A Rustic Scandi Christmas
Decked out in a rustic Scandi style, Phil and Philippa Heath’s stone cottage in the Derbyshire countryside is a haven of understated Christmas charm
- Phil and Philippa Heath and their four children: Jack is at university and comes back for the holidays; Tom, Joe and Bess are all still at home
- Phil and Philippa bought the property in 1992. The cottage was built in the 1800’s as two workers’ homes for the dye mill opposite. It was converted into one cottage in the 1900’s; Phil and Philippa added a double height extension in 2000
- Sitting room, open plan kitchen diner with a seating area, utility room, four bedrooms, one bathroom
In an old stone cottage, nestled amongst thick woodland on the edge of the Peak District, lives the Heath family who start preparing for Christmas on the first day of December every year. “We absolutely love Christmas,” says Philippa, mum of the family. “Phil and I got married in December, and my birthday’s the week before Christmas, so it’s a very special time for our family. As soon as daylight appears, Phil and one of the boys head out to pick a tree, and twigs and branches that I make into decorations such as heart shapes, stars or reindeer that I then paint white.” The couple’s children, Jack, Tom, Joe and Bess, also love to make bits and bobs from spare timber. No room is left unadorned and this warm home is transformed into a rustic winter wonderland ready to celebrate the season.
The interior of the Heath’s home is just as inventively decorated the rest of the year. With little spare cash, Phil and Philippa have made several pieces of furniture as well as collecting hand-me-downs, salvage finds and odd things dumped in skips and giving them clever make overs. “Good quality paint can work wonders,” says Philippa. “I’m constantly found with a paintbrush in my hand. Phil often jokes that he’s scared to stand still in case I paint him too.”
When the couple first moved into the house in 1992 the building needed much more than a quick lick of paint. “It was in a dreadful state,” recalls Philippa, who had spent three years travelling around the world with Phil, a former merchant navy seaman. “We both grew up and have family near here, so when we were ready to settle in the UK to start our own family, we focused our search on the local Derbyshire area.” Although the 1800s structure they found was damp and neglected, the setting was magical and immediately won them over. “Money was tight after paying for the house from our savings,” says Philippa, “and we had little left to pay for workmen so we had a go at most of the immediate repair work ourselves.” Whilst they were doing the repairs they knocked two of the three small bedrooms into one to make a decent master.
Since that initial renovation, the couple have gradually transformed the house as funds could be resaved, and in between the arrival of each of the four children. The most dramatic change to the house was the two-storey extension, built by Phil in 2000 using reclaimed punched face stone to match the original cottage; this gave the family a larger kitchen diner and a spacious third bedroom above. As the boys have grown up, this bedroom has since been divided into two, bringing the total number of bedrooms up to four. “Jack needed his own space as he got older,” says Philippa. “At the same time, Bess said she didn’t want to feel completely separate from the family so asked if we would take out a wall in her room so she could see down over the stairs and into the kitchen. She may change her mind and want more privacy when she becomes a teenager herself though.”
As well as all that structural work the house has had its floorboards stripped upstairs and salvaged flooring laid downstairs; all the rooms have been re-plastered and the electrics and plumbing have been updated. Phil only called in the professionals for the latter two tasks, while he and Philippa have managed the rest and the decorating themselves. Understandably, having lived there for 21 years, the house has been redecorated a number of times. Philippa has recently moved away from chintzy cottage style to a cooler, more sophisticated Scandinavian feel. “Living in the countryside, with ducks and chickens, dogs, boots and wellies means we are never clean and tidy. But the lightness and brightness of Scandinavian style gives the illusion of cleanliness at least!”
Visitors to this home can be certain it will look a little different each time they stop by, such is the way this family and their home continually evolve, and there is always another job or two on the wish list. “I like the idea of a replace in our bedroom,” says Philippa, “and there is a chimney we could open up; a picture window would give us a nice view of the woods from our bed too. Those are just dreams, though, more urgently we need to tackle the house roof, and the verandah, which needs maintenance to make it waterproof, and the garage needs to be made mouse proof… We love our home, but that’s the reality of rural life I’m afraid, most of the time it’s not all that magical and romantic.”
What will be magical are the festivities ahead. They have a large clan, so each Christmas they take turns to host around 20 family members, including eight youngsters. “It will be noisy and chaotic, but Phil and I look forward to time with the children and recapturing all those early days of sheer excitement and anticipation. I don’t think we’d ever forget to put a mince pie out for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph.” The children have their rituals too: they make a Christmas box lling it with their favourite decorations, uneaten gold coins and a letter to themselves for the following year. “It’s amazing for them to open up the box and read their letters to see just how they and life have changed in 12 months,” says Philippa. The house may be beautiful, the setting may be idyllic, but for the Heaths, it’s who they share time with that’s the most important thing at Christmas, and all year round. And that’s the magic of this lovely family.
Photography Brent Darby/Narratives Text and styling Naomi Jones/Narratives