"I feel more alive surrounded by space and light," says Susan Bradley, the British designer best known for her award-winning Outdoor wallpaper. It's no surprise, then, that the Oxfordshire home she shares with partner, Simon, and their dog, Sam, sparkles on even the gloomiest of days.
When they first bought the period property, it had newer windows but much of its original beauty and features were lost behind tired and dated 1980s decor. Despite being eager to revamp the space, Susan and Simon took advice from both sets of parents, who had built homes from scratch, and lived in it first. "That way, you can see how the light falls and which rooms you use the most," says Susan.
Eventually, with firm ideas in mind, they enlisted an architect to open the space up further. A single-storey garage was rebuilt to include a utility room on the ground floor, with an extra bedroom and en suite upstairs. A pokey downstairs toilet and dining room wall were removed to expand the kitchen area and the garden room was added to increase the flow to the outside. The couple also built a studio at the foot of the garden to house the growing business.
Undaunted, they lived on site during the rebuild and decorated themselves. Original oak floorboards hidden beneath threadbare carpet were brought beautifully back to life, and materials and fittings were meticulously sourced. "We wanted to blend in with the period of the house," explains Susan.
They applied a neutral palette of white with shades of grey. "I prefer to add colour through objects. That way you can be more daring," says Susan. It's a clever tactic. Bright and cheerful accessories provide boosts of vibrancy but can be easily changed to keep the look fresh.
In the kitchen, large ceramic floor tiles create a raw textural look (the couple's original wish for polished concrete wasn't possible). Worktops made from recycled glass and resin blend with the sleek glass splashbacks, while the glossy white units reflect the light that pours in through the windows and splashes of brightly coloured accessories add warmth.
The butcher's block, from Ikea, acts as a breakfast bar and divides the kitchen and dining area. Susan painted its wooden worktop in Dulux Green Parrot 1 and added glass to protect the surface. "You can take more risks with smaller pieces. If we go off the colour we can easily change it," she says. The delightful Pear-shaped memo board is from Susan's new collection.
Colourful mid-century homewares adorn the shelves and complement the contemporary items such as the Sweet Home Snail Cake plate by Takae Mizutani (www.hiddenartshop.com). The decorative coffee pot was Susan's grandmother's.
The kitchen, dining and living areas flow smoothly from one to another, creating a social space when friends and family visit. The warm tones of the original oak floor are mirrored in the vintage Ercol table, which Simon found on eBay. White Eames chairs provide a sharp contrast (Susan bought these at www.vitra.com).
An enchanting montage of postcards depicting classic Penguin book covers hangs fittingly over vintage oak bookcases. Susan bought hers from a local bookshop but they're also available from Amazon. "I love the graphics," she says, "and some of the titles made me laugh, like Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps. The children's book This is New York by the illustrator Sasek, whose work Susan admires, rests on top of the bookcases, which Susan's father found in an antique shop.
In the sitting room, muted shades create a cosy yet sophisticated feel. The chimney breast is painted in Farrow & Ball's Down Pipe. "I have an obsession with grey," laughs Susan. "It's neutral but also luxurious." She also often experiments with new design ideas, such as the charming reindeer mirror, while a lampshade from Normann Copenhagen enhances the Nordic feel.
In the conservatory/garden room, the couple's mid-20th century furniture works with the clean lines of the property's architecture. The elegant sofa and chairs belonged to Susan's grandmother, and Susan had them recovered in a vibrant green, Bute tweed to echo the garden outside. The mirrored coffee table adds a touch of glamour and is another of Susan's designs.
Upstairs, a sumptuous heather grey carpet from Thames Twist's Heritage collection covers the floors, including that of the master bedroom. "It's great to get out of bed onto soft, thick carpet," Susan says.
The Eames rocker in the bedroom was a 30th birthday present to Susan from Simon. Artwork Susan made from haberdashery pieces as part of her Master's degree hangs above it. The fabric on the bed is from Northlight, a Scandinavian shop in Oxford (northlightdesign.co.uk). "I love that's it's floral without being fussy," she says.
The monochromatic en suite bathroom illustrates how dramatic and luxurious Susan's beloved grey can be. Fired Earth's Graphite tiles give it a plush feel, while ornate painted frames over modern basins add a touch of boutique chic. Susan bought faux gilt frames, fitted them with mirrors and painted them in the same colour. "I wanted them taken back," she says. "They were a little over the top as they were." The basins and taps are from Bathstore.com.
The overall result is an uplifting space, with clearly defined areas that flow seamlessly into one another. "It was a small project for the architect but we discovered he had a degree in 1930s architecture, and he understood perfectly what we wanted," says Susan. "We now have one light, bright space that opens into the garden. It's so lovely when the sunlight pours in."