Sarah Moore's house: Vintage designer transforms derelict farmhouse into Christmas dream

·6-min read
Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender

With a flair for inventive upcycling, Sarah Moore – presenter of BBC One’s Money for Nothing – relished the challenge of restoring a near-derelict farmhouse. Here, she prepares to celebrate the new year in her beautifully crafted family home.

Their 17th-century farmhouse stands in the West Sussex hamlet of Hooksway in the South Downs, halfway between Petersfield and Chichester. Originally three ‘one-up, one-down’ cottages, the white, peg-tiled house and its outbuildings are set in 30 acres of land on which a neighbouring farmer keeps his sheep. It’s a rather different outlook from the busy A-road where the couple lived previously with their teenage children Harry, Ed and Libby. “We came to view this house six years ago,” says Sarah, who is a vintage designer and television presenter. “I said to Pete, ‘It’s got three bedrooms, it’s nearly derelict and it’s in the middle of nowhere.’ And he replied, ‘Yes, but let’s buy it now.’ That was helpful. If I’d dragged him here, it would have been all my fault, but any problems now and it’s all down to him.”

Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender

Awaiting them were challenges galore. “It had a hole in the roof and a corresponding one in the bathroom ceiling. There were moths and maggots all over the house. We had a week to work on it while the children stayed with their grandparents. We stripped out every carpet, every curtain, all the horrible kitchen units, and Pete mended the ceiling with cardboard and filler.” The family and their new black Labrador Bramble lived in it as it was for four years, then rented a neighbouring farmhouse while specialist listed-building firm Kerley Builders and an architect project manager, Tom Freeborough, took on the total renovation... [feature continues below]

Who is Sarah Moore?

Sarah Moore is a vintage designer, crafter and entrepreneur, born in Redditch, Worcestershire. Sarah presents BBC One's Money For Nothing in which she finds people's discarded household items and transforms them into valuable pieces, making money for owners who had no idea of their belongings' potential.

Sarah is passionate about recycling and is a self-confessed hoarder of vintage fabrics and homewares. She also likes gardening and tends to her own vegetable patch at her home in West Sussex. Sarah Moore is married to her husband Pete and they have three teenage children Harry, Ed and Libby.

Throughout the farmhouse and barn, each roof, floor, window and wire was replaced. They enlarged the kitchen and, to add a fourth bedroom, created a mezzanine level in the barn and linked the two structures.

When it came to decorating, Sarah was full of energy and ideas drawn from her professional experience. She has written craft books, created practical projects for Country Living and has presented BBC One’s Money for Nothing – upcycling and selling unloved treasures languishing in dumps. (“It satisfies my urge to hoard,” she says.) In her own home, she wanted to balance the rustic and rich with the clean and fresh. It owes much to the ghosts of properties past: “We never invested in any of our houses until this one, so there were doors that didn’t open properly and windows that would stick. I wanted a robust country style here where everything works.”

Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender

She also wanted to thread natural themes through the interior design: “I love flowers and bringing the outside in, so there’s a lot of green.” At the table end of the room, Little Greene’s paint colour Portland Stone provides a mellow backdrop for Sarah’s collection of cabbageware, some inherited from her grandparents, some unearthed in charity shops. She chose striking Citrine in gloss by Little Greene for the farmhouse kitchen’s units and sliding pocket doors, and William Morris’s Golden Lily wallpaper in the sitting area, setting off a pair of rush and sisal Sussex armchairs. The doors can be shut so the teenagers are free to cook while Pete uses the rest of the room as an office, but it can also be opened up to form one large sociable space.

Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender

Fluidity was among Sarah’s priorities for the restoration. The kitchen has units on castors, so they can be put together to create an island or end-to-end as a bar for a gathering such as this evening’s. “We’ve got three tables the same height, so they can merge to make one long table,” Sarah explains. “I made herringbone parquet for the tops out of old oak fence posts with local shepherd’s hut-maker Paul Pinnington. It was as cheap as buying tables from IKEA.”

The barn also features stable partitions that create a cosier feel in winter, but can be folded back to open up the entertaining space. Sarah snapped them up on eBay for just £15 (“my best-ever buy”). An elegant velvet sofa discovered on Instagram is upholstered in Acanthus by William Morris, complemented by his Pure Lodden design in low-sheen silver and gold wallpaper above. “I hated William Morris designs before this house,” Sarah recalls. “I remember my grandparents having them. Then I glimpsed one of his patterns when deciding how to decorate this place and thought, ‘Ah-ha.’”

Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender
Photo credit: Alun Callender

Having collected Sanderson fabrics for a decade, Sarah intended to use them throughout the house and barn, but the buildings had other ideas: “They will just about take a bit of pattern, but they don’t like florals and chintz. I kept putting them in, but the house kept saying no.” However, the geometric designs and earthy shades of Welsh blankets work well as a throw and backdrop to the wrought-iron four-poster bed in the barn’s mezzanine bedroom.

At the dining table, it’s time to light the candles at the base of each copper beech ‘tree’, which Sarah created with the help of Paul and stylist Ian Pearce from Hector and the Fox. “We collected small branches from our beech trees before the leaves dropped, then drilled holes into which we poked smaller branches.” The effect is magical. Libby has helped to decorate the table with snowflake-shaped place settings, crackers in a rainbow of colours, antique glassware and church candles in sconces that glow against the stone walls.

Meanwhile, Sarah has devised a ruby-red cocktail, Sugar Plum Fairy, based on sloe gin and decorated with a ballerina-like hibiscus flower. It’s surely the perfect way to raise a glass to another year.

This feature was photographed in January 2020 before the pandemic. Please check current government guidelines on entertaining. Follow Sarah Moore on Instagram @sarahmoorehome. Money for Nothing is shown on BBC One.

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