Case Study: Jessica Alken-Theasby, The Cornish Wife
By Victoria Smith
Jun 3, 2021
We love nothing more than seeing our tiles used in beautiful ways, and when we come across a project that includes them in a way that makes us stand back and say “wow”, we always want to share it. This outstanding home in Cornwall is one of those projects.
Designed by Jessica Alken-Theasby and her husband Ash, this knockout property is so much more than simply somewhere to live - it’s a real reflection of its occupants’ needs and lifestyle, a beautiful and thoughtful one-off forever home built to grow with the family who live in it.
We asked Jessica to share the story behind the project with us, as well as let us in on a few of her interior design secrets…
Full name: Jessica Alken-Theasby
Style and location of property: Beach house in North Cornwall
Who lives there: Myself, Ash, our two little boys Ernie and Miles, and Benjamin the cat
Tell us about the build…
We started the build in 2018, and just over a year later we were in! We built a five-bedroom house whilst I was pregnant, and with a toddler in tow. It was exciting, daunting, challenging, and something I've never done before but would love to do again.
I think the timing of the pregnancy actually worked in my favour - there was a lot of biscuit eating, tea drinking and trawling through Pinterest, so I was able to give the finer details my full attention! I really enjoyed rounding up inspiration and creating my own design pallet for our forever home.
Why did you choose to build your own home as opposed to live in an existing property?
This is a really interesting question because I have always loved older, period properties and the idea of building something new made me nervous. I really believe that for a home to feel homely it needs to have evolved over time, but how could that be possible if it's just been built? With that in mind, it was incredibly important to me to fill it with lots of interesting pieces of art and furniture both new and old that each tell their part of the story.
How would you describe your interior style?
I'm only just finding my own style. All styles are influenced by others, and usually a collection of others. I would describe our house as a Hamptons Beach House meets The Pig hotel, which are two very different styles. I'm in awe of Judy Hutson [designer of The Pig hotels] and her eye for mixing old with new, which is very on trend at the moment, but very few people manage to get it just right.
Can you tell us about your love of using reclaimed materials?
I absolutely believe a home should tell a story, whether it is the way it's built or the things inside it. My story is that my home first belonged to my granny. It was important to me that part of her old red brick bungalow that sat on the site previously would be reused in various places like behind the cooker, within a shelving feature. We also used the bricks to build a traditional shed in the garden surrounded by a wildflower meadow. Just to add to the authenticity, I made sure each brick was laid in a traditional English bond way (if you know, you know). We also sourced old doors, slate windowsills from a lemonade factory, Delabole slates for the roof, and a huge oak beam that divides the kitchen from the rest of the open-plan space.
Which Bert & May products did you use and where did you used them?
Bert & May’s Cozar tiles were one of the first things I found that made it through to the end of the project. Although I went for the reproduction tiles (there weren't enough of the genuine ones in stock) they didn't disappoint, and the traditional Victorian style is exactly what I wanted to complement the new modern navy blue utility room.
We used them in the downstairs loo, too, which happens to be one of my favourite rooms - who'd have thought that walls painted top-to-toe in a mushroom colour could look so good, particularly paired with the classic, timeless design of the Cozar.
We also used the deliciously modern Alalpardo tile in green for an outdoor shower which is fixed on the side of ‘Granny’s’ old English shed.
Bert & May tiles are the perfect glue for marring old with new and are a key part of my design style - I'm looking forward to exploring more if the range for my next project. I would also love to find a home for a Bert's Box - perhaps a fancy pool house in on the cards somewhere in the future...
Have you braved the elements and used your fabulous outdoor shower yet?
I hear cold showers are really very good for you, however we’ve cheated and have some warmth to ours (mostly to ensure the boys wash off their sandy toes before coming inside the house!). But I might just give the cold shower challenge a go this summer...
Your previous home was bought by The Pig group - how did it feel seeing it transformed into a hotel? Are you going to go and stay?
What Robin, Judy and their Pig team do is incredible, and there couldn't have been a better future for our old home. They manage to get everything right from the food to the staff and the interiors are that little extra cherry on top. They have been sympathetic to the building and its history and have managed to capture the essence of the property perfectly in that it isn't a light and airy seaside house - it’s a dark and moody building infused with charm and intrigue.
We were invited to stay before it opened to the public, and they made us feel very welcome. It's almost impossible to describe how it feels when we go back there - sometimes I feel right at home, other times I forget where I am. It wasn't anywhere near as fancy when we were the custodians, but it is exactly how I hoped and imagined it could be.
Have you got any more projects planned?
Yes! Our next project is to renovate our holiday apartments which sit proudly on a clifftop overlooking Trevone Bay. We plan to replace everything from new traditional sash windows to a new vaulted Delabole slate roof. We might even squeeze in a few slipper baths positioned with a sea view. We hope to open again in Summer 2022, and I'll document the renovation journey on my Instagram account, @cornishwife.cornishlife, for anyone who enjoys interiors as much as I do.
Read Jessica’s blog, Cornish Wife, Cornish Life, at cornishwifecornishlife.com
To discuss your own bespoke building project, visit Alkenby Bespoke Homes. Photography: Alexander J Collins and (house exterior) James Ram