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Home Style: A Better Way of Life

When Catherine and her late husband Dr Brian Sack left London for a more rural lifestyle. They bought a 16th century cottage and created a home full of modern artwork and stylish vintage French finds

Cathy and her late husband Brian were one of those rare couples who managed to avoid the pressures of long drawn-out house hunting. They spotted the home of their dreams in an aspirational country magazine as soon as they decided to leave London. “Being born and bred in Northumberland where streams,  rivers and lakes abound, I always wanted to live near water,” Cathy explained. “This house is half an hour’s drive from the sea and has its own large lake fed from a nearby spring, attracting kingfishers, heron and other wildlife. It even has its own pontoon with a rowing boat. When we first set eyes on the property, corny as it sounds, it was love at first sight.”

The earliest part of the house dates back to the 16th century. It was built as one room with a central fireplace and a hole in the ceiling, to extract the smoke. “This room, now my office, has been added onto many times through the centuries, ending up as two cottages which were ultimately knocked into one house in the 1920s,” Catherine explained. For some inexplicable reason the house passed under the radar and was never listed. This was a huge plus when it came to planning a much-needed transformation.

“When we moved in there were two separate staircases,” recalled Cathy. This perfectly fitted their lifestyle at the time, when their nephews and nieces were growing up. “Each bedroom has its own bathroom approached by its own staircase. This gave us all a measure of privacy and still does when younger members of the family come to stay.”


One of Cathy’s first concerns was the small dark kitchen, which has now been turned into a hall. A new kitchen extension was added with a high apex roof and a dining area for entertainment. The biggest challenge was how to brighten up the drawing room, which was very dark because of the low ceilings and treacly coloured beams. Even on sunny days it felt gloomy, but for years the couple resisted the idea of painting the beams, floors and ancient oak doors.

“The beams had been ships’ timbers and I was worried about detracting from their historic authenticity,” said Cathy. “Finally, we cracked. Painting them all white turned out to be our best design decision. The result was stunning. Instantly the atmosphere changed. My only regret was not painting the beams sooner. I now wish I had painted the wooden beams in the new kitchen as well. They are currently on my to do list.”

A couple of years later, the New England shed, in looks inspired by a Roger and Hammerstein’s musical film set, was spotted by Cathy and Brian at a Garden Exhibition in Birmingham. Cathy, a passionate artist, fell in love with it and bought it to make it her studio. “It is a luxury being able to eep my canvasses and painting gear separate from the main house.” She smiled.


Cathy’s late husband was a well-known dentist and had many artists among his patients, including David Hockney. This has had advantageous spin offs for the Sack family, as some colourful works of modern art found their way from Brian’s surgery into the house, adding a contemporary edge to their art collection. “Mixing vintage pieces with a bit of modern industrial vibe is my ideal,” said Cathy. “My style is quite eclectic. I like many things except for fifties and sixties furniture, which I hate.”

Her style journey began when she set up a furniture shop called Holly Park with her younger sister Annie Jackson many years ago. French style painted decorative antiques and accessories became the rage and the shop was hugely popular. Many of the pieces in Cathy’s house were initially bought for the shop. “Anything we picked up at Paris fairs like Maison & Objet which did not sell ended up in our own homes. Sometimes we tried them out at home first and if we got good reaction from friends we bought more and sold them through the shop.”

Cathy’s style advice to her customers was always on the lines of ‘Remember Rome was not built in a day’. Advice she applies to herself. “Home making requires patience and years of collecting, tweaking and experimenting,” she said, and especially when it comes to designing and cultivating a garden. “Our garden is now coming into its own.” She points to the lake, edged with lush water lilies and weeping willows. “The sound of the waterfall is serenely soothing. I love to sit by the water with Tilly, snuggled upon my lap. I feel permanently on holiday.”

Photography: Robert Sanderson / Living4media
Words: Maggie Colvin /Living4media

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