Decorating with inherited antiques

Antique finds and belongings inherited from relatives creates a fusion of nostalgic and new memories in Melanie and Charles Cartwright’s home. Feature Jane Crittenden. Photographs James French. Styling Marisha Taylor.

Double doors bring grandeur to the sitting room. The large Feraghan rug is one of Melanie’s favourite pieces. The books are all classics and antique, which Melanie arranged with colour in mind.

Inheriting Family Furniture

Melanie and Charles Cartwright’s house is a family home in the truest sense, filled with inherited furniture and art from two previous generations.

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‘We were able to take on the contents of Charles’s parents’ dining room as the timing coincided with our move and having more space,’ says Melanie. ‘It’s almost all Irish Victorian mahogany furniture originally from Charles’s grandparents on both sides. The chairs are particularly special because his great- grandfather upholstered them – we’ve been very pleased to keep everything in the family.’

The Robbie Burns portrait was bought by Charles’s father from an Irish country house sale in the Fifties. Charles’s paternal grandfather also made the 1860s mahogany table there. The embroidered seats on the chairs were done by his other grandfather whilst in the navy. The Victorian Irish sideboard is from a similar period and came from Charles’s mother’s side of the family.
The Robbie Burns portrait was bought by Charles’s father from an Irish country house sale in the Fifties. Charles’s paternal grandfather also made the 1860s mahogany table there. The embroidered seats on the chairs were done by his other grandfather whilst in the navy. The Victorian Irish sideboard is from a similar period and came from Charles’s mother’s side of the family.

The couple were also given some large portraits, bought from Irish country house sales in the 1950s, as well as Worcester porcelain from Melanie’s grandfather, and lots of classic books. ‘There’s something quite lovely about picking up a jug or a book and thinking one of our relatives once handled and used this piece, just like I do,’ says Melanie. ‘I love having things around us that I know have been loved, and really cared for and enjoyed by generations before.’

Double doors bring grandeur to the sitting room. The large Feraghan rug is one of Melanie’s favourite pieces. The books are all classics and antique, which Melanie arranged with colour in mind.
Double doors bring grandeur to the sitting room. The large Feraghan rug is one of Melanie’s favourite pieces. The books are all classics and antique, which Melanie arranged with colour in mind.

Modernising an Edwardian Country Home

Melanie and Charles moved to their substantial Edwardian country home in 2012. Built for a retired naval officer in 1905, the house had been untouched for years and the couple fell in love with all the original features.

‘It was as though the house had been asleep and was waiting to be brought back to life,’ recalls Melanie. ‘The fireplaces were tiled in gorgeous jewelled colours, and the stone and wood floors had a worn, lived-in feel. The joinery and detailing isn’t as fussy as the Victorian era and is closer in style to classic Georgian design, but without the price tag.’

Large rooms with high ceilings and plenty of light appealed to Melanie and Charles but with few changes since the 1940s some careful mondernisation was required. After opening up the kitchen and putting French doors across the back, the couple reworked the former maids’ rooms on the top floor into a bedroom, den and a bathroom for their children. 

An Antique Colour Scheme

Melanie is a regular visitor to auction houses near her home, such as Lawrences at Crewkerne, Duke’s in Dorchester and Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter. She describes her antiques knowledge as ‘self-taught’, initiated from her student days when she studied art history.

Unsurprisingly, one of the first antiques for the house that caught her eye was another Feraghan rug. ‘We’d inherited a decorative Baroque painting that we’d hung in the entrance hallway and, when I saw this rug, I knew the pale blue, raspberry- pink and greens would pick out the colours beautifully.’

Melanie made the headboard and cushion using Voyage’s Cervino fabric in Opal. Jim Lawrence brass wall lights have lampshades made by TMO Lighting. The mahogany bedside tables were drawer pedestals from an old desk from Lombard Antiques.
Melanie made the headboard and cushion using Voyage’s Cervino fabric in Opal. Jim Lawrence brass wall lights have lampshades made by TMO Lighting. The mahogany bedside tables were drawer pedestals from an old desk from Lombard Antiques.

She took the blues, pinks and greens from the hallway a little further, using the palette to create a gentle background rhythm of colour throughout the house. ‘Often our skies have a greeny-blue hue to them and so I put this colour with shades of natural greens and soft browns, and added warmth with raspberry and dusky reds,’ she explains. 

Melanie discovered this painting in Abingdon House Antiques and has placed it above the bed to create a headboard effect. The bedside tables are from McBains Antiques Centre.
Melanie discovered this painting in Abingdon House Antiques and has placed it above the bed to create a headboard effect. The bedside tables are from McBains Antiques Centre.

Although the house is largely finished, she still looks for items to add to her collections at local auctions and is often guided by colour – a vase, a rug, a painting that could add another decorative layer to a room or an element of intrigue. Recently she made a bid on some old books. ‘I thought the spines were so beautiful and the colours would look lovely on the shelves in the sitting room,’ she says.

Mixing Old and New

Over the years, the couple have gradually found and bought the furniture they needed at auctions and antiques markets, though Melanie was careful not to turn her home into a museum. She took inspiration from local designer Ben Pentreath, who has a talent for blending antiques with vintage and contemporary pieces in a natural, layered effect.

The key to making disparate pieces work together is about choosing similar materials or looking for things with a shared quality of design and workmanship, she explains, whether it’s a new linen cushion or an old antique rug. ‘For me, that commonality creates the harmony to combining different periods,’ she says.

Stargazy Sky was built by Cowley Shepherds Huts and can be rented through Classic Cottages.
Stargazy Sky was built by Cowley Shepherds Huts and can be rented through Classic Cottages.

The latest addition to the couple’s home is a charming shepherd’s hut in the garden. It was modelled on how Melanie imagines farmer Gabriel Oak, from Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, might have lived. When the hut isn’t being rented out, Melanie likes to escape here to read and enjoy the views across their meadows.

‘I like the fact our home isn’t just one style or from one era and that it feels lived in,’ says Melanie. ‘It’s lovely to think our heirlooms haven’t just helped to shape our family home but also homes for great-granny, granny and grandma. We’re very lucky to still have this family history with us and can pass these pieces on to our children.’

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Stargazy Sky shepherd’s hut is available to rent through classic.co.uk