Real home: a quirky and colourful Cotswold rectory

Passed down through the generations, this picturesque corner of the Cotswolds is the perfect place for Lucy and David Abel Smith to indulge and share their love of collecting

old rectory red kitchen diner
(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

Do you have a passion for collecting artwork and handcrafted pieces? You'll love this historic and idyllically located Cotswold rectory, which filled to the brim with fascinating pieces collected over the years. Be inspired by how homeowners Lucy and David have woven cherished artworks into their everyday lives, commissioned bespoke, one-off pieces of furniture and found creative ways to display handcrafted objets d'art.

Read on to find out how they went about updating their home and making their mark on it, without compromising its many original features, then browse the rest of our real home transformations. Don't miss our guide to house renovation, too.

THE STORY

Owners  Lucy Abel Smith, an art historian, writer and tour organiser, lives here with husband David, an engineer,  their dachshund Ottie, and two Parson Russell Terriers Puffin and Nuts.
Property  Built to serve the Grade I-listed St Swithin’s church, parts of The Old Rectory originate from the 16th century, but most dates from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The property was partly remodelled in 1928.
What they did  David and Lucy added a circular Cotswold stone library and boldly redecorated many of the rooms to stamp their unique style on the space.

Nestled beside the River Coln, on the edge of the historic village of Quenington, The Old Rectory couldn’t boast a more idyllic setting. The building itself, built of honey-coloured limestone, smothered with climbing roses and wisteria, dates back to the 16th century. A picture-postcard of quintessential  Cotswold beauty, it looks as if it has always been there, but step inside and the house tells a different story.

From a dramatic red lacquer kitchen and a dining room inspired by medieval France, to an elegant Georgian drawing room with a twist, and bathrooms that exude 1970s glamour, the house is a colourful and quirky labyrinth of rooms that are each a celebration of art history. Indeed, why opt for one interior style when you can have many? 

old rectory cotswolds

The Old Rectory sits in mature gardens overlooking the River
Coln. Owners Lucy and David commissioned the circular library
in 2007 as their contribution to the history of the property. It houses their vast collection of art books and the automatic doors open to create an idyllic reading spot and open air theatre

(Image credit: Steve Russell)

This diverse variation can in part be attributed to its tapestry of owners. The property was bought by David’s relatives in 1928 from the church, and has been in the family ever since, with each generation contributing to its rich heritage. Remodelled by a cousin in the 1930s to create the deceptively classical riverside facade, the property was later bought by David’s father and stepmother, who redecorated throughout the 1970s. 

Quenington Old Rectory Cotswolds

The riverfront facade was remodelled in the 1930s. Owners Lucy and David adore sculpture and like to display pieces throughout the gardens. In 1992 their passion led them to founding the Quenington Sculpture Trust and to launch the Fresh Air Sculpture show – a biennial exhibition held in the rectory grounds showcasing sculpture and decorative arts from emerging and renowned artists

(Image credit: Steve Russell)

For the past 35 years Lucy and David have lived here and have gradually filled the house with the fruits of their collecting, from heirloom paintings to contemporary furniture.

old rectory cotswolds

Surrounding the property are five acres of gardens. Full-time gardener of over 30 years, Robert Wyatt, assisted by a part-time team, works tirelessly throughout the year to get the garden looking its best. He also oversees the organic kitchen garden, which keeps the household in plentiful stock throughout the year, looked after by housekeeper Pippa.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

As eclectic as it may seem there is a thread of continuity: a shared and deep-rooted love for the decorative, the handcrafted and the imagination. The couple have been collecting art together for as long as they can remember. ‘I started buying ceramics when I was around 18,’ says Lucy. 

colourful rectory kitchen cotswolds

A portrait of David’s aunt Violet, painted in 1911, oversees proceedings in the kitchen. To the left, partitioning the space is a bespoke panel of stained glass made by Sally Pollitzer. The red lacquered shutters were painted by Carey Mortimer and depict a bean stalk on one side and artichoke on the other.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

‘It comes from being born into a family of collectors. From an early age I was always taken around galleries and museums.’  A fascination later nurtured with a stint working at the V&A and a career in teaching art history. 

old rectory cotswolds

The Aga is the heart of the kitchen.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

Of all media, glass is a particular favourite, reflected in their numerous exhibits, from decorative stained-glass panels and sculptures to functional objects such as light fittings, room divides and candlesticks. ‘I collected glass before I got married as I visited the Czech republic a lot,’ says Lucy. ‘Over the years we’ve added Hungarian, American and English glass.’

old rectory cotswolds

‘The Gents’ was installed in the 1970s to a design by Godfrey Bonsack, a famous luxury bathroom designer working in the 1960s and ’70s. David and Lucy updated the walls with vibrant orange and commissioned koi wall paintings by Celia Minoprio.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

It’s an extensive collection, but is far from a dusty, lifeless museum; instead the couple really live with the art. While pieces picked up from contemporary craft fairs mingle with inherited heirlooms, many functional items and pieces of furniture have been commissioned by artists and designers specially for the house and are in constant use, from the dining room table to the cutlery.

old rectory cotswolds

The drawing room occupies the Georgian part of the property and is a showcase for the couple’s prized artworks. The panelling is original, save for a second shell alcove added in 1970; the design is very similar to one at Owlpen Manor, dating to the early Georgian period. The sofas came from David’s home in Notting Hill; the left has been re-covered in fabric by Rapture & Wright. The two angels, carved from English alabaster, are early 19th century and were bought by Lucy when she was 21. ‘They probably came from a private chapel in Liverpool’s Sefton Park,’ she says

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

old rectory cotswolds

The lit shelves are filled with contemporary glass and ceramics, including a head sculpture by Christie Brown from one of the Fresh Air Sculpture shows. The side table is another Fred Baier creation

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

old rectory cotswolds

The dining room is painted with a fresco-style mural, inspired by 12th-century French chapels, by Neil McKay. One side of the room depicts the story of St Lucy, and the other St David. 

Lucy and David worked with furniture designer Fred Baier to create the four-part dining table of stained oak. The flamboyant floral carpet is original 1970s.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

old rectory cotswolds

Alcove detail of fresco-style mural by Neil McKay

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

‘There’s a thrill in working with an artist,’ says Lucy. ‘It’s one of the most exciting things you can do and it’s no more expensive than buying things already made. But of course the artist can chose equally not to work with you!’ she laughs. 

old rectory cotswolds

Even the landing is used to display collectibles. To the right is
a cabinet from the home of Lucy’s grandmother in Ayrshire filled with her dinner service, while to the left is a replica of The Old Rectory that Lucy and David had made as a dolls’ house for their daughter Eliza. Hanging from the ceiling are bespoke glass light fittings. The painting of Lucy is by a friend Louise Bird

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

Her comment is so typical of the couple’s bohemian attitude to creativity that it can’t be forced. Indeed the house has grown organically over the years, with new pieces added gradually as and when they are needed or inspiration comes.

old rectory cotswolds

The bedroom is a daring combination of pastel pink, black and orange. Across the wall is built-in storage installed by David’s father and stepmother. The cabinet is Bugatti.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

In fact, their collections now extend beyond the walls. Since 1992 the grounds have been host to the biennial Fresh Air Sculpture exhibition, run by the Quenington Sculpture Charitable Trust of which David and Lucy are founders and trustees. 

old rectory cotswolds

David and Lucy bought the mirrored drawers just after they got married, along with a mirrored dressing table (out of shot). To the right is a statement jewellery box commissioned by Lucy and David by Fred Baier. On the walls is a series of artworks by Teddy Wolf, who was a friend, framed by Vanessa Branson – Richard Branson’s sister and one of Lucy’s former pupils

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

For three weeks every two years, The Old Rectory’s grounds turn into a hot bed of creative talent showcasing a curated selection of contemporary sculpture throughout the gardens. Visit Fresh Air Sculpture for more information about the event.

old rectory cotswolds

The striking bathroom with gold fittings is another 1970s Godfrey Bonsack design. A similar pink suite decorated with gold fleur-de-lis can be found at Hever Castle. ‘Originally the room had an ornate floral wallpaper, but it just wasn’t us,’ says Lucy. ‘We had it redone with a marbled effect by Eduardo Marcello.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

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