When an interior designer and her Swedish husband knocked on the door of a Victorian mansion, neither of them thought it would become their dream home, as CAROLYN ASOME reports…
Nearly 150 years ago, on a plot of forty two acres and 360-degree views of rolling Somerset valleys, George Walters, a rich coal mine owner who had recently married a Cornish clergyman’s daughter, built a house. Within a year of moving in, he had died. It was, believes Jo Berryman, a forty-two-year-old interior designer, “magical thinking” that brought her family from Hampstead, London, to Somerleaze, a house built in such a way that you can see the sun set from any room.
“We were driving past one evening when we stumbled on the house my husband tried to view, but which had suddenly been taken off the market.” On a whim, the couple knocked on the door and met the Booths. “Really, they just wanted to find the right people. Since the 60s, every family who has lived there has had a surname starting with a B. My maiden name is Briston; my former married name, which I’ve kept, is Berryman; my husband, a media and social entrepreneur, is a Bergkvist and we refer to ourselves as the Bergmans.” Berryman had never been a fan of Victorian architecture. The house was also peculiar in that it was a neo-Elizabethan building, but somehow it worked, especially, she found, when she added contemporary furniture: “Something interesting began to happen.”
The first thing she did was to strip everything back. “The plan was to retain the bones and fill it with wild, space-age furniture.” She laughs as she explains that the house had actually been one the Booths had downsized to – their previous home was a château in France – and consequently every surface and wall was covered with objects. “I think I wanted to give the furniture space to breathe.”
Berryman did not train as an interior designer but read film and English at university before working as a stylist at Elle. She was approached to design a Notting Hill home and her interior business mushroomed. Film stills often dictate her palette. “I’m drawn to that 80s rustic vision from Call Me by Your Name, or space age meets the late 60s.” A Swedish chrome-framed blue velvet sofa is the most obvious example. It sits next to a Bill Anders leather Mad Men sofa. Blue and white Pierre Frey wallpaper adorns the walls, in front of which sit what Berryman jokingly refers to as newsagent shelves. In the dining room, Hans Wegner chairs are dotted around a Rose Uniacke table, over which hangs a chainmail pendant chandelier. A growing art collection is visible too: an installation by family friend Magne Furuholmen (also the keyboard player of A-ha) greets you in the hallway; there is photography by Keith Coventry and work by Grace O’Connor and Aisha Christison.
The original floors throughout were pitch pine, known for its robustness and quite a cutting-edge choice for the 1880s, given that the wood was native to North America. This was stripped back and stained a putty colour. It echoes the peeling plaster that hangs from parts of the ceiling. Berryman professes a love for the Japanese wabi-sabi concept and the idea of embracing the imperfect. “As long as it isn’t complete abandon; I suppose that’s my rule of thumb. I like to create contained pockets of chaos. There’s a fine line between considered and intended and then not. When you strip everything back, you really see what George Walters was trying to do: the architraves of the doors, which have a subtle point, the mouldings, the coving, the balustrade in the main hallway.”
The Flos orb lamps in the grand Arthurian hallway contain what Berryman describes as the ultimate life hack: “The Philips Hue bulbs can be controlled by your phone. You can create incredible light shows, great for children’s parties, but they also imbue a space with a halo of warmth or set the tone for a gaudy 70s disco with lights pulsating to the beat. We’ve had a lot of lockdown fun in there dancing.” Beyond the formal drawing and dining room are three reception rooms, a nursery and a kitchen, which is a work in progress as the couple want to add an extension. The cupboards were sprayed black, handles were changed and a brass splashback was inserted. A big attraction of living here was its sense of community, Berryman says. “We’ve been very seduced by its spirit and the surrounding villages. People are creative, but they want to help. It’s small-town life, but it’s very cool.”
The vegetables at the Rye bakery, a food emporium in nearby Frome, are grown in Berryman’s walled garden. “As recompense, we help ourselves to their bread. During quarantine, it’s been a very industrious time. Even our peonies, salad and wild garlic, which grows in abundance, have been sold in their shop.” In the rest of the garden, Berryman has worked with a local landscape gardener. “We have had a lot of fun dowsing the land.” She laughs. “You see, anything goes here. We’ve been trying to work out what the land needs, what trees to plant and what flowers go where, and thinking about bringing back a wild meadow, and slowly, surely we will restore it to its former beauty.”
JO BERRYMAN is an interior designer.
CAROLYN ASOME is The Times‘ former Fashion Editor.
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This article has also been published in The Times.