Real home: a farmhouse holiday let becomes a dream home

A longed-for change of scene became a reality for Emma Crabtree and her family when her Northumberland-based holiday property business became a real success

purple kitchen island in farmhouse kitchen
(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Need inspiration for your own renovation project? Or simply fancy having a look around a gorgeous period property? This rural farmhouse is one of our favourites.

Read on to find out how its owners went about rescuing it from the brink of dereliction and then gave it an elegant new look, then browse the rest of our real home transformations. Read our guide on renovating a house, too, for more guidance.

Emma had the curtains made up in Flying Ducks fabric by Mulberry Home from GP&J Baker, and the cushions on the blanket box are made up in Kate Forman’s Genevieve fabric. The mirror was a French brocante find

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Happy childhood memories of endless sandy beaches, majestic castles and fresh forest walks stayed with Emma Crabtree, so when she was looking for a property to buy, she instantly thought of the beautiful county of Northumberland where she had holidayed as a child. No matter that she was working in London, before long she was adding a pretty stone-built farmhouse in the wilds of Northumberland to her growing portfolio of properties in the area, that  she managed remotely from London. 

grey living room in farmhouse

The indigo sofas are from Sofasofa and the ottoman is from Nkuku.

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Owner  Emma Crabtree, who owns a holiday letting agency in Scotland and Northumberland ( Emma’s husband, Robbie, works in finance. They live here with their two-year-old daughter Otilie.
Property  A four-bedroom farmhouse, built in 1880 in north Northumberland, just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
What they did  Emma removed several walls to create a spacious kitchen-diner.  She added a downstairs bedroom and bathroom and altered the upstairs layout, too. 

The house was empty and in a terrible state, and Emma planned what she was going to do with it for several months before making a start.

 ‘I was in no hurry, I wanted to think about the light and the views and the way I would use the house,’ she says. 

Once the renovation was up and running, Emma project managed from London, travelling up and down to Northumberland at weekends. 

‘We had an excellent team of trades who were great at keeping in touch with images and videos so I could make decisions from my desk in London,’ she says.  

purple kitchen island in farmhouse kitchen

Emma chose bespoke cabinetry by Philip Hitchcock, painted in Pavilion Gray with the island in Pelt, both Farrow & Ball shades. The wall-mounted plate rack and the bar stools are from The Saleroom. Emma bought her classic Aga cooker secondhand and had it reconditioned, adding a splashback of Laura Ashley tiles

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

One of Emma’s key decisions was to knock together two smaller ground-floor rooms, possibly a former scullery and kitchen, to create the spacious kitchen-diner she’d always wanted.

 ‘I am very informal, so I wanted a cosy sitting room and an open-plan kitchen-diner, rather than grand spaces for entertaining and a separate dining room that I probably wouldn’t ever use,’ she explains.

purple kitchen island in farmhouse kitchen

The brass pendants above the dining table are from Jim Lawrence, and the table and chairs are from The Saleroom. Scottish artist Clare Brownlow, who paints using pheasant feathers, created  the hare prints

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Preserving original features was really important to Emma and she worked hard to maintain the authenticity of the farmhouse, keeping the original windows and many period details. Sadly, the flooring was in such poor condition it had to be replaced. ‘I found some attractive black slate that looked suitably old for the kitchen and used fitted sisal in the rest of the house, overlaid with rugs for a homely effect,’ she says.

Emma painted the wooden bedstead to match the walls in the master bedroom – Gauze Mid by Little Greene. The rug on the bed is from H&M, and the coir rug is from Crucial Trading, edged in navy linen. 

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

The kitchen was fitted by a local cabinetmaker and Emma found a secondhand Aga and had it reconditioned. The décor is a subtle palette of mainly heritage shades enlivened by vivid designer fabrics and some bolder colours. 

bedroom leading into ensuite in farmhouse

Simple, rustic furnishings make a welcoming sanctuary for guests. The headboard is covered in Como 01, from Dormy House. The rug is from Nkuku, the linen cushion and fringed throw are from TK Maxx, and the white jacquard eiderdown is from Soak & Sleep

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

‘I took inspiration from designer Kit Kemp’s work for Firmdale Hotels,’ says Emma, ‘I love her use of colour and she creates exactly the sort of vibrant, welcoming atmosphere I wanted for my own home.

freestanding bath in farmhouse bathroom

This smart bathroom is an en suite to the ground-floor guest room. The roll-top bath was passed on by a neighbour and Emma painted the sides in Farrow & Ball’s Railings. The blind fabric is from Ian Mankin and the walls are painted in Little Greene’s Gauze Mid

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Period Living October 2019 cover

(Image credit: Period Living)

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‘Overall, I wanted a restful and tranquil feeling  so although I love colour and pattern, I didn’t allow the décor to become too intense,’ she adds.

Furnishing the main living spaces from her London base was a challenge, but a pleasure too, as Emma enjoys going to auction houses and subscribes to The Saleroom’s live auction website. 

She also likes to buy from French brocantes and fleamarkets, topping up her collection of copper pans whenever she can. 

The house slowly took shape as Emma’s business continued to flourish and within four years she had given up her job in London and moved north to manage Crabtree & Crabtree full time. 

‘The farmhouse had become a very popular holiday rental so I had to rent a cottage myself when I first moved up, but in 2015 when Robbie and I got married it made sense for us to make it our home,’ says Emma. 

‘Things just seemed to fall into place perfectly and our daughter Otilie was born two years later to complete the picture.’

bedroom with blue bedlinen in farmhouse

Daughter Otilie’s room is carpeted in sisal from Crucial Trading. The blue blanket is from the Atlantic Blanket Co, the hen
print cushion is by
Sophie Allport and the blind fabric is by Clarke & Clarke. The walls are painted in Little Greene’s Welcome

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Happily settled now, Emma and Robbie love their home’s rural location, and the sense of space and community that comes with it. ‘When you live in a relatively isolated setting you need to be able to depend on your neighbours,’ says Emma. ‘People are so friendly here and are happy to help each other out, and we appreciate that every day.'

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)


Feature writer and stylist Alison lives with her husband Douglas near Edinburgh. He is a photographer, so the couple work as a team finding Scotland's most beautiful home stories to share.