Inside a 18th century woodkeeper’s cottage in Chichester
PUBLISHED: 08:05 10 December 2020 | UPDATED: 12:19 10 December 2020
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Sophie and Tristan Gooley moved to West Sussex 13 years ago, lured by a converted 18th century woodkeeper’s cottage backing onto Eartham Woods
Sophie Gooley bounds down her garden path to meet me in a chunky jumper, her short blonde hair slicked to her head. "I've just been in the pool," she grins, gesturing towards the reed-fringed freshwater basin she had dug into their garden a few years ago. "It was a bit on the nippy side." She tells me it was Sussex Life's photographer who persuaded her in on this occasion. But she swims several times a week all year round, often sharing the water with dragonflies and frogs. "I even went in on Christmas Day last year. That woke me up!"
Sophie and her husband Tristan swapped West London for West Sussex 13 years ago, when they found Wood Cottage, a converted 18th century woodkeepers' house that backs onto Eartham Woods. Prior to seeing the property, Sophie had "no interest" in moving to the country. "Then we walked in and I looked out over all these fields - you can almost see the sea in the distance on a clear day - and I knew this was it. I almost didn't bother looking inside because I was so sure I wanted to live here."
Inside, the house is a beguiling warren of rooms with cosy period features and modern additions, reflecting its development from a simple cottage to a sprawling family home occupied by Sophie and Tristan, their two sons Vinnie, 15, and Ben, 12, and a menagerie of pets including cats Murphy and Tinker and dogs Dreyfuss and Dot. "This place is brilliantly mercurial," says Sophie fondly. "It feels completely different depending on the light, the time of day or who's here."
The first change made by Sophie and Tristan wasn't, as I initially assume, the stunning glass orangery that links the original flint house with what is now an office space and luxurious guest bedroom; that was added by the previous owners, although the current owners are responsible for filling it with paintings, quirky cushions by Lewes designer Carola van Dyke (carolavandyke.com) and an illuminated sign from Petworth's Kissed by Betty (kissedbybetty.com). "The first thing we did was the garden," says Sophie. "When we moved here it was packed with vegetable patches, apple trees and various other twiddly bits." But with two young boys, space was a priority. "We cleared everything. Over the years it's become more and more like Wembley," she says, surveying the goalposts and other football paraphernalia. It's small wonder that Tristan - the author of numerous outdoorsy books and an expert in the ancient art of 'natural navigation' - has decamped from the custom-built shepherd's hut that stands in the garden to write in a building leased from the Forestry Commission, deep in Eartham Woods. "It's the only place he can get any peace," Sophie laughs.
With the garden opened up, the couple then set about extending the cottage to 'bring the outside in', adding a glass-fronted, double-aspect dining room on to the existing kitchen. It's a room that, like the rest of the house, is packed with texture and interest, from the exposed brick wall - "Our builder found the bricks being thrown out and they're perfect, with all those blue and grey and white tones" - to the stained zinc countertop. "Zinc comes looking very shiny but it's very malleable. It dents and stains, which I love. It changes colour and texture, so it almost feels like a living thing."
A portrait on the wall catches my eye; it's art-lover Sophie's latest buy from Chichester's Candida Stevens Gallery (candidastevens.com). This one is by Irene Lees, an artist she discovered through the gallery. Sophie directs me to look more closely at the image; it's made up of hundreds of words, inscribed into the shape and contours of a woman's face. "Candida has such a good eye," she comments. "She really has her finger on the pulse. I'm always in and out of the gallery."
Concrete lampshades from Heals, an exposed metal H-beam and vintage café wall lamps lend a utilitarian feel to the space, charmingly undercut by whimsical touches such as the reproduction French bar cabinet and Sophie's penchant for tactile textiles such as suede and leather. "For me, the house is an absolute sanctuary," she says, as we wander into one of two cosy sitting rooms, where a piano sits waiting to be played in front of an original fireplace. "But at other times it's utter chaos because I love it when it's full of kids and friends and family."
While it's the dining room where everyone tends to congregate, one of Sophie's favourite spots is the room with en-suite bathroom that she and Tristan built for themselves, tucked away in an extension off the side of the cottage. "It's my dream bedroom," she says, as we enter a calming space painted in greys and pinks. "No bits or faff, just a huge bed and a fantasy light. " We walk over to the window seat, which looks out over a landscape of rolling fields. "You can see all the way to Middleton on Sea from the window. There's not a morning that goes past when I don't wake up and look out in amazement."
Once one has seen Wood Cottage, it's obvious that Sophie's aesthetic is also at work in the nearby Boxgrove Clinic (www.theboxgrove.co.uk), which she founded three years ago with two other mums from her sons' school. The trio gutted the building, an old flint barn, when they took it over, introducing natural touches such as a wall of birch trunks and stripped-back original beams, alongside stylish statement lights and industrial metal café chairs.
"The idea was to create a beautiful place to inspire wellbeing and good health," says Sophie, a podiatrist. Together with her co-founders - a soft-tissue specialist and a physiotherapist - she now leads a small team to offer a spectrum of health treatments including nutritional therapy, sports massage, acupuncture, hypnotherapy and reflexology. Sophie says it's a privilege to get to know the community though the clinic: "I meet some wonderful people and some larger-than-life characters. It's great to play a part in people's lives and to help them back to good health.
"I guess I feel the same way about the clinic as I do about my home; it's a sanctuary where everyone is welcome."