Make It Tender: A Ceramicist/Shopkeeper’s Gently Cared-For 1500s House in England

Usually, when we feature a home, we ask what design choices have been made, what changes, what upgrades and tweaks.

In the case of this particular house, however, the poetry is much more in what hasn’t been done—what’s been left unchanged.

This is the 16th-century home of ceramicist and shopkeeper Sophie Wilson and four of her children in The Fens, in England, and little has changed within its walls, even before Sophie moved in. “I had been looking for a long time for a renovation project, preferably Georgian, in London without success,” she says. “One day I extended my search criteria by 50 miles and the Manor House popped up. It was a wonderful and terrible discovery at once, because I knew I had to have it, but it seemed a tremendous ambition at that time.”

The house was grand but badly decaying. “It had been neglected for many decades,” Sophie continues. “The previous owner lived in only one room, in squalor. The building had essentially been standing in a pool of water for one hundred years, which had caused serious subsidence and damage.

“The oldest part of the house dates back to 1551. The building is in essence three dwellings which have been pushed and melded together over four centuries. The date 1690 is carved in stone around the house and marks a significant period of investment and repair by a man called Aubrey Hunter who worked for the East India Trading Company. The latest part of the building dates from 1730.”

There have been precious few upgrades over the centuries. Sophie is still in the process of shoring up the structure, the roof badly needs replacing, some of the many rooms are without electricity, and the house can be cold in winter. (“Ultimately we dress appropriately for the temperature,” Sophie writes on Instagram. “We put another jumper on. Simple as that.”) But with an entirely untouched structure come rare things: still-rich coats of paint on the walls—salmon pink, deep green—that appear as they did centuries ago, patterned ceramic tiles from years past, even reeds uncovered within a ceiling, used as insulation and estimated to be more than 300 years old.

Sophie also recently launched a shop within these walls: 1690 Store. As she describes it on the site: It’s “a sort of Diagon Alley-style place where I imagined Molly Weasley would go for her essentials,” featuring her own ceramics as well as soaps, cloth, jams, and more.

A certain unfussy as-is attitude meets painterly, fully saturated rooms and unblemished historic details: Join us for a look inside Sophie’s 1690 house.

Photography by Sophie Wilson (@1690works).

when sophie and her family moved in, “parts of the wooden supportin 14
Above: When Sophie and her family moved in, “parts of the wooden supporting structure were so rotten you could push your finger into the timber,” she says. “The first job was to redirect the drains and dry the foundations out. We moved in after the house had had a very deep industrial clean, which took three weeks to complete.”