At Home with Abigail Harrison
One particularly cold January afternoon, we sent Kate along to Sandford House, the home of Abigail Harrison, to chat about her rather remarkable experience of converting an old language school, in the heart of Farnham, into her family home. Read on to find out more….
I’d heard many a great thing about Sandford House so was feeling very exicted to get out of London and spend a lovely afternoon there. Just a short drive down the A3 and I was in Farnham, a very pretty little town nestled on the outskirts of Surrey. I was greeted by Abigail Harrison, the owner of Sandford House and the woman who solely project managed its extreme renovation. As I walked through the front door I was immediately struck by the beautiful high ceilings and the huge amount of light that was streaming through the floor to ceiling windows at the far end of hall. Built in 1757, the house is Grade II* listed and has a beautiful symmetry with a long corridor running the length of the house with lovely large rooms either side.
The renovation process
Two years earlier, Abigail and her husband, Peter, had been looking for a change of scene and, even though they weren’t after a project, were shown an old language school that had come on the market just a stone’s throw from their current home. What greeted them was dank floorboards, outdated decor, and crumbling walls, enough to make the less imaginative and ambitious of us walk right back out the door. However the brave couple saw something else. They were struck by the same stream of light that greeted me as I entered the impressive hallway and they immediately saw the potential to turn the ram-shackled and decrepit building into their family home.
As we sat down for a cup of coffee in one of her charming window seats, Abigail talked me through the difficult process of renovation. “There was really nothing that could have prepared us for the amount of work we ended up facing and almost every week there was a disaster.” Within the first few weeks they discovered asbestos, distemper, and rotten joints to name just a few which prolonged their timeline and doubled their budget overnight.
Perhaps their hardest challenge was when they had to move out of their home and into the garden. “Our oldest had just finished her GCSEs that day and immediately had to move into the garden. We sold it to the children as an adventure – something that they would look back on with fond memories – but that didn’t stop the protestations and the tears.” Abigail and Peter had their own caravan which played the part of bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen, dog room, and utility room whilst the kids had their own tent complete with mattress and bedside table.
Perhaps this would have been manageable for 6 short weeks in the height of summer. But what started as a short 6 week adventure quickly turned into a very rainy 16 weeks, with the family picking slugs out of shoes, dogs being harassed by badgers and foxes, and very early morning wake ups with the sunrise.
Keeping it local
It wasn’t all bad, I was told. They obtained a license to catch cray fish in the river near their house and on the nights it wasn’t pouring with rain they were able to have barbecues and look up at their transforming home. The site was also always incredibly lively, with up to 30 workmen on site at any given time. Farnham has a rich history of being a craft town which dates back to Roman times and with the University of Creative Arts situated in the town, it has a reputation for having some of the best equipped studios and workshops in the country. Abigail decided to make the most of this and hire on a trade by trade basis, commissioning local builders, joiners, plasterers etc to work on her home. She wanted to ensure that the house reflected Farnham’s heritage and the small touches, such as the hops leaf hinges, designed and made by a local blacksmith, and the maintaining of original woodwork are a testament to that.
The fun part
Once all the hard graft was done, Abigail turned her attention to the interior. “When it came to furnishing the house, I actually found the decision making very easy. I let the house dictate my choices.” The house is impeccably furnished, and features lots of classic elements with a modern twist. For instance, she chose to upholster our traditional Claude armchair in our bright orange Ganges Roosevelt velvet which is offset by some beautiful blue velvet curtains.
Adding pops of colour like this have given the house a modern edge whilst also maintaining its original character. In rooms where more muted colours have been chosen, classic and colourful wallpapers have been used. As many of the rooms are so large, Abigail thought it was important to still make them feel cosy and a statement wallpaper does just that.
Little motifs like buttoned sofas and armchairs, as well as patterned wallpaper, are repeated throughout the house – a sign of a well thought out design plan. Abigail opted for contrast buttons on both the Descartes and Claude armchair which really highlights the design.
some of our favourite features…
And they lived happily ever after…
To create a beautiful and liveable home takes time and patience, something that the family sometimes learned the hard way. Remembering that there was a light at the end of the tunnel was important to keep in mind when so much seemed to be going wrong. It has all been worth it though.
As I was walking out the door I asked Abigail if she thought this would be their forever home. Without any hesitation she said, “Definitely, Peter doesn’t plan on leaving until he is carried out in a box.” It’s easy to see why. The house is brilliantly designed for the future stages ahead of them and is the perfect place to create a lifetime of memories. Thanks a bunch to Abigail for having sofa.com round.
Photo credits: Abigail Harrison’s personal Instagram & Maxwell Attenborough: maxattenborough.co.uk