The Ashdown Forest home of Tim and Sophie Reeves
PUBLISHED: 10:55 11 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:00 11 May 2016
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim and Sophie Reeves’ home is full of character. There are also plenty of hideaways where they can socialise with their four children, family and friends, finds Nione Meakin
One of the first things Sophie and Tim Reeves did when they moved into their farmhouse on the edge of Sussex’s Ashdown Forest was to begin work on… a treehouse. Although the property was in need of renovation, they wanted their four young children to have a space that was all their own, so they commissioned Ansty woodworker Johnny Woodford to make the magical structure that perches in the tree in the back garden. Now the kids are teenagers, they prefer to hang out in the detached oast house that’s been converted into a cosy space for revising and watching films. Sophie and Tim, meanwhile, have also built themselves a hideaway – an old railway carriage tucked away beyond the trees at the bottom of their sprawling estate, where they can hole up in front of the woodburner or have intimate dinner parties of barbecued fish fresh from the nearby lake.
The estate is packed with spots like this – places to work, socialise, daydream – reflecting the lives of its busy, gregarious inhabitants. Tim, a record producer-turned-caterer, and Sophie, an interior designer, were looking for an escape from London and a better quality of life for children Billy, now 20, Finn, 17, Tess, 15 and Marnie, 12, when they first saw the house 11 years ago. Tucked away in the pretty village of Ford’s Green, Nutley, it had been the childhood home of one of their friends, who recalled their father personally digging out the three and a half acre lake; before he filled it, he famously invited several local fishermen for a black-tie dinner party in the basin. But as he aged, he was struggling to maintain the home, and he was relieved to pass it on to a younger family. “I think he saw the potential for us to put some love back into the place, “ smiles Tim, “and we’ve certainly done that; love… blood, sweat and tears!”
The move to the country coincided with a change in Tim’s career; after years in the music industry he had begun a new chapter with the launch of Blistering, a catering company specialising in al fresco feasts cooked on wood-fired ovens and barbecues. He has since catered for parties of 100 up to 7,000, and for clients ranging from Prince Charles to Google. The spirit of hospitality extends to his home life too; “He’s a fantastic cook,” says Sophie [for evidence, just take a look at Blistering’s mouthwatering series of cookbooks] “and we love having friends over for any reason.” Patios are fitted with the popular wood-fired ovens sold by Blistering, which, along with the hot tub and outdoor sound system, form the basis of excellent summer shindigs, while French windows on various sides of the house fold back completely, allowing guests (and the family’s two dogs, Herbie and Dexter) to wander wherever takes their fancy.
Sophie’s domain, meanwhile, is inside the house, where her eye for colour and design is most evident. “I struggle to define my style but I love mixing traditional and modern,” she explains. “So in the kitchen, for example, I’ve got old French floor tiles from Fired Earth but a contemporary table. I buy a lot of pieces locally – I particularly like Nutley Antiques and Ardingley Antiques Fair – but I’m also a big fan of online shopping, especially Not On The High Street, which has some fantastic lighting.” Artworks she has collected over the years often form the centrepiece of a room. There’s a commission of the house by Lewes artist Harriet Davies over the fireplace in the sitting room, and a painting by Francis Hamel, a friend and now a renowned painter, in the elegant room Sophie uses as her study. “But there’s also a fake Picasso we bought from a junk shop for a pound,” she points out. “I’m not precious about these things. If I like it, I’ll hang it on my walls.” Sophie isn’t one for show-home perfection; while the house is enviable, it’s also very much a family home. Her 12-year-old’s recently redecorated room now features a wall-sized mirror – “She’s very keen on selfies,” Sophie comments wryly – while the huge sofas have been chosen mainly for their sprawling capacities. “With four kids, it’s impossible to keep things too neat and besides, I like a bit of organised chaos. I hate not seeing books and bowls of bits and pieces. What’s the point of a home that you can’t really live in?”
The changes the couple have made have been gradual; first, the farmhouse’s small rooms were knocked through to make the spacious, open-plan kitchen, dining room and living area then, a few years later, they began the renovation of the old oast house. The garden was landscaped after that, by Lucy Cotes, of Uckfield’s BG Design Studio… and then again when some rogue rabbits destroyed Cotes’ original work. Then there is the railway carriage, which they picked up in Pagham and slowly, painstakingly, moved into the woods at the bottom of the estate. Dating from the 1880s, the carriage came from the decommissioned Faversham line, and has been carefully restored by a specialist in Shoreham. Its beautiful interior units are made in ash taken from the estate’s woodland by Johannes Soper, of Heasmans Land Care in Forest Row, while Sophie and Tim sourced the vintage French fridge – which bypasses the carriage’s lack of electricity with a block of ice – Indian copper water dispenser and old gas lamps. A dinky bedroom at the back means the spell doesn’t need to be broken at the end of the evening. But the couple’s work is far from finished; Tim has plans to supply the carriage with an outdoor shower and sink unit, and is considering turning some of the land into a wild meadow when the weather improves. But that’s the way they like it. “I like living in a house that evolves over time and isn’t too perfect,” says Sophie. “We always have some project or other on the go… I don’t think it’s in our natures to sit still.”
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• James Strangeways and his house on the River Rother - James Strangeways is a traveller at heart, with a love for all things nautical. He has now built a house on the banks of the River Rother, but as Alice Cooke found out, it’s not a far cry from his boat-loving ways (Photos by Jim Holden)