Take a peek inside this pretty Debenham country home
PUBLISHED: 13:07 22 March 2016 | UPDATED: 16:01 24 March 2016
This beautiful home in Debenham, Suffolk, oozes history and is the perfect backdrop for an eclectic collection of antiques and artefacts
Adventurous people, adventurous lives. That has certainly been the case for Danielle Swanson, who lives in an iconic building in the centre of Debenham.
Built in 1435 to house the banqueting hall of the local guildsmen, the property was in more recent times the home and antique shop of surrealist photographer Angus McBean and his partner, David Ball. They lived previously at Flemings Hall, but downsized to this building. Angus was fascinated by antiques. Danielle, also an antiques dealer with a shop opposite called Swan House and Garden, and a home filled with the most amazing furniture and artefacts, is carrying on the tradition.
Danielle’s life is something of a continuing adventure. Her mother, Elise, now 89, was from Leigh on Sea in Essex, while her father was French. In 1949 they decided to elope to Montreal, Canada, where her father, started importing Peugeot cars. Danielle was born in 1954 and raised in Montreal. She attended a French kindergarten, followed by a bilingual school.
In 1961, her parents returned to England and from 1965 Danielle boarded at her mother’s old school, Felixstowe College. And so, says Danielle, her lifelong love affair with Suffolk began.
“After my education, madcap adventures followed, hitchhiking or motor biking around Europe,” she says, “and then I met a theatre director, Paddy Swanson, and fell in love. Being young and crazy we decided to go to live and work in America, so I sold my VW Beetle to raise funds and off we went.” The couple thought there would be a job for Paddy at Harvard University, in the theatre department, as his counterpart was taking up a job at LAMDA in the UK, but it was not to be.
“We ended up classic immigrants, no car, no money, nothing, Paddy working as sous chef in a Greek taverna in Boston and me, a life long vegetarian, working in a Lebanese fast food joint, having to wear Uncle Sam outfits and smile, smile, smile.” After several months and a quick wedding that cost all of $100, they launched a serious job hunt and ended up running an organic farm for Josephine Murray, the daughter of renowned Jungian psychoanalyst Henry Murray.
“We not only ran the farm, but Paddy took up theatre directing once more and after the birth of our daughter, Rowan, I started my antiques business, all the while milking goats, growing our own food.” The next chapter in Danielle’s life began 20-something years later. She and Paddy amicably went their separate ways, and Danielle and Rowan moved into an Arts and Crafts shingled cottage in Essex, Massachusetts. It was here that she was reunited with English portrait painter Paul Benney, who had come to Boston. When they got engaged and moved back to the UK in 2002, they came to Suffolk and bought an old farmhouse – with water pouring through the roof – near Laxfield. The renovation took 10 years. Danielle did a lot of the interior building work and design, and created a garden full of plants, trees and flowers, in an area untouched since 1919.
“After which Paul decided he’d had enough of country living and me,” laughs Danielle, “and went back to London leaving me, the dogs and chickens to man the fort until the house was sold a year later.” So began the next chapter.
“It was sheer accident,” explains Danielle. “I came to Debenham to look at cottages, but on the agent’s desk, half buried were the particulars to Trinity Hall.” The house was full of wonderful antiques, had great character and Danielle could see herself being able to furnish it with many of the antiques she had.
“Each room is a large area, particularly the original banqueting hall upstairs. It was probably a daunting task for some people. I was just blown away by the energy of the building, thinking of all the tales those walls could tell over the centuries.”
As wells as continually sourcing unusual and decorative items for her shop, which she runs with her business partner, David Bew, Danielle manages to find time to run a successful B&B at Trinity Hall, offering superbly dressed bedrooms filled with fantastic furniture, with accompanying sumptuous en suite bathrooms, some with roll top baths.
“I love the atmosphere especially of the main Guildhall room, the upper sitting room,“ says Danielle. “My favourite object is a portrait of my daughter by my ex-partner. Even though busy, I do get time to walk Mr Dobson, my dog, every day around the nearby countryside, which is only four minutes away. Further afield I love Dunwich Beach, and on the way back maybe lunch at The Dancing Goat in Framlingham. I also still spend as much time as possible gardening, but I only have courtyard spaces at present.
“Eventually I would really like to find another farmhouse with land to grow both flowers and provisions, so watch this space. I also hope to do more interior design, and I love restoring old period houses, which are unloved, and covered up, but can be re-loved. You could say my whole life is always an adventure, hopefully ongoing, now in a county I love.”
Danielle Swanson’s B&B http://www.trinityhall.co.uk 07960038280
Swan House & Garden, High Street, Debenham 07960038280 http://www.swanhouseandgarden.co.uk