I grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland, and as a teenager I inevitably yearned excitement, fun and parties. The bright lights of London called me, and I spent nine years in the big smoke and never thought I’d tire of it, but eventually, I did. I think it coincided with me discovering a love of interiors and a drive to start my own business; suddenly working diligently on my creative projects at home were more important than getting into the trendiest nightclubs and bars. We made the move from east London to Kingston Upon Thames, then after seven happy years there and a new addition to the family, we stepped out further into Surrey to the village of Banstead, which lies just within the M25. London is still easily accessible, Brighton is a 50-minute drive away, and we have the Surrey countryside on our doorstep. The five-bedroom house we found at a great price was the initial draw, and I wasn’t entirely sure what the area would offer in terms of places to inspire and spend time, but luckily, I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the local gems and lovely spots all within a short drive. Here a few of my faves….
People come from far and wide in the summer months to spend time wandering through this vast 25-acre lavender farm. Unsurprisingly, it is a hot spot for Instagrammers and photographers (me included!) and on weekends it can be heaving, but there’s no denying it is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. There is an entrance fee of £2 and children under 16 go free – this includes parking – so it’s a relatively affordable day out. The outdoor café serves up a variety of lavender inspired lunches, cakes and drinks, including a lavender cream tea and lavender cider!
LOUISA GRACE INTERIORS
Located on the same road as the lavender field is Louisa Grace Interiors. It took me a while to get around to visiting this place, but now I’m a frequent visitor. Run by Claire and her husband Jamie, it is three old barns filled to the brim with vintage treasure. From huge antique shop counters and battered leather chairs to enamel coffee pots and glassware, it is packed with beautiful pieces at affordable prices. The walls of the barns have been clad in old rustic doors and shutters and it has the feel of a French flea market, but one that has been beautifully styled & impeccably curated.
Banstead Woods is our nearest green space, and we often go for long weekend walks here. It’s well known for the bluebells in the spring, and last year it also had a Narnia walk installed, with figures carved from standing deadwood, a great attraction for kids to explore. One of my favourite memories from last autumn was picking blackberries in these woods with my husband and daughter, before going home and baking a delicious blackberry pie together! Banstead Woods Holly Lane, Banstead, Surrey CR5 3NR
SARAH AND BENDRIX
I knew of this shop when it was solely a web-shop way back, as I actually featured the owner’s home in the very first online edition of 91 Magazine. I hadn’t realised Veronika had opened a bricks and mortar shop, so when I chanced upon her website again after moving here, I was thrilled to find out that her little boutique was in the nearby village of Cheam. The store stocks beautiful wooden and soft toys, as well as a lovely collection of picture books for children. For adults, there is a lovely range of skincare products. jewellery and gifts. Veronika also runs a creative hub called Inspired Collective, where they run regular creative events and workshops, including some creative business masterclasses which I will be hosting later this year.
Another favourite green space of ours is Nonsuch Park. It is home to the Grade II listed Nonsuch Mansion – a Georgian house that was later extended at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Tudor Gothic style. I particularly enjoy the mix of landscape – from the manicured garden area with a walkway framed by a rose-covered pergola, to the wild, wooded area where bluebells and daffodils bloom in spring, to the wide, open green spaces, perfect for letting little ones tire themselves out. We always include a trip to the café for a warming mug of tea or a refreshing ice-cream depending on the time of year.
Nonsuch Park, 23 Ewell Rd, Sutton SM3 8AB
When we feel like going a bit further afield into Surrey, the Medicine Garden in Cobham is a great spot for lunch and a browse. For some time, this Victorian walled garden was left derelict, but it was renovated and restored around 10 years ago, transforming it into a great family destination. There are two places to eat, The Hothouse Eatery and the Garden Pod Café. So far, we’ve only ever eaten in the Hothouse, mainly as I can’t resist its aesthetic appeal! There are a few arts and crafts style shops to browse around, but on my last visit I was particularly taken by the curved glass house which had been turned into a shop, although in the very loose sense of the word! There were no shop assistants or counter; just a small selection of merchandise nestled amongst the overgrown climbing plants. There is also a play area and sand pit to keep the kids entertained and there are regular creative workshops and sessions in yoga and pilates.
CHURCH ANTIQUES SALVAGE YARD
This warehouse space in Betchworth is comprised of two huge floors specialising mainly in church salvage such as pews, chapel chairs, religious statues & hymn numbers. But, much of their vast collection is not obviously sourced from places of worship – amazing old door and window panels, vintage trunks, plan chests and bench seating, all at affordable prices. This is the kind of place I could spend hours rummaging around in. You can even order on their website now if you are not close by.
I love that we are not too far away from the beautiful RHS gardens of Wisley. While it’s not the cheapest day out, there is so much to see – the glasshouse, the bonsai walk and the rose garden, to name a few. Even in the winter months it’s enjoyable; we visited one Christmas Eve, taking in the greenhouses with their alpine plants and early spring flowers, as well as an impressive light show. In the spring, we were wowed by the sea of hyacinths in all their varieties. It certainly won’t fail to inspire the keen gardener in you.
A bit further out of the way, but always worth the journey, is one of my favourite shops – &Hobbs. Based in the picturesque village of Shere, this store is expertly curated by owner Libby Hobbs, who fills it with products from independent makers and designers. Ceramics, art, skincare, plants, books, magazines and much more – grace the shelves of The Forge, the quirky old building the shop is housed in. Regular workshops take place too – from macramé to mediation. It feels like a real experience when inside this shop, and Libby’s friendly demeanour and clear enthusiasm and passion is infectious.
Caroline Rowland has ten years experience in blogging, publishing and running a creative business. She first launched independent interiors and lifestyle magazine 91 Magazine in 2011 as a free online publication.
The magazine is now published in both print and digital form and is stocked in over 150 shops across the UK and internationally including WH Smith travel, Anthropologie and Selfridges.
In 2017 91 Magazine won Best Interior Magazine blog at the Amara Interior Blog Awards.
Caroline’s first interiors book The Shopkeepers Home was published in 2015, featuring the homes and shop interiors of independent shop owners.