In the summer of 2018, while vacationing in Cornwall, south-west England, Frieda Gormley and Javvy M. Royle, the newlyweds who founded the British interior brand Hackney House, arrived at Trematon Castle, whose gardens were open to the public for the season. Upon entering the nine-acre estate of the Norman motte and bailey structure, which was built by Robert, Earl of Mortain, in 1068 after the Battle of Hastings, they were immediately charmed. The formal grounds accented with palm trees and acanthus blossoms that surround the house on three sides give way to apple orchards and wild forests that slope down to a stream, and lawn at the top of the hill, the couple could see the River Lynher and, beyond, the port city of Plymouth.
To the west of the castle mound stands a nine-bedroom Georgian mansion, its stucco facade crowned with the same cog-shaped battlements as the medieval curtain wall from which it was partly assembled, after sections of the fortification to improve the view. Known as Higher Lodge, the house was built on the site of the castle hall and chapel of the original property in the early 19th century. There is also a swimming pool whose Mogul pavilion was salvaged from Rajasthan and, in the circular keep, a fairly large chicken coop. “It was wildly romantic, like an otherworldly English fairy tale,” says Gormley.
Three days later, coincidentally, after the couple returned to east London, a friend called to gauge their interest in taking over the same estate, which had belonged to the Duchy of Cornwall since 1337 (the estate was created by Edward III to give independence to his heir, Prince Edward, and later the monarch’s eldest son, and is currently managed by the Prince of Wales), as the last occupants – English landscapers Isabel and Julian Bannerman – sought to end their tenure as guardians. Without ever having set foot there, Gormley, 41, and Royle, 45, agreed. “We just thought, ‘How bad can this be?'” she said. Since moving in with their two children, Javi, 13, and Lila, 10, three years ago, the couple have made it their mission to revive the neo-classical interior of the house, by restoring the floor-to-ceiling sash windows and stripping the walls of layers of history before covering them again with their own wallpaper designs, which are modern takes on the flocked patterns synonymous with the English Arts and Crafts movement .
In fact, the house doubles as an unofficial showroom and office of sorts (the official one has, since March of this year, been housed in St. Michael’s, a Victorian Gothic church and clergy house in the East London) for House of Hackney, which they started in 2011, after Gormley, a former fashion buyer, failed to find the kind of richly decorative and playful naturalistic prints she wanted for their home Victorian at London Fields. It has since expanded to paint, furniture, rugs and clothing. “Our homes have always been our muses,” she says. Their stay in Trematon gave rise to the Trematonia print, which mimics an age-old tapestry decorated with Celtic foliage and mythical beasts and Phantasia, a pattern awash with dragons and mushrooms – and inspired them to run a bedroom of guests out of the house during August (they are taking a year off to spend the summer with their children, but plan to reopen it next year; the whole house can still be rented through Unique homestays).
But their interest in ecology is more than aesthetic. “Being in this corner of the world, seeing the seasons change and really following the cycle of nature, reinforces your connection to the environment and the desire to protect it,” says Gormley. So Royle has started tending to the home’s now organic vegetable garden, planted with broccoli, kale, peas and purple zucchini, and is in the process of transforming the former walled garden. with heritage fruit trees and a small solar power plant. Plus, since the couple stopped using chemicals and applied the no-dig cultivation method, they’ve seen new levels of vitality in plants, as well as nesting slowworms, butterflies and even swifts. along the remaining castle walls.
On a recent spring day, Gormley and Royle hosted a small gathering at home, bringing together some of the friends they’ve made since moving to Cornwall to celebrate Beltane, an ancient Celtic festival of fire that falls mid -way between spring and summer. . Guests included chef and regenerative farmer Dan Cox; Daze Aghaji, climate justice activist and creative director of the online platform The earthworm; medical herbalist Harriet Coleman; Dom Bridges, the founder of the natural skin care and fragrance line Haeckels; Catherine Chong, climate economist and co-founder of Farms to feed us, which connects UK consumers with small, sustainable food producers; Tim Williams, a New Zealand-born soil expert; and his wife, Claire Williams, a gardener, cook and, with her husband, a promoter of regenerative agricultural practices throughout the region. “We didn’t expect to meet such kindred spirits,” Gormley says of the group, which has developed its own cyclical economy and shares everything from food to furniture to Old Spot pigs.
By noon, everyone had gathered in the kitchen to chat and drink coffee while Claire and Cox, a former executive chef of Fera at Claridge’s in London and The Anvil at Grange-Over-Sands, put the finishing touches on a vegetarian feast they’ve made with locally sourced ingredients Farm Crocadons, a 120-acre regeneration site in St. Mellion that the two friends manage with Tim. The dishes were then presented in the form of a buffet on the large marble preparation table and, after having filled their plates, the guests took their places at the long oak table in the room, decorated with jugs filled with the poet’s narcissus flowers which Gormley had cut that morning.
The spread included a Garden of Eden torta, or baked vegetable omelet, filled, in this case, with kale, wild garlic, fennel, chervil, and Comté cheese; roasted Sombra squash served with sautéed chard, capers, fermented cucumber and sorrel leaves; and a salad of Carolus potatoes and Russian red kale with miso mayo and sautéed three-corn leeks. Much of the food was so fresh it barely left the floor. “We dug them up yesterday,” Cox said, pointing to the Jerusalem artichokes, some roasted, some mashed, which came with lovage, ribwort plantain leaves and fava beans. To drink, there was Ripean organic cider made with otherwise undesirable organic apples harvested from Cornish orchards.
In part, the meal was a way to test out potential dishes for The Granary, a cafe and event space Cox will open with the Williams at Crocadon Farm this summer. (Later, they plan to add a full-fledged farm shop and restaurant.) Not that guests had many reviews. As they ate, they talked about issues surrounding greenwashing, whether it would be possible to make charcoal from the towering holm oaks on the property, and the progress of the portable “chicken hotel” that Tim currently built on the back of an unused trailer. Eventually, a Sweet Clover, Bloody Butcher Corn, and Black Bee Honey cake dressed in calendulas appeared, along with steaming cups of Spring Equinox tea, a custom blend of nettle, cleavers, dandelion leaf, and of Plantago designed by Coleman. Dessert was followed by a walk around the gatehouse ruin and across the meadow, allowing the group to enjoy the splendors of the natural surroundings which continue to bring them together. Below, Gormley and her guests share tips on how to throw your own seasonal party.
Bring sunshine to the table
No guest arrived empty-handed. Coleman, who grew up in a Somerset home that adhered to certain pagan practices, baked Sunny Bread, an age-old recipe passed down from his mother. “Paganism is a seasonal way of life, and certain foods mark certain seasons,” says Coleman. “This bread is all about the return of the sun in the Celtic calendar.” The sun, on the other hand, is associated with the harvest and one of the main ingredients of bread, honey, represents the richness of nature.
Keep the setting simple
Gormley dressed the table with a crisp white tablecloth made by House of Hackney in collaboration with Lancashire heritage linen producer Peter Reed, matching napkins embroidered with the brand’s HOH monogram and a vintage set of Blue Asiatic Pheasant ceramics from Burleigh. “We wanted it to be fresh and harmonious, just as we tried to do with the kitchen as a whole, so you could feel the serenity of the garden shine through,” says Gormley. Indeed, the room’s restrained palette of greens and whites complements the garden, rather than distracting with lots of conflicting colors or patterns. “Simplicity is important,” says Gormley. “The table should be a place where you can think.”
Light up everything
Despite inclement weather, Gormley still managed to pay homage to Beltane by skilfully playing with natural light. He danced on the crisp white table linens, and she set down and lit a log fire, using fallen logs picked up after winter storms, at the open hearth in the kitchen. For more brilliance, she drew on the collection of old candelabra she acquired over the years, placing a large silver specimen set with verdant forest green candles at the end of the table.
Be creative with your ingredients
“We wanted to be ingenious,” says Cox. When the beans he and Claire were hoping to pair with the roasted Jerusalem artichokes weren’t yet ripe, they used the flowers and tops instead. “The tops are gorgeous and taste amazing — they have this sweet, almost fragrant flavor,” says Cox. According to him, being open-minded in your approach allows you to use whatever is truly in season. Lunch was also filled with foraged foods, from garlicky nettles to ribgrass plantain leaves. Normally fodder for cows, this grass, which grows in Crocadon pastures, adds a touch of fungus. “You may have an idea of what you want to cook, but until you go out and see what’s ready to harvest, nothing is set in stone,” says Cox. “The earth is full of surprises.”
Don’t waste, don’t want
Not only did Cox and Williams incorporate whatever seasonal ingredients they had on hand, but they tried to use as many as possible. Rather than throwing away the skins of the artichokes, for example, they created what’s known as choke chips: after carefully rubbing the whole artichokes, Cox roasted them in a deep box with a thin layer of water in the bottom which he covered with foil, until they were softened but still al dente. Once cooled, he cut them in half and carefully removed the skins from the pits, spreading them on a baking sheet which he placed back in a low oven for a few hours. After that, he lightly fried them in hot oil and seasoned them with sea salt. As Cox says, “It takes extra effort, but it’s so worth it.”