2 August 2002

CLASSYINTERIORSINA

RURALSTYLE

Sharon Powell knows how to make a

country house look special and as

Tessa Gates discovered, her interior

designs wont break the bank

ROOMS in the farmhouse at Hayes Farm, Alberbury, have undergone something of a transformation since tenant farmer Phillip Powell married two years ago. His wife, Sharon, has brought colour and style to their Shropshire home and, through her interior design business, is doing the same for other country houses.

Sharon had many years of decorating her own and other peoples homes with considerable success before studying interior design at a London college and starting Shropshire Country House Interiors. Foot-and-mouth precautions halted her fledgling company in its tracks last year – the 223ha (550 acre) farm is mixed beef, sheep and arable and clients tend to be on farms too – so at present she fits her design work round her "day job" working in a bank.

"I feel at home working on farmhouses and bed-&-breakfasts," says dairy farmers daughter Sharon. "People often need a bit of help when it comes to choosing colours and soft furnishings – balance is everything.

"Today, B&B is a competitive market and you need an individual quaintness to pull people into a country house. It neednt cost a lot – you could spend thousands and not get the result you want – it is how you put a room together that makes the difference."

She likes to create something that will not date – that is important when you are spending time and money, she says – and she has some very clever money saving ideas as illustrated by her own home.

"It would be lovely to own this house but we dont so there is a limit to what we spend on it," she explains. Despite this she has achieved a warm opulence in the main sitting room. Here a meanly-proportioned fireplace was taken out, only to uncover another and finally a cast iron range in an inglenook. "Unfortunately someone in the past had filled the range with concrete so it was beyond use," she explains. Now a cast iron woodburner heats the room in the restored inglenook.

&#42 Helmet protection

Sharon wore a motorbike helmet when she pulled down the ceiling. "I like to be hands-on and dont mind a bit of dust and rubble." The beams and joists this revealed are now sandblasted back to their natural oak colour and left unsealed. They look wonderful teamed with the warm raspberry coloured walls – a colour that takes some nerve to pick. "You have to be bold but think long and hard before putting the paint on," advises Sharon who had paint mixed to the exact hue of the striped wallpaper she used. "It doesnt cost much more to mix it – we call it Sharons pink."

She never does anything without trying it out on her trusty paint boards which she colours in selected hues and then places in the room to be decorated to see how the colours look in different lights and settings.

In her own room she was very keen to have wood panelling but the expense was too much. However she has done a great job in faking panelling with little more than a dado rail and architraving and the effect is impressive. The mahogany floor, too, is not what it seems. "It is really a beech floor laid in the 1970s. I have layered different colours on it to look like 18th century mahogany," she explains.

The old house doesnt have a straight line in it and Sharon has worked with this. Her sumptuous curtains in a lovely print in pinks, creams and yellows with a touch of turquoise and greens, have a waved pelmet which fools the eye where straight lines would jar. The deep strawberry coloured fringe on this gives a real kick to the whole effect.

"I had this vision of choosing floral or chintz for this room and went to a sale of Colefax & Fowler material in London. When I got there it was in a huge hall but fortunately I got talking to a farmers wife who advised me to "go left" to find it. I bought a huge roll of this floral chintz, some gold fabric and the blue print that I used for a half-tester in the bedroom," recalls Sharon.

When Sharon visits clients, her consultation charge is £50/room and she gives written quotations for work to be done. Her ideas for a room will be brought alive with her colour boards showing paint, wallpaper and fabrics and she can arrange for experienced top class people to do the work and can supply furniture and fabrics if required or work with the clients own. "I wont cut corners, everything is done right and I will oversee the job through to the end," she says.

Sharon finds people are prepared to spend a bit more on a sitting room while in a dining room "you can have a bit of drama". Client Ruth Warrington went for three colours of green in her dining room at Rhos Farm, Sarnau, Powys. She chose the National Trust paints in cooking apple, pea and Saxon green. "I did three paint boards and put them up against the wall and said live with them for a week, morning, noon and night and see if you like them," explains Sharon. Mrs Warrington even tested them in candlelight.

"I am thrilled with the room," said Mrs Warrington, who had also opted for some of Sharons panelling and a very effective cover for the central heating radiator. Now I am so pleased with the panelling Sharon has done I would have it in other rooms, too."

Sharon loves her design work and puts her heart and soul into it. Her full-time career as a designer has yet to come but she has a head full of ideas for making traditional country homes that little bit special and at the moment she is dispensing some very affordable magic.

Inquiries: 01743-885282.

In the pink:

Sharon has created a warm opulence in her sitting room and turned an ordinary bed in to a half tester in the

main bedroom.

Ruth and Jonathan Warrington love their green dining room. Insets: Some of the finishing touches in Sharons own home.