Look Inside Caroline Quentin’s Cornwall Home

Caroline Quentin and her husband Sam Farmer have created a coastal haven on Cornwall’s Helford River estuary where they can indulge their twin passions for boating and birdwatching. Words: Alex Reece. Photographs: Jason Ingram

‘Time together on the water – that’s the main thing about being here,’ says Caroline Quentin of the home she shares on the South Cornish coast with her husband Sam Farmer and their two teenage children. And it’s not hard to see why: from their open-plan living space, and across the terrace, there are panoramic views of the Helford River – where hills clad in deciduous woodland slope gently down to a sheltered creek, which provides a haven for egrets and kingfishers, and even pods of dolphins in the summertime. The nearest beach is just a two-minute walk down a track from their garden gate, so all the family have to do is slip on their life jackets, grab a pair of oars and in no time at all they are pootling about on the estuary: ‘It’s all about boating, kayaking and fishing,’ Caroline continues. ‘It’s a very low-tech and low-key kind of holiday when we’re here.’

The couple’s connection with the area goes back a long way. Although Caroline’s mother was raised in Canada, her family was originally Cornish – the actress still has relatives living in Cornwall today – and, of course, she also presented the ITV1 documentary series about the county. Sam, a scientist, has been visiting the area every summer since before he can remember: ‘My family have been coming down to the Helford River since the late Sixties – it was a wonderful, carefree sort of holiday,’ he says. So when he and Caroline first began thinking about a holiday place close to their farmhouse in Devon, which didn’t involve flying (‘We did it once or twice with little children and it was hell on wheels,’ says Caroline), Sam thought that the timeless setting of the Helford would be perfect.

‘We looked for a long time, as we wanted something very specific,’ explains Sam. ‘I said, “We’ve got to be able to get to the water, because that’s the whole joy of being here.”’ It wasn’t until some friends who’d been holidaying in Perranporth happened to leave a copy of the local newspaper behind on the kitchen table that they came across a property that was suitable. ‘Sam was reading it one day, and suddenly went: “Oh God, that’s the house we want!” and I was like, really? It’s a 1980s bungalow with its garden overgrown,’ remembers Caroline. The pair went to see the property anyway. It had lain empty for a while, but the uplifting views, plus direct access to the water, proved to be exactly what they were looking for. ‘Even in its dilapidated state, you could tell it was a lovely place to be,’ says Caroline.

Once the house was theirs, Caroline and Sam enjoyed it as it was for several years – coming down at weekends, school holidays and at Christmas with their children Emily and William – sometimes even bringing their five dogs, six cats and chickens with them. But once the plumbing began to give up the ghost, they decided that they couldn’t put off modernising any longer.

As they both have a good grounding in renovation (Caroline fronted BBC2’s Restoration Home, while Sam, before working in TV, trained as a chartered surveyor) and had refurbished several properties together before, they had a clear vision of how they wanted the three-bed house to work. Their first move was to knock through the interior walls on one side to create a large, open-plan kitchen/living/dining room, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the water. They also raised the ceiling to the rafters to create more headspace.

Over the course of the project, they reversed the layout of the master bedroom to maximise views of the Helford, and clad the exterior in low-maintenance cedar. The only snag was that they had to stop midway: ‘We ran out of money – you know what acting’s like – one minute you’re working, the next minute you’re not,’ says Caroline with equanimity. ‘Then I earned a bit more money again and we ploughed it back in and turned it around quite quickly.’ Work was finally completed in 2014.

The fit-out, says Caroline, is all about function: ‘We wanted somewhere nice-looking but very robust. You haven’t got to treat anything carefully here.’ Off the kitchen is a handy boot room/wet space, with a large school sink that Caroline sourced on eBay for washing down wetsuits. Then there is underfloor heating throughout and a deep roll-top bath for warming up after a sail or a swim.

The decorative style is contemporary, with vintage pieces adding texture and personality. Some Fifties curtains bought by Caroline on eBay have been re-purposed as vibrant headboards in the twin guest bedroom. Another Midcentury online purchase is the Ercol dressing table in the master bedroom, where the palette is a soothing shade of pebble.

In the marine-blue living room, an office area is demarcated by a feature wall clad in reclaimed floorboards (a gift from Caroline’s Men Behaving Badly co-star, Martin Clunes). It’s a useful hot desk for Sam, who, after being a stay-at-home father for a number of years, re-trained as a cosmetic scientist, galvanised by the gendered, sexualised packaging he encountered when buying his daughter her first deodorant. ‘At that time of their lives, when they’re pretty vulnerable, they just want a product that’s going to work,’ Sam says. His unisex range of hair and skincare products, specifically formulated for teenagers, is now stocked by Space NK and Ocado.

But the top priority when the family are in Cornwall is being outside in nature. ‘We’ve got two kayaks for paddling in the creek,’ says Caroline. ‘And a rowing boat – I called her Hot Flushing, because I’d just entered the menopause when I bought her, and I painted her red, as I was very red at the time! She’s kept on Flushing Beach, too. I take her out birdwatching, or we use her as a tender to our Boston Whaler, The Jolly Farmer.’ The family are such keen sailors, they have even gone out on the water on Christmas Day. ‘It’s lovely at this time of year,’ says Caroline. ‘All the local pubs do mulled wine and nice things to eat in the evening.’ On New Year’s Day, the four of them like to join in the celebrations on Flushing Beach, where people go for a bracing dip and then warm up by a huge bonfire afterwards. ‘It has a lot of memories for us here,’ Caroline says, ‘especially as the children are growing up now.’

When they can’t be in Cornwall, they let out the property through a local agency (see below). In future, though, Caroline hopes to focus on honing her boating skills in this part of the world. ‘When I retire, or start working less, I want to learn to sail properly – and this is the right place to do it, because it’s so quiet,’ she says. ‘That’s the dream.’

Her popular series for BBC2, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, sees Caroline and architect Piers Taylor travel the globe to inspect a variety of contemporary houses. But in her downtime, the peace of Daphne du Maurier country will continue to provide the ideal counterpoint to an action-packed life in showbusiness. ‘If you go out on Frenchman’s Creek, pull your oars in and sit in silence, you can watch the birdlife – and big flocks of egrets – coming down from the woodland,’ Caroline says. ‘It feels almost prehistoric because it’s absolutely unspoilt. It’s just so beautiful here.’

Slopes sleeps 6/8 and is available to let through Lindford House Holiday Cottages (01326 280454, lindfordhouse.com). The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes is on BBC2. For more on Sam Farmer products, visit samfarmer.co.

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