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Long Melford home is a true family affair

PUBLISHED: 11:36 20 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:31 20 February 2013

Pat's wonderfully spacious sitting room, decorated in calming neutral shades

Pat's wonderfully spacious sitting room, decorated in calming neutral shades

When Pat Binks moved to a new home near Long Melford, she had the perfect interior designer in mind – her daughter-in-law Fiona

When Pat Binks moved to a new home near Long Melford, she had the perfect interior designer in mind her daughter-in-law Fiona

Photographs: TOM SCOTT

When you are giving your new home a major makeover it helps to have an interior designer in the family.
Those occasional home transformation disasters that made televisions Changing Rooms such amusing (or excruciating) viewing seem never to have materialised while Patricia Binks, and her daughter in law Fiona, have been redecorating the formers home near Long Melford.
For Patricia it has been something of a voyage of discovery and she seems to have loved every minute. Fiona is never pushy, she knows what I like what Im after and she is great at sourcing things. She might email me a picture or will ring up and say, lets go and look at so and so. It might be somewhere local, or maybe London, she says.
Said Fiona: It is the job of an interior designer to marry the character of a house with the clients requirements and with any mother in law it could have been difficult. I was slightly apprehensive at first, however, it worked out extremely well. Once I learnt what Patricia wanted there was no looking back. Fortunately, she trusted me implicitly and that trust grew as time went on.
At the beginning she had asked for help choosing the carpet and guidance in the sitting room. After completion of that room we carried on, our relationship and understanding progressively got better and better, as we worked through the house until we got to the garden room. The decision making process there lasted five minutes as she liked everything straight away.
To be fair, Patricia and her husband Allan, who is in the shipping business and runs the Mann Group with his two sons, have presented Fiona with a good platform for her design expertise.
The garden room has been her only blank canvas, says Patricia as she shows me around her lovely, 400-plus year old listed dwelling. Once upon a time it was two cottages, now it is a good size family home with four bedrooms, a drawing room, sitting room, spacious family kitchen, study-cum-office and cart lodge.
The garden is impressive too, even on the misty early winter morning I visit. A grey squirrel has found some food on the terrace and a couple of crows are stalking about the lawns. Apparently there are badgers behind a hedge at the bottom of the garden and beyond is the River Stour.
Patricia admits that Lizzy, and in particular the exuberant Ruby, the Binks English Pointers, seem to have scared away much of the wildlife.
The previous owners loved gardening and when we first came across the house we knew at once we had to have a room to take you out into the garden, says Patricia.

"Our relationship and understanding progressively got better and better, as we worked through the house until we got to the garden room. The decision making process there lasted five minutes as she liked everything straight away.

But Id seen lots of garden rooms in green and I didnt want that so Fiona suggested a stone colour to which she has matched bright shades of purple and greens. I wouldnt have had the imagination to see it working but it does, and even Alan doesnt mind it!
Fiona adds: It was about bringing the garden into this room but also creating a smooth transition from the kitchen to the garden room. I went slightly more contemporary with two purple velvet sofas which work with the greens of the garden, soft grey green furniture and lined oak coffee table. The curtain fabric was brighter with exquisite bees woven into the silk. I knew Patricia would love them!
The sitting room with its huge open fire is perhaps Patricias favourite.
The brief was for a calm and relaxed feel, says Fiona. The room is typical Suffolk farmhouse with beams and a large inglenook fireplace. This room was the first and most difficult as all of the existing furniture was to be used.
We went to Ixworth to choose an antique mahogany chiffonier and I designed an ottoman in nubuck leather to fit the space. Sofas and chairs were recovered in neutral colours,but using different fabrics to create varying textures. A neutral scheme is easy to create but will be dull unless it is well designed. Varying fabric textures and mixing furniture designs can transform a neutral colour scheme.
Meanwhile the kitchen is an eye-catching marriage of old and new.
It had already been designed, but I felt strongly that it needed softening and a coming together of function and comfort, said Fiona.
I found the most fantastic Andrew Martin fabric which is gorgeous. It was expensive, but its textures and colours worked perfectly, and Patricia agreed immediately. I designed some armchairs for the kitchen when we couldnt find what we wanted. Patricia needed a high back for Allan but not too deep for her. The best option was to have them made, which is often no more expensive.
So far its all sweetness and light but the main bedroom brought some challenges, said Fiona.
We had a mishap with the carpet as it had come from India and was faulty. So we had to change and we found an exquisite jacaranda carpet that was luxurious and added a different dimension. The paint colour then had to be different to the rest of the house. It was part of my brief that the whole house was to be painted the same colour.
The fabric for the curtains from Osborne & Little shimmered slightly but remained elegant and relaxing. I found a silvery black out lining from Designers Guild for the blinds which matched perfectly. Patricia then found a drop arm antique sofa but it was turquoise! I could not leave it like this and found a taupe velvety textured fabric for it to be recovered. The finishing touch was their beautiful French antique chandelier.
In the guest bedroom, we chose the curtain fabric first. The budget for this room was lower but I dont think one can tell. The chair is covered in Larsen raw silk which is fine for occasional use and adds stunning texture as well as picking up the soft green of the curtains and wardrobes. The mahogany furniture adds depth. We are currently making a reproduction headboard with fabric inlay as we couldnt find an antique one.
What does Allan think of all the changes? He likes them, but I dont think he will ever let Fiona go to work on his study/office, that is his domain.
He is very busy at work so that occupies him, he is something of a human dynamo! laughs Patricia.
While their home continues to be a work in progress, the Binks are settling nicely into their village surroundings. Patricia often goes off visiting their sons and daughter (plus their five grandsons) but she says they have taken to life in south Suffolk.
Although comparative newcomers to the area the Binks (originally Mancunians) love the friendliness of neighbours and what they say is a real community feel. We have been made very welcome. Everybody has been great, very friendly and keen to get us involved in local activities, she says. Theres a lovely candlelit church service at Christmas which everyone attends. I deliver the parish magazine and cycle into Melford on Sundays.
I broke my wrist last year and had to walk in but that was rather magical with the all the snow across the fields.

Fiona Binks Interior Design is based at Chelsworth and she can be contacted on 07717 497040 or or


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