Greenhayes, the home of Cathy and Alistair Colston, is situated on a half-acre of land in the middle of the picturesque English village of Wellow, just a few miles south of Bath. Wellow is the quintessential Cotswolds town: There are no streetlights and exactly one church, school, shop, and public house, all nestled in rolling hills. Look it up on Google Maps and the images are of stonework, dirt roads, and sheep.
Built in the early 19th century (with, Cathy says, a portion dating back to the 1600s that operated as a pub), the two-story home looks straight out of a Jane Austen novel, constructed with ashlar masonry and topped with a parapet that runs along the edge of the slate roof, with a moulded cornice just underneath. A wall surrounds three-quarters of the house, and there are front and back gardens. It’s a queenly structure overlooking one of the main streets in town.
The similarities to classic British literature stop there, though. Look to the left and a low-slung, modern addition emerges in front of a setback wing, a clue to the more contemporary interiors.
The Colstons, who had been living in the Parson’s Green neighborhood of London, were looking for a change of scenery 20 years ago when an opportunity arose for Cathy to relocate for work. She dreamed of Bath, and with two young sons, the couple wanted more space than London properties offered. Both from south Wales, Cathy and Alistair were familiar with this part of England.
“Completely by chance, on our boys’ birthday, one of the agents sent me particulars for this property,” Cathy says. “I booked with the owner to see it the following day. She had a little book with viewings, literally about every half an hour, every day of every week. We were like a production line!” The owners, an elderly couple, were downsizing. Their son-in-law, an architect, had designed a new home for them, which was being built in Greenhayes’s old orchard. They were selling off the main house and the rest of the grounds and essentially moving next door. The sale could only go through on the condition that the couple could remain in the main house until their new home was finished.
“We fell in love with the house, and they were choosing their neighbors,” says Cathy. “And luckily, they chose us.” The family promptly moved down to the area and rented while the new building work was completed. They moved in in April 1999 knowing they would need to renovate, but with Greenhayes on the National Heritage List of England, they would have to approach the project thoughtfully.
“We had to be very careful and considerate about what we did here, but we eventually got planning permission, and moved out while the work was done,” she says. They upgraded the plumbing and electrical systems, built a driveway up to the house, and made various additions to the house that included a new kitchen, new bathrooms, a conservatory, a two-story rear extension, and a study.
That overhaul lasted the family until the Colstons’ sons, Ed and Will, went off to university, and after a career switch to property investing and developing, Cathy decided it was time for the next chapter in 2015.
A few years later, in 2017, they began working with local architect Adam Dennes of Casa Architects, and decided the main objective was to renovate and extend the kitchen and connect it to living and dining spaces. “We wanted to create this kitchen-living-dining area and make that a little bit more versatile than it currently was,” she says. As before, they had to be conscious of the home’s listed status, but in the intervening years, what planning commissions were looking for in renovations had changed.
“With these very old buildings, planners don’t want mock Georgian extensions,” Cathy explains. “They much prefer very contemporary with very old, [but] one of the things that I didn’t want was a glass box. I wanted timeless classic, something that looks striking, different, and that will absolutely stand the test of time.”
She and Dennes settled on a design with large windows, exterior oak “fins,” and a zinc roof. It then occurred to Cathy that, since they were already embarking on a big project and many of the home’s rooms had freed up when her sons left for school, she could remake the entire house. She decided the bathrooms needed updating and the house overall needed a design refresh, and she wanted to make sure they were using each space efficiently and effectively.
Her contractors introduced her to Celia McCarthy of Richardson Studio. Cathy knew she couldn’t take on the scale of the renovation herself in the way she would want to, and she and McCarthy clicked instantly.
“We got very much tuned in; we’re very much on the same wavelength,” Cathy says. While she shared her hopes for the kitchen with McCarthy and told her she wanted a “wow” effect in each room, she adds that she didn’t want to hamper the designer’s vision or style. “I almost didn’t want to be too prescriptive with her. If you have trust with a designer, there’s a real benefit to letting them go once you’ve established that trust.”
“The brief was quite interesting, because it was still a family home, but it was a family home that was changing,” McCarthy says, noting Cathy’s determination to blend new with old. “It was a real evolution of what was already there, rather than trying to look more like an old heritage-type house.” Building began in January 2018, and the Colstons moved back in in September, with minor finishes finalized by March 2019.
McCarthy redesigned the kitchen with clean lines and no handles, and it was then built by Atelier, a bespoke cabinet company in the south of England. Zinc worktops, black stools, and painted cabinetry reflect the color of the adjacent hand-built blackened oak dining table, also by Atelier.
Dennes designed a new family room and moved bathrooms and bedrooms. An airing cupboard became a small en-suite shower room. Shelving was designed and built in situ. Cathy says it was a sort of mix and match to get “better proportion, room sizes, and the kind of amenities that we’d want to have in a house like this.” McCarthy then was able to add more eclectic pieces to the interiors and incorporate bold colors across the residence.
The choices McCarthy did push Cathy on, like painting some ceilings darker colors and rethinking the uses of each room, are the things that guests positively comment on the most, Cathy says.
“Celia created different environments within those individual rooms,” she says. “We use the rooms so much more now and so differently.”
The newly created winter snug sits at the center of the house, and used to exist as a thoroughfare between the kitchen and main hallway, says McCarthy. Instead of fighting against its natural darkness, the designer leaned into it, painting the ceiling a dark salmon that plays off the original stone flooring and fireplace.
“Even though people can move through it, it still needed to have a cozy feel,” McCarthy explains. “It’s now a room that they use to sit by the fire, and it suddenly has a purpose whereas before it really didn’t.”
The drawing room-slash-study was previously a holiday-only space, but now Cathy works from the dark blue and mustard room regularly. The downstairs bathroom is now a dramatic, humorous space with tile, flying pig wallpaper, and a dark ceiling, and reused an old basin saved from the house as a sink. (It “creates a wow when you’re having a wee,” Cathy says.) Doors throughout were painted black, which made an impact on the halls and landings.
The project was a fruitful partnership for both designer and homeowner, and offered a chance to start anew in the same space. “When you get a client like Cathy, who is really trusting, and will really get on board with what vision that you have as a designer, then you can create something really nice,” says McCarthy.
“This house has felt like a lifetime house,” Cathy reminisces. “I think in doing what we’ve done, we’ve sort of given ourselves another decent chapter here.”