The inside story on the Instgrammers making us yearn for country life.

House envy used to mean one of three things: gazing longingly into estate agent windows; craning one’s neck to get a good look inside the inviting homes we covet on daily constitutionals; or forking out for a copy of World of Interiors and its ilk to dream and sigh.

But with the advent of Instagram, all that has changed. There are now legions of people who share divine – as well as occasionally candid – images of their bucolic daily lives: the harvests from their picturesque gardens; the nights curled up with a book by a log fire; the rustic feasts they make in their beautifully simple kitchens. This rise ties in with the dawn of a new movement to slow down, to appreciate the seasons, to live sustainably and to pursue more modest pleasures. Call it mindfulness or just rural simplicity, it certainly looks good, as these seven accounts we love to follow attest.

Hill House Vintage

Paula Sutton led an urban and an urbane life in London, the city she grew up in and in which she reached the upper echelons of the fashion world as head of press at Elite Premier Model Agency. And then overnight, the high octane stuff of her daily existence – working with Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington – changed upon one simple decision: to pack up the town house and move, with her three children, to the absolute exemplar of a Georgian house in rural Norfolk.

There is a sense of unbridled joy that exudes from every tile that she shares; this is a woman who is plainly revelling in her new country life. And it is that joy and enthusiasm which saves it from any sense of smugness; you can practically hear her squeals of delight as she shares her favourite corners: the clustered paintings up the staircase; her classical furniture dotted with shabby chic touches; and the outdoor repasts she arranges on her lawn, faithful chocolate brown Labrador always at her side. It’s a dreamy world to slip into, wherever you are.

Found and Favour

The unerring eye behind this lovely Sussex home and garden – and its accompanying Insta feed – belongs to Clara, and the only biographical detail she shares is that she’s part of the Country Brocante team. It stands to reason. The Midhurst-based vintage fair has become so popular with the shabby chic cognoscenti that it now has its own shop, as well as a coffee table book dedicated to its particular eclectic style. Clara’s own home is a perfect ambassador for the brocante’s message.

We love her garden, in particular, which a vision of cottagey perfection, with its lantern-lit archways of roses, its towering foxgloves and hollyhocks and its idyllic bottom-of-the-garden shed-come-studio. We like watching the fat heads of roses make their way indoors through the year and into Insta-perfect antique jugs, cigar presses or even oil canisters. Inside, the house is all classic country kitchens and calming shades of pale – always punctuated by fresh cut flowers. When can we move in?

The Oxfordshire Farm Cottage

For some people, making the break from the city entails simply transferring their city lives to a village, ideally without much else changing. Jobs are commuted to or done from home, and food is ordered in through Ocado. Not so for Ruby, the woman behind the little squares at The Oxfordshire Farm Cottage; she and her family traded their London lives to live on a working organic Cotswolds farm, which her husband runs, while she bagged herself a job at a local garden centre. And just like that, all vestiges of city life were gone.

We like the images of somnolent cats scattered about the place, by big stone fireplaces in winter and catching rays through the glass in deep recessed windows, which are always adorned with flowers cut from the garden. Misty morning scenes attest to the fact that these are people who are up with the lark; they’d have to be, to attend the daily farm chores, and to feed all those hens that roam the garden. A lesson in how to go the whole country hog.

My English Country Cottage

From Oxfordshire to Cambridgeshire, where we join Rebecca Lovatt at her pleasingly wonky 17th-century farmhouse, which sits on the Suffolk/Essex border of the county. Yes, her garden is a summery delight and her white painted rustic wood-clad walls are fresh and lovely in the warmer months, but for us, this house comes into its own in winter.

Roaring fires, oak beams and – crucially –floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books, it’s the sort of place we can imagine tossing off our wellies at the door, heading straight to the kitchen for a plate piled high with buttered toast, and never leaving again. The shed at the bottom of the garden, too, is highly covetable. Sigh.

Cat Gray

‘When my husband and I moved into our country home in Waterford, we were looking for a place that would act as a retreat, and a contrast to our hectic lives in London. It’s certainly a slower pace of life – and I like how the rooks who roost in a neighbouring tree act as an alarm clock.’ Cat Gray continues to work as a journalist in London while escaping, whenever she can, to her Irish home, which she is steadily renovating, documenting its changes on Instagram.

We are big fans of her feed, which darts about the inspirational interiors she visits in her day job, and back again to Ireland. And what we especially like is her commitment to recycling and upcycling where possible. ‘The previous owner left quite a bit of his old furniture – much of it damaged – and we’ve repurposed and updated as much as we could, rather than buying new pieces. It’s involved a lot of repainting and sanding, but I didn’t want to throw anything useable away. I always buy second-hand pieces where possible – not only is it more environmentally friendly, I much prefer a more lived-in look. In terms of having a simpler home life, I’m all for repurposing or adapting a house over time rather than swooping in with a complete overhaul. For example, it’s surprisingly easy to update a dated fitted kitchen simply by replacing the upper units with shelves, then repainting the lower units and changing the handles.’ Hear hear.

Could anyone fail to fall for this Instagram feed, which is self-described as a ‘seasonal journal from a cottage in rural Suffolk’? Simplicity and the idea of slow living runs throughout the little squares – whether they’re of Niki’s own house, or of her travels round the country. We like the perfect bucolic scenes of cows standing about in the Stour, conjuring to mind every Constable masterpiece ever painted and reminding us how little some things change.

And we adore images, usually presented on rustic wooden tables, of her bounty from the garden, whether in the form of flowers or food. Misty outdoor scenes, cosy book-lined indoors scenes. Few accounts of country life make us long to ditch the city with such alacrity.

Ben Pentreath

Ben Pentreath is an interior designer with an architectural studio attached and in his spare time he manages to keep a shop too. Quite how he has time to keep up lives in both London and Dorset too is beyond us, but we’re glad he does, since his former parsonage in the south-west gives us hours of delight on our Instagram scrolls.

He specialises in the peculiarly English desire for lived-in spaces – usually with some nod to eccentricity – while keeping his look classic, by which we mean curiously traditional and modern at once, at all times. He’s a busy man, so his tiles gad about here and there, to and fro various projects. But he always comes back to Dorset, where his garden is a thing of exquisite bucolic beauty (church steeples in the background, usually bathed in golden light). Utter heaven.

By Nancy Alsop

October 2019


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