The last thing Sarah Copley had on her mind as she zipped along the winding Derbyshire country lanes, on her way to a work appointment last September, was buying a listed Manor House. 'I had been about to exchange on another property, but it had fallen through' She explains. 'Luckily, I took a different route that day and came across this beautiful old house. I contacted the estate agent immediately, and the deal was done and dusted within the month.'
The Manor House is an impressive, low-slung property, set in lovely gardens, and although Sarah doesn't know exactly when it was constructed, the ancient hearths and beam suggest that it may have been some time in the 1600's. 'There is a stone plaque above the front door that is inscribed with the date 1774' she says. 'However, I think that may not be necessarily relate to when the house was built, as parts of it are definitely older than that'.
In theory, the house didn't need much work, other than some gentle redecoration, but once S
arah had moved in, she uncovered all manner of minor issues that needed attention. 'On the surface face of it, it looked in good condition, but I discovered damp, blocked guttering that had caused lots of water damage and plenty of rotten timber windows, which I have since had expertly repaired rather than replaced. I am always keen to keep the original fabric of the property intact, if at all possible'.
Nearly every room has a window seat across which curtains can be drawn to make a cosy reading nook.
Sarah bought the French dining table and chairs from the houses previous owner. She loves Aubusson rugs and has one in most of the rooms in the house.
Sarah also wasn't happy with the kitchen, which was a surprisingly tiny space considering the size of the house and was located of the dining room. 'I returned the kitchen to what have been its original position, so even though the property is listed, I had no objections from the local planners. Now, it's a lovely, spacious, airy room', She says. 'I re-used the units and cupboards from the original kitchen and painted them
with chalk paint to give them a new lease of life'. Chalk paint, Sarah advises, is so easy to use that even novice DIYers will get a good result. 'Sealed with was or clear varnish, it gives a chalky matte finish that looks wonderful in period homes', she says.
This renovation was by no means the first project Sarah has undertaken. She started buying, doing up and selling house in 1994, and to date has refurbished no less than 38n period buildings. 'I was in the pharmaceutical business until 4 years ago, but took redundancy when it was offered, so I could continue to look for and restore interesting old houses, early workshops and cottages - that sort of thing', she explains. 'I love the buzz of it, although it's getting harder and harder to find really good properties'.
In addition to developing property, she runs and interiors shop, Vintage Living by Sarah Copley, for which she spends a great deal of time sourcing furniture, fabrics, lighting and all sorts of vintage antique pieces, many of which have found their way into her own home. 'French design is something of an obsession of mine. Nearly everything in the house is brought back from trips I've taken, or sourced through dealers who travel to France regularly to find stock for their warehouses back here in the UK.
Sarah can't remember the last time she purchased anything for the house from a high street store. 'I visit antique fairs twice a week, and occasionally car boot sales,' she says. 'I am also a big fan of Ebay. I don't bother with the auction lots, though - I buy directly from the shops, as I can't bear the suspense of waiting to find out whether my bid has been successful or not!'
RIGHT Sarah has a large collection of English antique blue and white china meat strainers, which she displays in antique cabinets and dressers throughout the house.
Throughout her home, Sarah's love affair with French style shines through. There are antique beds and armoires, old display dressers and mirrors, cabinets and even paintings of French origin, all lovingly brought back to their best by gentle restoration. In addition, her eye for a bargain is evident in every room. In the main bathroom for example, the cast iron roll-top bath was picked up at an architectural salvage yard for just £95. 'I had it re-enamelled for £200 and bought the taps for a really good price on Ebay. New, it would have cost £1000,' she says.
Another good find was the bathroom cabinet, bought from a car boot sale for just £8. 'No one wants unfashionable brown furniture at the moment, but it's very easy to sand it back and paint it', she says. A decorative mirror above the basin, which has the look of a genuine antique piece, in fact it's plastic. Sarah bought it for £5 and again, simply furnished it with chalk paint. The lovely rambling gardens are next on Sarah's to do list, although she admits she will be calling in the professional s to tame the lush planting. 'I don't actually enjoy gardening myself, but I do love having a beautiful outdoor space to admire', she says.
In the short time she's been in her new home, Sarah has certainly put her stamp on it. 'This place has everything I love in a house: it's great size; it's got lots of lovely original features, such as window seats and shutters, and even though I haven't been here long, it already feels like home.'