This gardener’s house focuses on the outdoors

While most house hunters start with how many bedrooms they want, and what the kitchen and living room looks like, the owner of this 18th century house in a village in Oxfordshire, UK, took an unconventional approach. Ailsa Richards is a garden designer and was much more concerned with the type of trees in the garden and whether it was possible to encourage everything from pollinators to hedgehogs in the outdoor space. She sees things from the outside in, so it was a 300-year-old yew and some gnarled old apple trees that closed the deal on this house. Never mind that the small two-bedroom cottage doesn’t have room for the growing family and the main rooms don’t have garden views, all of those things could be fixed over time.

Fourteen years later, the house has more than doubled its footprint, with additions to the side and rear. The interiors of the house, today one of the best houses in the world, were inspired by its partially enclosed garden and the green space that surrounds it. The result is a harmonious and relaxing home, totally in tune with its setting as the indoor and outdoor worlds merge in a soft palette of natural shades. Here’s how it all came together.


kitchen with blue island and window seat in bay window with wooden floor

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

One of the key elements of the revamped interiors was to open up the house to the view of the garden. All main living areas are now at the rear. The new kitchen includes a beautiful bay window dining area with a custom bench seat, perfect for admiring the garden and watching the changing seasons. From the new window seat, you can see apple trees blooming in the spring, then swathes of hostas, hydrangeas, sedums, then seed heads and bronze hornbeams in the winter.

Kitchen ideas include a large island workspace, painted Stone Blue by Farrow & Ball. Simple Shaker style cabinets are topped with marble and customized with antique style handles.

blue kitchen cabinets and steel stove with gray blue tiles in herringbone pattern and herringbone wood floor

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

A stainless steel cooker has been installed under a false chimney hood which conceals an extractor. Glossy gray-blue tiles are laid out in an eye-catching herringbone pattern that echoes herringbone flooring.

Extension of the dining room

dining room extension with vaulted ceiling and skylights with wooden table and steel framed windows

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

This high-ceilinged family dining and living room space was part of the most recent phase of alterations to the home. Large bay windows were never part of the plan here, instead steel-framed doors frame the garden views and add to the charm rather than revealing everything at once. dining room ideas for that busy family space, include simple banquettes with a heavier, more assertive dark wood table.

In the back of the room, living room ideas focus on the new stone fireplace with a pair of striking orange sofas positioned to take advantage of the fire and bring out the natural tones of the wooden furniture and floor. A gallery of botanical prints behind one of the sofas leaves no doubt as to the vegetable passion of the owner of this house.

Library and reading corner

bookcase with bay window seat and fitted shelves on each side with view of the garden

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

If you’re looking for home library ideas, there’s plenty to inspire you in this bright reading nook. The day bed’s window seat is set in a deep alcove, the perfect place to read a book and enjoy the sounds and sights of the garden.

Practical mud room

Mud room boot room with blue cabinets and hanging coat and hats and basket on bench seat

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

Incorporated into the new kitchen extension, this handy space for muddy boots and outdoor gear was a must-have for its designer gardener owner. Starter room ideas include smart custom cabinets with pegs for coats and a bench seat and cupboard below for shoes and other outerwear.

Entrance hall

entrance hall with old bench and floor lamp

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

hallway ideas aimed to create another room in this transitional space. Treasured family antiques – the lamp base and adjustment seat – give a warm look and have been updated with a new cushion and shade.

Stair heaven

staircase with window and neutral runner and blue and white floral wallpaper dark wood chair and desk under the stairs

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

Across the hall, making the most of every inch, a small partner desk fits neatly under the stairs and is paired with a characterful antique chair.

Staircase ideas worth borrowing from this quiet space include botanical-inspired wallpaper, Beech, by Lewis & Wood, and the neutral runner that complements natural choices elsewhere in the home.

master bedroom

double bedroom with skylights and neutral color scheme with bench at the foot of the bed

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

Even the bedroom ideas in this house are inspired by nature. The calm layout of this attic bedroom has a country feel. The chests of drawers and bedside lamps were vintage finds, with the dark wood furniture offering a deeper tone of brown that picks up on the earthy highlights of the other accessories in the room.

Shepherd’s hut garden furniture

Shepherds hut in flower garden with hedge and trees behind

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

A garden designer’s own garden will always be something special, and Ailsa’s certainly is. The vast grounds are divided into separate “rooms” so you can’t take in the whole view at a glance. Tucked into one corner is a charming shepherd’s hut, built by Ailsa’s husband, Ben, from scrap wood. The boundaries of the garden merge with the forest beyond.

Cottage with modern extension and rear garden with mature planting and parasol

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

For owner Ailsa, the interiors of the house relate to the garden, rather than the other way around. The garden always comes first.

All changes to the house have been designed to make the garden the main focus. Originally a small cottage, built in the 1700s with just two bedrooms, the house is now more usable as a family home. Two phases of building work added three additional bedrooms and a living-dining room, and opened up the main living areas to the garden at the rear of the house.

The importance of the old apple trees and this 300-year-old yew tree was such that Ailsa surrounded them with protective frames to protect them from the worst of the construction work. The trees live, watching over the latest additions to the history of this special home.

Feature: Karen Darlow
Photography: Polly Eltes
Garden design: Ailsa Richards (opens in a new tab)