Bohemian rhapsody: designer Alice Temperley’s whimsical Somerset home

Genevieve Fox
·7-min read

Back in the spring, fashion designer Alice Temperley was scouring online marketplace Preloved for vintage fabric and ended up in the pet section. “Within an hour, I had driven five miles up the road and come home with a house rabbit. Florence is an amazing character, either very rampant or very cuddly. She lives under the piano in the sitting room, where we all hang out.”

“We” is Temperley and Fox, her 11-year-old son, any chickens who “just come into the house when they feel like it” and of course Florence. The four llamas live outside. “They’ve always got their heads just slightly over the garden wall.”

Freedom and flare are the watchwords in Cricket Court, Temperley’s Somerset home, a Grade II-listed stone folly built in 1811. She rented it in 2010 “when I was desperate to get out of London and have some space with my child”. She’d looked round it one “golden evening” with her father, who lives on a cider farm in the same town, where Temperley grew up. “The house seemed like a magic place. I hadn’t seen a house like it.” She eventually bought the eight-bedroom Regency manor house and, two years ago, moved down permanently.

There is a wonderful synergy between the rule-breaking interiors and Temperley’s romantic collections. “There is escapism in the house and in my work,” she says, whose fans include Florence Welch, Beyoncé and the Duchess of Cambridge. “It’s totally Alice in Wonderland, totally creative. It is fairytale, and I am not going to deny that.” There are even castle ruins – Plantagenet, no less – in the grounds that include paddocks and woodland.

The cellars date from the early Tudor period and house a bear-pit, one of only a few remaining in the UK

The endless rooms work a kind of Britpop wit underpinned by a very grown-up English country house aesthetic. It’s all about mixing different things that work together, says Temperley. “It’s the same as when you are doing a collection – an eclectic mix tells a story.”

His-and-hers bathrooms make the point. “Hers” is reached via a small staircase that descends from the main bedroom. “His” bathroom is “up”, reached by another small staircase. The bath in “hers” is a classic rolltop, the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pelt – “deliciously deep purple and one of my favourite colours” – and there’s a traditional sink, gilt mirrors, a kilim and shuttered windows. So far, so safe and English trad. Except that the tub is covered in a mosaic of mirrors, working a disco vibe on a wooden floor painted with a Union Jack. “My friend [model] Jade Parfitt and I just decided to smash the mirror up,” says Temperley. “Four o’clock,” she adds, “is a good time to get in the bath with a bottle of cider. The light is great then.”

Temperley is very partial to a disco ball. Her boyfriend, Marcus Cresswell, has made her “the most amazing pizza disco-oven. It sits out on the terrace by the blossom tree.” Another disco ball hangs out behind one of the portico’s four pillars, like a sparkling guest waiting to be asked for a dance. “It fell during a storm. I stuck it back together and glued flowers in it to hide the damage.” A fibreglass statue of a Grecian youth lingers nearby. “It’s totally out of place,” says Temperley. “I just think it’s entertaining.”

The youth might well feel intimidated by the house’s classical features that include a double-height entrance hall with domed ceiling. “You walk in and you’re surrounded by Venetian pillars and look up to the dome. The guy who designed the house [it was built by Stephen Pitt, a relative of Pitt the Younger] was obsessed by light, as I am. Every room has a ceiling detail. He was also scared about fire. A metal balcony runs all the way round the house.”

More light pours into the circular, wood-panelled library that features a domed ceiling painted in deep sienna. It’s finished off with an oculus, or glass opening. Winston Churchill held secret meetings here with British and American leaders in 1944, when the house was owned by the media magnate Lord Beaverbrook. A Tolstoy scion, Count Nikolai, bought the pile after the war.

Plaster roses are strewn across the coffered ceiling in the dining room, painted in Farrow & Ball’s Turkish Blue. Its French doors lead on to the gardens, which overlook the Quantocks. In case the view wasn’t bucolic enough, a mural of silver blossom and peacocks, painted as a gift by locally based artist Frederick Wimsett, enlivens one wall, and a pendant chandelier from Sunbury Antique Market at Kempton Park presides over the long oak dining table, originally from Wells cathedral and picked up from Glastonbury Reclamation.

Additions were made to the older part of the house, which, says Temperley, explains why there are five floors on one side and three on the other. “It’s a mishmash of floors and weird little staircases and windows.” Its history makes itself felt, however. “There’s a weird dungeon in the basement. I don’t go in there at night.” In fact, the cellars, thought to date from the early Tudor period, house a bear-pit, one of only a few remaining in the UK.

The living room is a cosier affair, and classic Temperley. When she moved in the walls were painted “a horrible yellow, washed with sponges, and it was full of the worst English chintz you can imagine.” The walls and the curtains are now aubergine: “Really earthy and really calming.” A golden palm tree, found on Golborne Road, near London’s Portobello market, sits in one corner, just because. “It’s the dogs bollocks,” says Temperley, who likes to “plonk”. This explains the pirate ship, moored in front of the Venetian mirror that hangs above the Regency fireplace. Two lamps inlaid with glass and a chinoiserie screen bought in Hong Kong add more glitz, while the ottoman is covered in “amazing fabric with silver discs all over it” and sports a candelabra on a brass tray.

The messy luxe vibe continues in Temperley’s bedroom, the 9ft-wide bed, treated to a rotation of quilts: one day leopard print, the next, something floral. An ER insignia with Union Jacks poking out of it hangs over the bed, a pair of pink and crystal wall sconces either side on the Farrow & Ball Hermitage Pink walls. Temperley is also partial to a flag. Her latest, a whopper union flag from Portobello Road, is to hang in the courtyard.

Wardrobes aren’t much in evidence. “I have a beautiful vintage clothing collection and just hang pieces around. Otherwise you never see them.” A Turkmenistan bridal gown and a Japanese kimono hang by the window in the guest bedroom and over the ornate headboard hangs a framed fragment of Chinese embroidery that belonged to Temperley’s “amazing” grandmother, a collector of fabrics.

Fox is equally industrious. When he’s not practising in the piano room that adjoins the living room, overseen by Florence the rabbit, he’s outdoors. “He has to do his chores and feed the llamas in the morning.” Then it’s breakfast in the kitchen, its traditional units designed by Elliott & Co: Out of The Wood and painted a soft green to match the Fired Earth wall tiles, vases filled with flowers from the garden. The brasserie mirror was picked up at Clignancourt flea market in Paris. “Everything finds its home. That’s what I love about collecting.”

Art direction and fashion styling by Violet Naylor-Leyland; photographer’s assistant Noah Sagum