderful central meeting point of the home,” the designer adds. With a cozy assembly of pillow-speckled sofas surrounding a plush ottoman, the room feels like a perfect hangout area. But grandiosity still looms: Above a strikingly ornate fireplace, family portraits and ancestral hunting trophies nestle within the vast double-height wall panels, flanked by balconies peering down on either side. Above, a chandelier by Vaughan emits a soft glow. Sims Hilditch used the London-based lighting company throughout most of the home.
The rest of the renovation became a delicate balance between keeping the integrity of the grand history-laden building and infusing it with tasteful, modern additions. “Our client didn’t want the house to feel too heavy, rather a fresh English country interior suitable for the next generation,” Sims Hilditch explains. “So, we wanted to have a bit of fun with it.”
This approach reveals itself in endless details throughout the interiors. One example is a powder room on the ground floor, where a seemingly traditional Braquenié print covers the walls. The addition, which features a custom print of the house, the estate grounds, and even the owner’s dogs, was a surprise from Sims Hilditch to her client. Elsewhere, a canary yellow antique claw-foot tub in a guest bath and a colorful kitchen help enliven an otherwise traditional palette.
In the case of the formal dining area, a soft shade of blue adds a contemporary touch to a room otherwise so traditional, it feels bound to a bygone era. Originally, the walls were painted a dark, rich red, which was complemented by deep mahogany paneling. “I wanted to soften the edges, take away the gloom, and lighten it up,” the designer shares. The red was promptly replaced with Benjamin Moore’s Denim Wash Blue, and the intricately detailed dark wood paneling was by and large painted white. (Accents, such as the doors, fireplace, and mantel, remain as a faithful homage to the original). The dining table is a custom replacement, while the chairs are some of the endless antiques that were found stored away in the home.
When it came to decorative items, as well as much of the furniture, the designer received an entire printed-out catalog of antiques from the basement to choose from. “It was lovely to pick pieces we wanted and to combine them with contemporary furniture,” Sims Hilditch shares, adding that it didn’t always make for easy choices. While the Georgian furniture was a delight, many of the Victorian designs felt a bit too heavy. “By the end, I had no problem saying, ‘No, that is not coming up into the house!’”