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Beautiful homes: A phoenix rises

PUBLISHED: 11:28 10 June 2014 | UPDATED: 11:28 10 June 2014

Books on table with lamp in seating area around fireplace. All fabric is from Volga Linens

Books on table with lamp in seating area around fireplace. All fabric is from Volga Linens

Andreas von Einsiedel 2011

Fire razed Theresa Tollemache’s Suffolk home to the ground before she even had a chance to move in. What replaced it is a house full of light and life

Exterior facade of sandy coloured Suffolk house with walled garden and box hedgeExterior facade of sandy coloured Suffolk house with walled garden and box hedge

There can be few more shocking events than experiencing one’s house burning down.

Late in the purchase of her traditional Suffolk farmhouse, Theresa Tollemache discovered it had burned to the ground but fortunately having not completed or moved in she was spared the loss of all her possessions.

“It was quite a shock but I thought, the place, with its wonderful woods and grassy spaces, and the magic estuary just a short walk away was always far more important than the house. That destruction became my opportunity to recreate a lighter and more modern version of the local vernacular style. I would leave behind what I call ‘the old oak’ look,” says Theresa.

“My neighbours and friends Michael and Patty Hopkins of Hopkins Architects came to my rescue with critical advice and dealt with all the planning while I got on and

Large open plan living room with steel staircase leading to mezzanine. Colourful rugs and textiles are from owners travels. All fabric is from Volga LinenLarge open plan living room with steel staircase leading to mezzanine. Colourful rugs and textiles are from owners travels. All fabric is from Volga Linen

had the site cleared.”

Some surviving pheasant pens were converted into three guestrooms early on so after staying with friends nearby Theresa camped with a hot water cauldron and an electric ring for cooking while the main house rose from the ashes. “It’s a much better house really,” says Theresa.

The design comprises three distinct sections two of which, are five metres wide. There are enormous carriage-like openings in the double height living room while attached is a long but lower structure, one side of which is all glass, housing the entrance hall and the kitchen-dining area with plenty of utility space.

At right angles are the guest rooms. There was no garden but an old brick wall survived the fire so Theresa incorporated it as the third side of a boundary to create her courtyard garden and built a lower wall across the front to complete the outdoor room enclosure. There is a grassy space and borders, planted with drought, rabbit and deer resistant species.

Assorted fruits and herbs on marble worktop in country kitchen with open shelvingAssorted fruits and herbs on marble worktop in country kitchen with open shelving

It is clear that Theresa is fond of fabrics and textiles, texture and colour and there are wonderful linens at every turn.

“My grandmother was Russian and came here in the 40s. When she died I went to her Georgian church to light candles, discover my Russian roots and to begin improving my Russian but in the 80s things were still very difficult. I decided to become involved in charity work, but thought ‘trade not aid’ is the answer and began buying pretty linen towels as gifts.”

With no textile knowledge or business experience Theresa took advice from the then and first editor of Russian Vogue magazine and set off visiting factories and meeting women who could still embroider the old designs. “I took a stand at the House & Garden Fair the following year and sold my entire stock.”

Volga Linen soon became a well known supplier of quality linen goods including bedding and fabrics by the metre. There is a showroom, by appointment, at the Gas Works, New Kings Road in London but Theresa, who shares her home with concert pianist Christian Blackshaw (who practises in a special studio cottage in the woods) prefers to work from her country home whenever she can.

She talks of the continuing pull of the countryside. “Silver birches thrive here so I feel it’s my spiritual home. I converted an old carpenter’s shed in the garden into a dacha. It has a wonderful ambience.”

Furniture in the spacious main living room comprises a single chintz chair in a sea of linen covers and cushions, while the enormous five metre drop taupe and red living room curtains cascade like waterfalls from giant Edward Harpley poles.

A spacious mezzanine was made as a study and off it is a guest bedroom. The master bedroom and bathroom are set on the ground floor beyond the piano at the end of the living room.

Theresa had no qualms about buying an Ikea kitchen. “TheAga and a large dining table were my priorities not an expensive designer kitchen.”

The house is often full of guests especially during the Aldeburgh Festival, its chatelaine known for her exceptionally comfortable accommodation and lovingly prepared meals.

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