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Updating old farmhouse plumbing

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It has a charming stone facade—a Jacobean central block and porch, a Georgian wing at one end, and a converted barn at the other.The house is only one-room deep, cottage-size, but it has wonderful proportions. I won’t bore you with too many details about the part that happens between designing a house and decorating it; two exhausting years were spent contemplating concrete breeze blocks, roof tiles, stone samples, double glazing, plumbing, and drainage.

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When it finally came to decorating, we wanted our home to feel relaxed but glamorous.The huge windows were framed with faded pink linen curtains, edged with vintage lace I’d found in a shop on London’s Portobello Road.When we’re not entertaining, Tess uses the room for Rollerblading practice and Ursula tinkles away at her scales on the 100-year-old Steinway piano my grandmother gave me when I was sixteen.Tristan had an original piece of late-sixteenth-century cornice—chunky entwined fruits and leaves—which we used as the model for our own.He created a barely there pale-blue wash for the walls.A nearby manor house had been wonderfully decorated in the 1960s by an American heiress.

When she died, and I heard that all her incredible curtains were going to be ripped out and dumped, I removed every single pair, thick with decades of dust, and kept the best for our house.

On those long, dark evenings that start at four in the afternoon in the English winter, I’ll set the girls’ tea on a tiny table right in front of the huge fireplace as a treat when they get home from school. A friend has a country drawing room wall covered in William Morris’s classic “Willow Boughs” wallpaper (designed in 1887, it still looks fresh).

After many happy visits there, we planned to use it ourselves, and it became the basis for a design by Tristan for an Arts and Crafts–inspired drawing room, using reclaimed carved wooden pilasters and rustic oak beams.

If I had had my way, I would probably have covered every bedroom in floral-printed wallpaper.

(I am a child of the eighties; the influence of Colefax and Fowler, the English decorator, has never quite left me.) “Darling,” Toby would say as I showed him yet another Brunschwig & Fils pattern covered in sweet peas or daisies, “I don’t want our house to look like a Victorian B and B.” I was allowed to paper one small bedroom in climbing pink roses—a room I love, with its pink curtains lined with tartan and a vintage floral bedspread.

Disasters befell us, as they do all self-builders: Our worst moment was when, after we got the roof on and the house watertight, a huge rainstorm battered it only to reveal that every stone window leaked bucketfuls of water. So there we were, halfway through a two-year build with no architect and no builder.