Inside The Old Post House, a 17th century cottage in Wadhurst
PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 January 2020
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
When Hannah Risbridger and her husband Tim moved to East Sussex from Tunbridge Wells, they wanted to put their own stamp on the house while acknowledging its rural heritage
It's a dark, wet day when I arrive at Hannah Risbridger's Wadhurst home. But the terrible weather is soon forgotten as I stoop inside the low frame of the 17th century cottage and into a warm kitchen draped in greenery and laced with the scent of mincemeat. Hannah, dressed for the season in a knitted maxi dress, is trying to persuade her toddler, Rupert, that he doesn't need another mince pie, but he's not convinced.
It's a timeless, festive scene that has probably been played out in the house many times over a history that began 'somewhere between 1680 and 1710'. "No one has been able to put an exact date on when it was built," explains Hannah, in between chasing Rupert. "The earliest census record we could find was from 1750 but a building historian thinks it was probably built at least a few decades before." One thing that's for certain is that the listed building has long occupied a central position in village life, both in its high street location and its functions. "We know it was a drapers in the 18th century and possibly a bakery at some point." Most recently it served as the sorting office of the adjacent post office - hence its name, The Old Post House.
It was this rich history that first drew Hannah, a fashion buyer, and her software developer husband Tim to the five-bedroom property. Originally from Tunbridge Wells, the couple decided to relocate to Wadhurst when Hannah was expecting Rupert. "We fell in love with the village. It's such a nice community here and a big thing for us was that it still has a thriving high street, which is so rare now. We have an amazing deli, a brilliant bookshop, an ironmongers - and there are great transport links to London too." But what swung the decision was the huge inglenook fireplace in the sitting room. "As soon as I saw that, I knew we were going to live here," smiles Hannah, "I also loved all its quirks; the wonky floors, the old beams. I felt like it would be a place I could put my stamp on but which had a personality of its own too."
The couple did not waste time in making the place theirs. Before Rupert was born they had renovated almost every inch of the house, removing centuries of dirt on the house's beams with the aid of dry ice freezing, uncovering original ceilings upstairs and plastering and painting every room themselves. "We wanted to reflect the house's country location and its heritage while also making it feel personal to us," explains Hannah, who applied skills honed in the fashion industry to give each of the rooms a different feel while maintaining a sense of flow. "Every season, the design team would come up with a story, mood and colour palette for the coming season and that's what I worked towards as a buyer, so those ideas are very much ingrained."
In the kitchen, walls painted in pale green hues nod to the Sussex countryside outside the windows ("You can walk down past farmland to Bewl Water out the back of the house") while old copper pans lend warmth. The blinds and matching cushions on the wooden bench adjacent to the dining table are handmade by Hannah's mum in a bird-print fabric by Mulberry. "I do love prints," she says. "I've also got a lovely House of Hackney lampshade and cushion in the living room which is a nice reminder of my time working round the corner from them in Shoreditch."
What was formerly the cottage's kitchen has now been split into a small hallway and utility room, kitted out with a splendid array of feather dusters from Alistair Hendy's Hastings Old Town shop. The couple also installed a downstairs loo at the back of the house, where a range of classic Penguin paperbacks stacked on floating shelves lend a splash of colour and interest to the space.
At the top of the uneven wooden stairs, I can't help but sigh when Hannah opens the door to Rupert's nursery, a dreamy room painted in Farrow & Ball Pale Powder and papered in a bunny design by Peony and Sage. The room originally had a much lower ceiling but curiosity led to the couple investigating what lay above a loft hatch. They discovered a vaulted ceiling packed with original beams, one of which now supports a swing chair for Rupert and his teddies. It was one of several serendipitous discoveries they made, Hannah explains, leading me into the bathroom where they managed to fit a ceiling-mounted shower after discovering a hidden alcove within an old cupboard. Other aspects of the house have required more ingenuity. "Tim had to shave the legs of the dresser just to stop it toppling over on the wonky floors," she laughs as we enter the bedroom, a calm, cosy space warmed by the chimney breast that runs through the room. Amazingly, the house doesn't stop there but continues up another, even more narrow, even more rickety, set of stairs to a tiny attic bedroom that looks out over the churchyard - a perfect den for Hannah's little nephew when he comes to stay with them.
Back in the kitchen - "It's kind of the heart of the house" - I admire Hannah's elegant table settings, which include dried, gold-sprayed poppy heads and sage green candles from her new business venture, From The Post House, a subscription box that offers subscribers a taste of her style. The idea came about last New Year's Eve, with the help of her friend and next-door neighbour Anne Kapranos, who runs her own PR firm. "Hannah's house always looks so amazing," says Anne, who has popped over to say hello en route to the train station. "She always adds lovely personal touches, like the table decorations. I never think of doing things like that but I wish I could." Each box is inspired by a region of the UK, from the winter edition, packed with interiors ideas and homewares from the Scottish Highlands, to the previous, autumn-themed box, which celebrated the artisans and makers of Sussex and Kent. "I like to include something to make in every box," Hannah explains. "So in the winter one we provide everything you need to make a wreath, from the foliage to the tape and wire. The only thing we don't include is the scissors."