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Seasonal design: Former executive embraces cottagecore throughout the year at her English Hill House manor

by Jura Koncius, The Washington Post | November 13, 2021 at 1:44 a.m.
Paula Sutton in front of Hill House, her 19th-century home in Norfolk, England. (Simon Brown/Clarkson Potter via The Washington Post)


Former fashion executive Paula Sutton, of Hill House Vintage, moved her family from London to a country house in Norfolk, England, because she wanted a cozier lifestyle. To fill her new rambling house, she combed through flea markets and car boot sales (sort of like a multifamily yard sale) for gently worn chairs and tables, and she added comfortable tufted sofas topped with gingham pillows. Her slower, outdoorsy country life (and her embrace of current design darling cottagecore) has allowed her to engage with the seasons more, bringing plants and flowers indoors and making sponge cakes with fruit fillings and rosemary-infused olive oils.

(According to Google, cottagecore — also known as farmcore and countrycore — is a social media movement fostering the idea of living a simple rural lifestyle; local food, artisans, animals, forests, gardens, flowers, and no technology.)

Sutton's discoveries have fed a growing following on Instagram (hillhousevintage), where she has posted snippets of her life, including of a rustic outdoor dinner on a long table set with blue-and-white dishes and platters of fruit. And last year, she took on a social media tempest about race and her life in an English manor. She addresses that storm, and the subsequent outpouring of support and positivity, in her new book, "Hill House Living: The Art of Creating a Joyful Life." In the chapter "Race and Country House Style," Sutton writes: "There is not one 'Black interior style', but a glorious range of Black interiors lovers, with a wide and varied range of tastes, influences and aesthetics."

The following chat has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is your favorite season to decorate for, and what are your favorite cozy tips for each?

A: I've really made an effort over the years to embrace the here and now, and as a result, my favorite season to decorate for is always the season I'm in at the time. I have pumpkins and potted chrysanthemums on my doorstep, but that will change [soon] to standard holly trees and buxus (boxwood) balls entwined in fairy lights. It's important to keep pieces natural, so your space doesn't end up looking like a theme park, but changing the scents and colors of each season with flowers and plants is always a good start. An inexpensive way to change up the interior is by changing over your cushion covers and adding throws in different textures or colors to complement each season. Add scented candles, flowers or bowls of potpourri that represent the flowers found outside naturally at the time.

Q: What are the essentials of a cozy room and house? Are the requirements different for a cozy English house and a cozy American house?

A: One of the main differences with the English country house style is that we don't mind things to be a bit more eclectic, old, roughed up, faded and layered over time. American country style seems to be more put together with a tightly considered palette. Of course, it's not an exact science, and both are beautiful in their own ways; there is plenty of crossover for what is deemed cozy regardless of where you live. Both sides of the Atlantic share a love of soft furnishings; good, comfortable seating; and a beautiful collection of older period pieces to complement more modern items. We both love our cozy fireplaces, wooden furniture and the natural elements that bring the outside in, such as plants and flowers. Rugs and throws are a universal love, and from a personal point of view, a cozy home requires a well-loved pet.

Q: Do you have some favorite candles or scents to make your home feel cozy?

A: I am a huge fan of scented candles all over the house. I love the smell of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon in wintertime, then gardenia, tuberose and lavender in summer. I'm particularly fond of candles that remind me of the garden, so elements of blackberry, rhubarb and plum are divine. One of my favorites is the Summertime Candle from Greenfield Stitchery, but I also love the candles from Penhaligon's, Jo Malone and the White Company.

Q: How do you make a kitchen cozy?

A: I like painted wooden cabinets and wooden surfaces. I also like to treat the kitchen like any other room by decorating it with traditional but practical accessories, such as copper jelly molds, vintage dishes and herbs in vintage planters for the windowsill. I'm inspired by country kitchens in large country houses where the work island was a farmhouse table. I'm often told that my kitchen is old-fashioned, and I don't mind a bit. I think your kitchen has to suit the rest of your home and style, so treat it exactly as you would the rest of your interior. I'd love to have an armchair and a fireplace in mine. Sadly, we haven't the room, but that's exactly how I see the kitchen: as an extension of the home.

Q: I know you're an avid gardener, and you have such nice floral arrangements on your feed. How does that play into making your home and garden cozy, and what are your favorites for each season?

A: There's nothing I like better than having seasonal flowers throughout my home to remind me of nature, even in the coldest months. At the beginning of the year, when the ground is too hard for flowers, I love to plant hyacinths in vintage pots inside to rest on my windowsills, and they arrive just after the holiday season. Outside in early spring, it's time for snowdrops, crocuses and aconites, which peep out through the frost. We really enter springtime when the sunshine-yellow daffodils start to appear, and the colorful part of the year truly explodes with tulips. Summer is for scented sweet peas, hydrangeas, lavender and peonies, then we slide into autumn with dahlias and potted chrysanthemums. It's all about planning in advance, so you have flowers in season and cheering you up throughout the year, and you have something to bring into the home at all times. If growing flowers isn't your thing, then herbs in pots are fragrant, useful and easy to grow.


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