Edward Bulmer was brought up in a pleasant Georgian rectory in Herefordshire, painstakingly restored by his father, where he intuitively acquired a taste for period buildings. After studying history of art at the University of East Anglia, and developing a passion for architecture, he worked in quick succession for interior designer David Mlinaric, then Gervase Jackson-Stops, who was architectural advisor to the National Trust, and later with Alec Cobbe, known for his rehanging of art collections in historic houses. With such an apprenticeship, it is hardly surprising that Edward is now an architectural historian and interior decorator of note, who is called upon when such mansions as Kenwood, Althorp or Goodwood are in need of help.
So it might seem axiomatic that his own charming Queen Anne house, also in Herefordshire, where he lives with his wife Emma and their three daughters, would be a yardstick for academic restoration, a perfect recreation of an eighteenth-century interior. But there you would be wrong. The house itself, enviably pretty in warm red brick, was built around 1700. 'Obviously a gentleman's house of the time furnished with all the then necessary appurtenances - dovecote, mixed farm and gardens (walled and water) - everything in fact that would allow the house to be self-sufficient and work economically, but all on a small scale,' Edward says. There remain a clutch of outbuildings and a cow byre, which, serendipitously, is now the busy hub of Edward Bulmer Natural Paint, of which more later. 'I love the fact that the house is a country estate in miniature, with the look of a much more grown-up establishment.'
Over the centuries, the house had been altered, windows blocked up here, a wing of domestic offices added there, and by the time the Bulmers arrived in 1994, it had subsided into a state of benign neglect. The first task, therefore, was to make it liveable by remodelling parts of the house, which has also restored its proportions. They did this primarily by demolishing the nineteenth-century side wing of domestic offices and replacing it with a new wing facing the walled garden to the west. 'I wanted to build this side to turn the house around and embrace the walled garden, and to create balance; we extended the footprint of the house by adding a garden hall, enlarging the kitchen on one side and creating the dining room on the other,' Edward says. 'And to balance the façade, we put back once-blocked windows overlooking the walled garden.' The new, generously proportioned garden hall, with its soft turquoise-painted walls and nineteenth-century flagged floor, as well as a cloakroom, with walls cheerfully hung with a Pierre Frey fabric, provide a practical but creative link to the two former wings of the house.
From the garden hall, the dining room now extends out beyond what was once an exterior wall and is quite formal. It is furnished with many of the antiques Edward collected in his early days as a decorator, with warm grey walls and curtains in a design specially made for Edward by Watts of Westminster. On the other side of the hall, the kitchen is a comfortable country room with a light-filled eating area, part of the newly built wing.
From the main east façade, the front door opens into a wide hall with a well-proportioned early staircase of oak. To one side of the hall is the family room, also panelled in oak; it is a very personal room with comfortable furniture, much of which was designed by Edward, and every possible inch of the panelling is hung with pictures by family and friends. As Edward says, it could be called The Bulmer Room.
On the other side of the hall is the music room, which was originally two rooms. To achieve the change, rather than following the conventional route of inserting a lower beam below the not-particularly-high ceiling, Edward put in a steel beam hidden above the ceiling. The result is an unbroken line in a now well-proportioned room. To harmonise the different wall surfaces and uneven proportions, he installed oak panelling from floor to ceiling 'in the eighteenth-century fashion', painted in a subtle green. 'The use of classic architectural rules of proportion, scale and colour, as well as a balance of styles, are designed to bring harmony to a room,' says Edward. Here, the balance of style is found in the furnishings - sofas designed by Edward, one upholstered in pink tweed and the other in pink leather, as well as the carpet, a bright Bessarabian design, re-created by David Bamford. The pink and green curtains - 'very much Robert Adam's palette' - are made from bedcovers found in Jaipur and the silver and white console tables were commissioned in Udaipur. The Indian references are not coincidental: about 10 years ago, the Bulmers took their then young daughters out of school and went to India and Sri Lanka on an extended trip. It affected them all deeply and today the house is, in many ways, a reflection of that period of their life.
Upstairs, leading off the staircase landing, are the bedrooms. The main bedroom is a glory, with eighteenth-century painted Chinese wallpaper panels, originally from Biddick Hall, rehung here in all their bosky beauty. In the best spare room, created from two rooms, the lucky guest sleeps in a Chippendale bed with fabric-covered walls and recycled silk sari curtains.
It comes as no surprise that the subtle wall colours in every room are startlingly good - amplifying both the architecture and the decoration; they are of course all from Edward's own, interior design-led natural paint range. Because each of the colours is based on so few pigments, there is a calm synchronicity between them - really just like the house itself.
'I don't like restoring everything to within an inch of its life or stripping out everything,' Edward says. 'My approach to decorating my own home is that it is our life story as a family and everything in the house should, and I hope does, reflect that.'
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