In the town of Thornage, England, three hours north of London, lies a 17th-century country farmhouse of red brick and blue-gray flint. This is the home of designer Susan Hirsh and her husband, Peter Marston, the creative forces behind Marston & Langinger, makers of glass buildings, garden tools, accessories, and furniture.
In a wisteria-draped converted barn that once sheltered livestock, Susan claims her creative escape, designing paint colors and fabrics for Marston & Langinger. Here, a year of meticulous restoration shines through in a mix of historic and contemporary design: exposed rafters, furniture covered in white linen, vintage textiles, a monolithic oak table designed by Marston.
A wealth of windows and wide doors that once accommodated a hay cart’s daily deliveries illuminate display cases and open shelves holding Susan’s favorite things—from her textile collection and a 1940s knitted cap from Cameroon to colorful sweet peas in an old teacup.
"Inspiration is about being able to look at the things that you love, to touch them and dream about them," says Susan. Bookshelves hold art texts and references that feed her work and bring hours of browsing pleasure—books by photographer Andreas Gursky, colorist Mark Rothko, and textile dealer John Gillow, who lives nearby.
Prints are grouped tightly en masse, so that the parts create one spectacular whole. "I like to have big, strong images on the wall," Susan says. Recent favorites—prints of international textile patterns—came from a side trip to the Chelsea Flea Market in New York on a recent visit to Marston & Langinger’s shop in the Big Apple’s SoHo district.
Susan finds inspiration in collecting vintage fabrics as well. Antique textiles from Africa, India, Japan, and France are carefully folded and stored in display cases—categorized by color from red to orange to blue. "I like to put things in color groups," she explains. "There’s just a haze of patterns all the time."
Color not only inspires Susan to organize her treasures, it also plays a role in her work. Curious groupings of color-themed objects sprinkled throughout the space inspire the paint shades she creates for Marston.
She’s currently in the process of expanding the company’s paint line, particularly the white spectrum, so the compilation of pieces in her work space includes a broad mix of items—from a rolled-up crepe bandage to a muffin cup and a slab of plaster. "Here are all sorts of odd things that bear no relation to each other, but for the fact that they’re various shades of white," she muses. "This is my research, as it were. But it’s like doing a painting, really."
Freshly picked flowers and greenery add to the pastoral spirit. Tall grasses grace an architectural vase, and thistle-like cornflowers fill an antique vinegar jar. "The first thing I do when I get here is arrange flowers," she muses. "I find it reviving."
Creating a calming yet colorful space and surrounding herself with the things she loves enable Susan to tap more easily into that inner ingenuity. "I might go to my studio and work happily because I do keep nice things in there. I mix paint colors or design fabrics or bring pencils and watercolors and paint."
Susan reflects for a moment, and then adds: "Or, I can just as happily sit and enjoy being out here."
Refurbished barn doors, once used for hay-cart deliveries, have been fitted with glass to flood the studio interior with plenty of light.
While Marston & Langinger offers a wide array of outdoor furniture and accessories, the company’s specialty is glass buildings—aka conservatories. While more prevalent in Susan’s native Britain, conservatories are gaining popularity in the United States. Visit marston-and-langinger.com for details on installing your own glass building, or pick up Peter Marston’s The Conservatory Book (Cassell, 2001).
A wirework bench, $1,480, provides versatile seating.
Produced by Jenny Bradley
Photography: Simon Upton