Karina Rickards: The Artful Homemaker

Having a passion for crafts and the handmade has led one well-travelled couple to create an idyllic country haven.

Karina Rickards is one of those extraordinary people capable of turning an artistic hand to almost anything. Her passion for art, colour and creativity is evident throughout her home, a Grade II listed six-bedroom farmhouse in Somerset. “My husband Charles and I had previously patched up, painted and sold on previous houses, but this country farmhouse, with its views of the Mendips, spoke of permanence and home,” she says. Born in Normandy, France, to a Belgian father and an English mother, Karina grew up surrounded by art and craftwork. Her grandfather, Maurice Legrand, was an impressionist painter whose work adorned the walls of her childhood home and now those of her own home. Her father, a skilled carpenter, restored French thatch and timber houses, inspiring her to respect tradition, value craftsmanship and live life to the fullest: when Karina was 17 he threw caution to the wind and sailed the family (including Karina’s two brothers) to the Caribbean on a 52-foot yacht that he had built in their garden.

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It was during the two years she spent in the Caribbean that Karina met Charles when they were both on racing yachts moored in Antigua. Together they moved to England where her can-do attitude led to a varied career, including being a window dresser for Cartier and Kenzo, a bilingual PA at French bank Société Générale, and a prop, puppet and costume maker for Salisbury Playhouse theatre. The latest string Karina has added to her bow is teaching herself the skill of hand painting ceramic kitchenware following the purchase and revival of the renowned Cornishware pottery company by her husband Charles and three colleagues. Add to this a vast repertoire of traditional country homemaking skills and the essence of the Rickards’ home starts to become apparent. “We have five children [aged between eight and 23], 23 sheep, a beehive, six egg-laying chickens, several guinea fowl (great guard dogs), a Cavalier King Charles spaniel called Rosie and a slightly overweight, not-very-working cocker spaniel called Humbug,” says Karina, who also makes her own honey, grows cut flowers for her home and loves to cook. “I whip up endless, easy AGA one-pot wonders,” she says. The property is on land that has been owned and farmed by the Knights of St. John since the 12th century and was the last remaining farmstead to be sold. When the Rickards purchased it in 2011 it had suffered years of neglect at the hands of tenant farmers. “Structurally it was solid but it was riddled with poor and makeshift repairs,” says Karina. Determined to make the kitchen the heart of the family home, Karina “up-styled” the larger of the two kitchens in the house, salvaging the Belfast sink and the original carcasses and adding new doors and work surfaces. Appreciating her father’s ethos of preferring to restore rather than discard, Karina says, “I wanted the new to meld perfectly with the old, so went with the builder to a reclamation yard and hand-picked every brick and plank myself. I wanted old wood, complete with its beautiful imperfections.”

“If it’s beautiful, I wish to own it”

Meanwhile, in the second, smaller kitchen, Karina reconfigured some of the cabinetry to give it the appearance of a large dresser, the shelves of which are filled with red-and-white-striped Cornishware and a collection of Victorian bottles unearthed from their previous home, a former pub in Wiltshire. “Whenever I dug in the garden, I upturned lovely old bottles,” she explains. The rest of the room – decorated with family sculptures, carvings and paintings by herself, her grandfather and her children – is for relaxed dining and convivial conversation. Having decided that “chairs are an utter nuisance for a family of seven,” Karina resolved the issue of countless broken chairs and poor table access by installing “the toughest old Swedish-spruce church pews. The dining table, made from a sixteenth-century barn door, is equally robust.” Further putting her talents to use, Karina also made the curtains throughout the house. “The wind whistles through the stone mullion windows, so curtains need thick interlining if we are to survive the winters.”

A roaring fire draws the family to the comfort of the sitting room in winter; in summer they head for the snug, which was a small courtyard that has been incorporated into the home with sliding doors leading to the garden. “This cosy room, just off the kitchen, relies heavily on winter warmth from the AGA, but is bathed in sunshine come spring and summer,” Karina explains. “It has also created a direct shortcut to the sitting room. The alternative route trespassed through every other downstairs room on the way. Previously no one had any peace or privacy.” Each room, upstairs and down, is colourful and bedecked with family art, heirlooms and “irresistible curiosities.” “If it’s beautiful, I wish to own it,” says Karina, “but it does need to be different. I don’t want what other people have. I appreciate pieces that are handcrafted, artisan, woven, hand-turned, sculpted, gilded, painted – the simplicity of the homemade.” Karina’s home speaks volumes about her upbringing and her personality, as well as her energy, artistry and eye for colour and detail. Her contribution to the hand-painted traditional Cornishware makes her feel proud to be a part of the team of artisans and craftsmen whose work she collects and admires.

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Jacky Hobbs

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