Jemma Kidd still recalls the moment she decided it was time to quit London and move to the country. Four years ago, soon after the birth of her twins, Mae and Darcy, she was pushing their stroller down a street in her Notting Hill neighborhood when it hit her: "There were gas fumes, rubbish on the pavement, and people everywhere," she remembers. "I just said, 'That's it, I'm not going to bring my kids up here.' "
An allée of pleached lime trees leads to the entrance of Jemma Kidd and Arthur Wellesley's 18th-century home in Hampshire, England, which was decorated by Penny Morrison.
She and her husband, Arthur Wellesley, Earl of Mornington, had already been spending weekends at his family's country estate in Hampshire and had been offered the opportunity to take over a house on the property known as the Old Rectory. "It was the perfect transition," says Kidd, a former model who is now a makeup artist. "We were totally ready."
Kidd with her twins, Darcy and Mae.
The land on which they live is rich in English history, as is the family's lineage. The estate, Stratfield Saye, was gifted to the first Duke of Wellington in 1817 by the nation. Wellesley, second in line (after his father) to the title of Duke of Wellington, is a descendant of Queen Victoria on his mother's side. Located about a mile from the main house, the Old Rectory dates from the 1780s and underwent two subsequent extensions, first in the 1850s and then in the 1980s.
The custom-made sofa in the drawing room is upholstered in a linen by de Le Cuona, and the artwork above it is by Howard Morgan; the antique Turkish velvet slipper chairs, vintage kilim, and ottoman are all from Irving & Morrison, the console is a custom design, and the fireplace is original to the house.
One of its previous inhabitants was Jock Colville, a private secretary to Winston Churchill, who planted a mahogany tree in the back garden during a visit. Nearby is the copper-domed Saint Mary's Church; a paddock leads down to a river. For Kidd, part of the attraction is that the property, which includes acres of parkland, reminds her of a childhood home at Petworth in West Sussex. "It brings back the happiest time of my youth," she says.
The table in the entrance is by William Yeoward, and the painting by Dee Ferris was purchased at Sotheby's.
The conservatory features a custom sofa, an antique suzani purchased in Paris, and a kilim and ottomans by Irving & Morrison.
The Morningtons picked their decorator, Penny Morrison, after spotting one of the London-based designer's projects in a magazine. Kidd recalls, "I just remember turning to Arthur and saying, 'This is my ideal house, my ideal decor, my ideal colors.' " When they called Morrison, who was born in South Africa and is known for her whimsical fabrics, they not only discovered they had many friends in common, but also that she had met Wellesley when he was a small boy.
In the library, the sofa, upholstered in a linen by Irving & Morrison, armchairs, in a de Le Cuona linen, and bookcases are all custom made; the library lights are by Vaughan.
"Working with them was wonderful," Morrison recalls. "They're just a really fun and happy-go-lucky couple." Kidd particularly appreciates the designer's ability to "make rooms look chic, but also incredibly comfortable, inviting, and warm," she says. Morrison herself hates interiors that look too decorated: "Things should be more eclectic, as if you've collected them over the years."
Pendants from Holloways of Ludlow and an antique French bench in the kitchen; the cabinetry and island are painted in Farrow & Ball Estate Eggshell in Skylight.
One of her main tasks was to bring the house into the 21st century. Previously, the bedrooms were lined with old wallpapers and even had hand basins. "Like in most English country houses, it took three hours to fill a bath," Kidd laments. Worse, the place was also very cold. So they installed 40 radiators, as well as radiant heating under the floors and state-of-the-art boilers. Morrison also changed the flow of the rooms on the ground floor by transforming four small back rooms into an eat-in kitchen and creating a conservatory out of a courtyard area that was previously covered with plastic sheeting.
Trunks from the Duke of Wellington's campaigns, as well as a bust of him, in the library; prints of Saint Petersburg, found in the attic, hang above a console, a Kidd family heirloom.
Style-wise, the designer was more or less given free rein. The Morningtons' only specific request was to use hand-painted and -embroidered wallpapers from Fromental in the master bedroom and Wellesley's dressing room. Morrison designed deep, inviting sofas, built-in bookcases, and oversize log baskets that add just the right dose of low-key, rustic charm.
The headboard and canopy in a guest room are covered ina linen by Morris & Co., the bed linens are by Matouk, and the French bench is topped with a cushion upholstered in a linen by Penny Morrison Fabrics; the prints of English scenes were a wedding gift.
She also applied soft, soothing hues to the walls and then turned up the volume with punches of bright color. There are ottomans covered in old suzanis and rugs, slipper chairs upholstered in an antique Turkish fabric, embroidered pillows from Uzbekistan, and countless designs from her own textile collection.
Wallpaper by Colefax and Fowler in Kidd's bath; the fittings are by West One Bathrooms, and the wainscoting is painted in Farrow & Ball Estate Eggshell in Matchstick.
The "boot room" features a painted cupboard found at the Battersea antiques fair and a gun cabinet used to store clothing.
Some of the accessories that add character to the rooms came from the attics and storerooms of the main house. These include several busts of the Duke of Wellington and a series of metal boxes used to transport his clothes, a number of which have been repurposed as tables in Wellesley's study. Each is still labeled with what it once contained: Box 9A reads, "fur-lined coats, 1 sable, 1 reindeer."
A Dee Ferris painting above an antique Swedish commode in the master bedroom; the bergère is upholstered in a linen by Penny Morrison Fabrics, and the hand-painted silk wallcovering is by Fromental.
For Kidd, one of the advantages of her new rural life is the opportunity to pursue her passion for horseback riding. Her father was a professional show jumper and she herself was a member of the national dressage team as a teenager. The family now keeps seven horses on the property, including her competition mount, a Dutch warmblood named Montana.
Kidd, a former national dressage equestrian, on her Dutch warmblood, Montana.
But ask her what she most likes about country life, and Kidd contends it's the simple things—being able to leave the back door open, not worrying about having to find a parking space on a busy street, and collecting eggs from the family's chickens.
A custom-made ottoman covered in an antique fabric and a dhurrie from Irving & Morrison in a sitting room; the curtains are of a Claremont linen.
"Everything is calm, happier, and less stressed," she says. "As soon as you drive into the park, it's like you've entered an oasis."
In the breakfast room, chairs from Oka surround a table bought in New York; the photographs are by A K Dolven (left) and Michael Eastman, the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball Estate Emulsion in Off-White, and the floors are polished concrete.