A 19th-century farmhouse in the Somerset countryside
Georgie and Fabrizio have given their 19th-century farmhouse a new lease of life, while also establishing a thriving flower farm selling bouquets around the country. Feature and styling Amanda Russell. Photographs Nick Carter
Although it’s been 15 years since Georgie Newbery left Paris and the world of haute couture, her sense of style and love of good design haven’t waned. She now runs a flower farm with her husband, artist Fabrizio Bocca, in Somerset, but working with the likes of John Galliano and American Vogue has clearly left its mark: more often than not, a rope of pearls and one or two sparkly rings enliven her practical gardening gear.
The couple met through mutual friends and, following a whirlwind romance during which they discovered a shared love of the countryside, Georgie was persuaded to exchange the glamour of Paris for life on a seven-acre smallholding in the South West. The idea was to live off the land, growing their own food and selling the surplus. Fabrizio, who had been an antiques dealer, hoped to supplement their income with an ad hoc antiques business on the side.
They found a charming, double-fronted 19th-century farmhouse with outbuildings, which was perfect for their requirements, despite the need for total renovation. ‘It was very damp and cold when we moved in,’ recalls Georgie, ‘and it had been sadly neglected for many years.’ As had the land around the house, which she describes as the kind ‘that inspired the saying ‘chalk and cheese’. Chalk being the Wiltshire Downs and cheese the thick Somerset clay.’ Wonderful for raising dairy herds, harder work when trying your hand at subsistence farming, and they found it difficult to make ends meet.
Sweet peas turned out to be their one consistent crop, and they sold them throughout the summer from a barrow at the farm gate. But it wasn’t until Georgie received a beautiful bunch of flowers from a friend that the couple considered expanding their flower production. Now, eight years on, Georgie and Fabrizio’s business, Common Farm Flowers, offers flower arranging workshops alongside producing glorious artisan bouquets.
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With the growing success of their company, so the renovation of the house has edged towards completion, and is a far cry from the dilapidation of 15 years ago. Filled with many elegant antiques (a mix of family furniture and pieces the couple have bought together), Fabrizio’s paintings and, even in the depths of winter, Georgie’s beautiful flowers, it is very much an expression of the couple’s shared aesthetic.
Both have a magpie tendency and are drawn to a wide variety of styles. They are always on the lookout for antique bargains, and are regular visitors to local auction houses and antiques shops. Georgie admits that most trips result in new-found treasures, so the furniture is in a constant state of flux. ‘Local auction houses are great places for picking up furniture, especially unfashionable brown furniture like the pieces we collect,’ she says, explaining that its appeal lies in the elegance, detail and layered patina developed over generations of use.
Georgie and Fabrizio have two children and family life takes place in the large living space on the ground floor. The kitchen is dominated by an impressive dresser, which they created from a large antique base and a top designed and built by Fabrizio. ‘It’s huge, with lots of space to display our crockery, and I love the theatricality of the swoops and curves he’s added at the top,’ says Georgie. The mid-century table, surrounded by a harlequin set of Ercol chairs, makes a stylish contrast. The table and the chairs were acquired piece by piece from local charity shops. ‘If you look for matching sets they cost a great deal,’ says Georgie, ‘whereas odd chairs can still be picked up quite cheaply.’
The other end of the room, with its large sofa and woodburner, is used as a relaxed sitting room and is home to more of the couple’s thrifty finds. A magnificent cast-bronze urn, which came from Georgie’s family, sits on another dresser, which was created from two pieces picked up at a French brocante. Fabrizio painted the mismatched dresser sections with layered colour washes.
Upstairs, the bedrooms are all filled with the same wealth of detail and thoughtful layering. Their daughter has a four-poster bed that has been in the family for four generations, while the painting over the mantelpiece was a gift from Georgie’s landlord in Paris. The couple’s bedroom, meanwhile, is more than just a place to sleep, says Georgie, who likes to escape with a book at the end of a long day. ‘Don’t you love a bank of plump pillows and cushions clad in antique linen? It’s my perfect place to unwind and read,’ she says. Her grandmother’s curved, antique cheval mirror is light enough to move around to catch the light at different angles.
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Now that most of the major work on the house is finished, Georgie and Fabrizio have turned their attention to the dilapidated cow byres, which they have converted into a bright studio for the flower business. As well as being a space in which to prepare and send out bouquets, it is also used for workshops, and is where Georgie’s ever-growing collection of antique and vintage vases is housed. ‘Constance Spry vases were copied and reproduced in the Fifties for fans of her style; no wonder florists think of her as their patron saint.’
Georgie admits that they have many more projects planned, including reclaiming the children’s playroom and turning it into an elegant drawing room. This will happen one day, she says, though it’s clear she’s not overly impatient. ‘After all,’ she admits, ‘houses like this are never-ending projects.’
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