Putting down roots as a military family can prove difficult when you are frequently on the move.
This was the dilemma Jo and John Dickson found themselves in when they decided to purchase their first property.
‘It can sometimes be hard to make a conscious decision to settle down and buy a property,’ says Jo. ‘John and I have been so lucky to have been posted to some fantastic locations during his career, including Scotland, Lincolnshire, Germany, Oxfordshire and London to name a few, and we have made the absolute most of each and every one, but there came a time when we had to settle in one place for the sake of our daughters’ education.’
When the couple moved from Germany to Oxfordshire, the girls were enrolled into a local school. ‘Having a school with a good reputation nearby helped us decide to buy in the area,’ says Jo. In 2004 the couple bought their first house, a four-bedroom detached new-build. ‘It was when the girls went off to university that we decided to leave Oxfordshire, and in 2015 we bought this cottage in the neighbouring county of Gloucestershire,’ recalls Jo.
We are Jo, an assistant in the English department of a local prep school, and John Dickson, a senior officer in the RAF. They have two daughters Abigail, 24, and Olivia, 22, and a one-year-old Springador dog called Skye.
Our home is A three-bedroom Cotswold cottage built in 1862. We bought the property in 2015. It was originally one of two cottages for the neighbouring farm.
I love shopping at The Burford Garden Company. Even when I don’t need anything, I will go to browse and have coffee in the café with friends. We have some interesting shops to choose from in the surrounding towns, too. Biggie Best in Cirencester and The Old Pill Factory and Soame Interiors in Witney are great for something a little different.
Jo was working in Oxford and John in Bristol, so it made sense to choose a location somewhere between the two cities. ‘Actually, this wasn’t our first, second or third choice. We had made offers on several properties, but for various reasons had lost each house until this one. We had almost decided to stay put,’ explains Jo. ‘Whilst we all loved the house when we initially viewed it, I wasn’t convinced I wanted to live in such a small village.’
The couple ideally wanted a renovation project – something they could influence with their own interior style. ‘Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. This cottage had already been renovated and most of the work had been completed,’ says Jo. ‘However, the owners had renewed the kitchen in a style and configuration I would have chosen myself which is why it appealed so much to me.’
With her passion for interiors and scouring the vintage shops, Jo has created a stylish combination of new and old throughout her home. ‘We haven’t made any major changes to the inside of the house, just decoration,’ she says. ‘As a military family we used to have to move house every two or three years. I can’t tell you how therapeutic it is to have a clear-out six months before you move on. When you restart in your new home it’s so refreshing not to bring too much with you and wonder where on earth you are going to put it all.’
Steal Jo’s style
The mirrored wall at one end of the kitchen reflects light beautifully around the kitchen, complemented by the pale tones Jo has chosen for walls and furnishing. It all helps to create a greater feeling of space. ‘I like to ring the changes, so over the years I have swapped cushions and curtains around to give a different feel,’ says Jo.
Adorning the walls are simple black frames containing photographs for a stylish, graphic look. ‘I often take down the framed prints and move them around the house. Most of the photography is mine and I tend to frame it in black or white, so it’s easy to place them anywhere. I regularly update the photography, although some of the photos hold some dear memories,’ smiles Jo.
Upstairs, Jo and John’s bedroom has a subtle mix of natural tones – think soft white and shades of grey, creating a fresh, Scandinavian feel. ‘Our bed was bought in Newark 25 years ago when we were at RAF Cranwell,’ she recalls. ‘I painted the bed frame in Manor House Gray by Farrow & Ball for an updated look.’
Olivia chose to keep the original soft pink chosen by the previous owners for her bedroom, as it creates the perfect backdrop for her own artwork, displayed in simple white frames. ‘The loft is Abigail’s bedroom and John uses it to store his guitars when she’s not here, as she has just bought her own property,’ explains Jo.
‘My design concept throughout was to work with a small colour palette and try to use at least one of those colours in every room for continuity and flow and I am pleased with the results.’
The largest project for the couple to undertake was in the garden. ‘There were two huge Russian vines,’ explains Jo. ‘One at the back of the garden, which had taken over the two very mature pine trees, and one growing over the gate by our bi-fold doors. They required expert removal and John spent months removing the dead vine from the trees so that they could breathe again.
Thankfully, they are recovering beautifully.’ The couple enjoy entertaining, and on a warm summer’s evening extend their living space, with guests spilling from the dining area into the pretty cottage garden.
‘This is our small but perfect part of the Cotswolds. It’s without pubs, shops and street lights and, whilst that takes a little getting used to, there is nothing more perfect than gazing out at the stars on a clear night and listening to the silence. It’s so peaceful,’ smiles Jo.
This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in Your Home magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?