A Private View: Roland Mouret’s romantic rural idyll in Suffolk
The fashion designer’s relationship with his cottage in the countryside has been profound and life-enhancing – all the more reason, he feels, that it’s important to move on now the time is right
- Grace McCloud
- House photography
- Kristy Noble
Roland Mouret is in a philosophical mood. The fashion designer has barely taken a sip of tea and already we are talking about love, loss and new beginnings. All those things, he explains, form part of a wider conversation he is having with himself at the moment about his home, a thatched cottage built in the 14th but with 16th- and 17th-century additions, near Framlingham in Suffolk. He and his husband, the sculptor James Webster, have lived here for 14 years, but they have recently chosen to put the house on the market. The decision has not been without its complexities. “This is the first house I’ve ever owned – and the first I’ve ever loved,” Roland says, manifestly emotional. “But the way we live our lives now means it doesn’t make sense for us to keep it. We’re just not there enough – and that isn’t fair on the house.”
A lot has changed for the designer in the last few years, not least with his eponymous label. The brand best known for its exquisitely simple and ultra-feminine frocks, beloved of everyone from Nigella Lawson to Victoria Beckham, by way of the Duchess of Sussex and the Princess of Wales, was bought in 2021 – though Roland, who spends most of his time in London now, still designs its sophisticated silhouettes.
“The pandemic changed everything for me,” Roland says. He’s sanguine, however: “I don’t want that to sound pessimistic; it’s not. What I mean is that those changes taught me such valuable lessons – not least that time is precious. It’s something that applies to our homes too. I feel very strongly that we’ve had our time in this wonderful house and it’s now the moment to move on. We have to act on that – to take the leap.”
Another lesson he’s learned is one in flexibility. “Things happen as they happen,” he says, “and the best thing we can be is fluid – that way, everything becomes possible. It’s liberating.” As a consequence, Roland is excited about what’s next – “not that I know what it is!”. “I’m quite envious of the person who will look around this house and fall in love with it,” he continues. “I know what they’re going to find – a place that has been truly cherished – and I know the feeling they’ll experience. It’s the best.”
“I never thought James and I would own a house. In part, it’s because I’m from France, which has a strong renting culture, but it’s also because we’re both creative people. I have always just followed my creative impulses when choosing where to live – I enjoyed being light on my feet and having the option to change. But then I came here – James is originally from Suffolk – and I fell in love. I fell in love with the sky, with the flatness, with the mentality – the whole lot.
“In many ways, Suffolk reminds me of the Camargue in southern France, which is where I grew up. There is an ancient, rural mentality in evidence in both places, which I like. It’s funny, because there are a lot of Londoners living here, but it doesn’t feel like it. When you live in Suffolk, you live the Suffolk life. London falls away when you’re here. The best way of experiencing what I mean is in the pub. All the pubs here are country pubs. They haven’t been done up with Londoners in mind, which is brilliant. My favourite is the Low House in Laxfield, which my father-in-law has been going to since the 1960s. They had to repaint the smoke-stained ceiling at one point, which was a shame, but happily it’s building up some patina again.
“I lived in London for many years, but by the time I was in my 50s I had started to find the city too hectic and yet oddly lonely, despite how many people were there. And though I’m often alone here, I don’t mind the solitude. Living here has given me space to question myself as an artist and to be in contact with nature – and it also allowed us to have a dog, Dave, who recently died but who was completely wonderful.
“The house had massive potential when we saw it. It was comprised of a cottage and semi-modernised barn, with unconverted stables. I knew that we could make this rustic, rural set-up feel luxurious without it becoming ridiculously grand. That contradiction of simplicity and luxury informs everything I create. If you look at my dresses, they’re understated yet the moment you wear one, you become the brightest person in the room – while still remaining you.
“I designed this house in the same way I design my clothes. While with a dress, I’m thinking of a woman, and with the house I was thinking about me and James, the approach was the same: I wanted to create a space that accepts us, that celebrates us, that makes us feel our very best. I want people to feel themselves in my dresses, in the way I wanted to feel myself at home – and, by extension, I want other people to feel at home too.
“A huge part of that lies in surrounding yourself with the things you love. Do that and it will always feel genuine. I now don’t buy anything new or anything with plastic – it just doesn’t make sense – which means antiques have become a great interest of mine. I’ve become good friends with the local dealers here – and they’ve certainly helped shape my style. Buying a mismatch of only second-hand things has given this house a gently bohemian air, which I love. It’s very British – and I’ve always been in love with British culture.
“I’m really interested in the relationships humans have with the world around them – the houses we choose to live in and the things we fill them with. And, like any relationship, these ones take work. That was the first lesson this house taught me, when I hit my head on one of the beams. I had to learn to adapt to the building, to be gentle with it and not to expect it to change. It’s the same with the draughts here – this building has been here for hundreds of years, so of course there are draughts! In winter, you know you’re going to need a blanket on your bed. In summer, when the air is sticky, you bless those draughts. You feel lucky to have them.
“One of the most special things about this house is the way it allows you to interact with nature. We’re surrounded by about two acres, which in summer transform into more living space, like a massive leafy room. When the sun shines, this house almost dances. It’s magical. The light is unlike any I’ve seen, the blue skies give way to a blanket of stars, and creatures creep out from every corner – hovering dragonflies, a beautiful black pheasant who thinks he can’t be seen in the shrubbery, kingfishers and newts and woodpeckers, each telling a different version of nature’s story here in our garden. It’s pure poetry.
“All this makes the thought of leaving quite hard. That said, I’m listening to what this house is telling me. I’m a different person to the one I was when I bought it. Now I’m looking forward to finding a new home to fall in love with, one that will demand different things from me, one that I can approach as the person I am now – older, more mature and more open to change, I hope. I don’t want to regret anything in my life – and moving on is the best way to ensure that.”
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