Although their house is very old – 17th century with a Victorian addition – when Fiona and Alistair Erskine bought it, it was in pretty decent condition.

‘The structure was fine,’ says Alistair, ‘but it had been maintained in what I call a 1960s fashion. For example, damp proof membranes had been inserted under the windows; that was all wrong: with a house like this, you must let it breathe.

‘It has solid walls, brink and flint, not cavity insulated ones, so you have to use paints that are breathable; you do that and the whole house dries out. But it was all pretty straightforward stuff to have removed, and the house soon righted itself.’


An antique desk beside the 17th century stairs creates a charming study area surrounded by beams – a range of old office furniture is available from Driscolls Antiques

The renovation

As well as making good, Alistair and Fiona also decided to reassign some of the downstairs rooms. A small room in the Victorian extension was swapped from being a dark kitchen to a cosy office. And the former sitting room was turned into a light-filled eat-in kitchen opening onto the garden. Simple off-white-painted units were topped with solid wood worktops. Then Alistair – a decorative artist who works with interior designers – experimented with a paint effect to create an individual splash back. ‘I spattered different coloured metallic paints onto the back of some toughened glass,’ says Alistair. The room was finished with white painted floorboards to complete the modern country look.

Living room in a converted barn

This double height room was the reason the Erskines fell in love with the house; it’s now their sitting room, library and studio

Barn conversion

The couple were then able to transform a former barn room into a sitting room. ‘It was already well-insulated,’ explains Fiona, ‘so we had some bookshelves fitted, added a stone fireplace and laid seagrass carpet.’ The room also provides plenty of space for Alistair’s burgeoning hobby: while he enjoys painting nature outdoors, he can put the finishing touches to his art in a studio-like area at the far end of the room.

‘When it came time for us to tackle the redecorating, the first cue was the house itself,’ says Alistair. ‘When we moved in, there was magnolia paint everywhere. But with all the lovely beams, we had to keep it quite neutral. In fact, the whole house lends itself to a simple treatment.’

Bedroom with books

The guest room in the 17th century part of the house features a pink toile paper (try and a collection of well-read books; you can find a good selection of accessories at The Chandelier & Mirror Company

Alistair shares his renovating tips

  • ‘Old oak beams naturally darken to almost black. Assuming they haven’t been stained, you can lighten this to pale grey or honey colours using proprietary wood bleach, such as Rustin’s two part wood bleach. It’s well worth the effort if monstrous beams are overpowering your scheme but you want to retain their character.
  • ‘The way you read one colour is greatly affected by the adjacent colour. I achieved a delicate chalky blue wash for the kitchen walls by painting the woodwork in a pale stone colour. The effect is much warmer.
  • ‘The sun can damage your windows by opening up cracks, so be sure to check the paintwork every year, even on new work. A little attention done in good time will prevent rapid and costly dilapidation.’

Alistair had his first art exhibition at James Harvey’s gallery in London last year, and now 20 of his pieces are available to buy. Visit or call 020 7352 0015 for further details.