Photographs by James Merrell
Written and produced by Krissa Rossbund
A journey to the Northern Wales country home of Austrian Countess Elisabeth Eltz and her husband harks back to the artful cinematography of many a warmly recalled historical film. Flocks of sheep dot the surrounding mountainsides like drifts of freshly fallen snow. Centuries-old villages beckon visitors to streets lined with timeworn architecture. Charming small shops—ranging from butchers to silversmiths—provide both the necessities and the little elegancies of life.
When Elisabeth married her husband in 1990, he had already lived in the house for 17 years. It was his home base while visiting the U.K. location of his Austria-headquartered company. But his demanding work and travel schedule left little time for entertaining. The arrival of Elisabeth, an accomplished hostess, changed that.
“After we married, we wanted our time here to include family and friends,” explains Elisabeth. “Our family members, who live mostly in other parts of Europe and the United States, have been great Anglophiles for generations, so we are able to provide them with a wonderful British experience and fond memories.”
Not long after Elisabeth moved into the home, which was built in 1973, she devised a long-term plan for renewed interiors, hiring Chester, England, designer Mark Gillette, whose job it was to take the residence from austere to relaxed, comfortable, and inviting.
“My role was always to provide a backdrop,” Gillette explains. “It was not about the decoration, but about the house, its beautiful setting, and the art and furniture collections. My goal was to update the house but not overwhelm or draw too much attention.”
The design creates comfort with colorfully patterned fabrics that complement the textured wood surfaces of limed oak paneling and moldings framing the living room and library. Fabrics also warm the waxed walnut finish of the master sitting room.
“I think the layering of pattern and texture that I strive for is an extension of the way I dress—a balance of new and old styles,” says the designer. “When I present my design plans, I often worry that these layers can be confusing and overwhelming at first, placed on an idea board in small pieces. But they are essential to achieve a sense of tradition and a home that has evolved over time.”
The living room and library—which have doors that can be opened to enhance flow—boast riveting views of a landscape that includes manicured gardens, a pool, and wooded areas that afford fleeting glimpses of deer. The two rooms’ colors coordinate. A wool-and-silk rug with a dominant red ground in the living room inspired the palette. Gillette incorporated a gentler version of the color, a soft coral, on the sofas and on a pair of occasional chairs.
The library’s palette is from the same family but more intense—like an outspoken younger sister. Nestled into a bay window, a sofa upholstered in a tea-stained linen depicting botanicals is flanked by drapery panels in a passionate red. Chairs covered in a Wedgwood blue mini-print work in both rooms, echoing the spectrum in the oil paintings.
Effortlessly elegant, the dining room gleams, enhanced by the French doors’ mirrored panes that bounce light around the space.
“People tend to design dining rooms so they are dramatic, and look good at night, when there is candlelight that reflects around the room,” says Gillette. “But it’s not always night. I didn’t want this room to be too heavy and overweighted with dark colors.”
Also, to keep the dining room from donning the “boardroom look” that often develops when all the chairs are placed around the table, Gillette took several of them away and casually dispersed them in the living room and library to tie all the spaces together.
Now that the interiors are complete, Elisabeth can let the house create its own patina—clear evidence that this is a place that has been lived in and loved by friends and family.
“The house has the ability to be formal, but it is also very comfortable for the two of us, our guests, and our dog, Minnie,” says Elisabeth. “We have very busy lives and travel a lot, so the house has to be a calm haven. That it is.”
Interior designer: Mark Gillette, Mark Gillette Interior Design Ltd., Mollington Grange, Parkgate Road, Mollington, Chester CH1 6NP, UK; 011 44 124 485 1897, markgillette.com.