TEN years ago, 60 Minute Makeover interior design guru Anna Ryder Richardson decided to turn her life upside down.
‘I had a mid-life crisis at 44. I’d grown up in London, then got married and moved to Glasgow. I was a city girl who’d never had a pet or a back garden,’ she says.
Although she’s now comfortably ensconced in a tastefully refurbished, 14-acre farmhouse, it’s been a long journey. Replete with her pets and her designer furniture, the home is a far cry from the hiccups along the way, including a four-year stint living in a flat-pack wooden cabin from Estonia.
‘I overheard someone talking about investing in a zoo,’ she recalls, ‘which inspired me to try to buy the zoo in Devon that was the subject of the film We Bought A Zoo. We didn’t succeed but my husband realised I was serious so we bought this zoo in Pembrokeshire.’
Going from being queen of the interiors show Changing Rooms to a zoo owner wasn’t the only challenge. Moving from her lavish, four-storey Georgian sandstone house in Glasgow into the cabin was a learning curve — and was an apt place to become an expert on the regulations on breeding gibbons in captivity.
‘The zoo is in 52 acres of land with a beautiful Edwardian manor, but the reality was we had to turn the manor into offices and a visitor centre,’ she says.
Anna, her husband and her two daughters, Bibi Belle and Dixi Dot, lived in the zoo grounds in the Estonian flat-pack. ‘It was 50ft long by 20ft wide. It would have fitted into my old living room,’ says Anna. But with its insulation, solar panels on the roof and wood burner, the three-bedroom bungalow — classed as a caravan for planning permission purposes — proved a cosy home until Anna’s daughters, who moved in aged four and five, outgrew it.
Then, five years ago, the family bought a farmhouse nearby. Set in 14 acres of land, it has more room for them and their pets and some of Anna’s favourite furniture.
Designer Peter Harvey is one such favourite. ‘I love his furniture, it’s all 1960s-inspired, shapely and gorgeous,’ she says. When Anna had her enormous Glasgow house to fill, she went on a shopping spree at the designer’s showroom and now some of the pieces are kept at the manor. ‘We had two huge Peter Harvey sofas,’ she says. ‘But they were so big they wouldn’t fit through the door.’
She has managed to fit some of his pieces into her current home, though, including a dressing table, mirror and chairs used by Lady Penelope in the film adaptation of Thunderbirds and a set of chairs, called Tongue In Cheek, on which the Thunderbirds sat.
‘The dressing table is only in the film quite briefly, but it’s enough for me to know that Lady Penelope and I share the same chair,’ says Anna.
That table is now kept in Anna’s dressing room, a recent addition to her home. ‘We renovated one whole end of the house. We put in underfloor heating and had to put in plumbing for a bathroom and toilet. My bedroom is on a mezzanine floor where the hay loft was, and the dressing room underneath is where they kept the milk.’
Anna says she was going for a traditional look. ‘I wanted it to look like a Welsh farmhouse crossed with a French farmhouse — so some of the furniture is from France, such as the dining table. It has lovely carved feet.’
By contrast, her bedroom features a hanging chair and a circular bed, 7ft in diameter. ‘So I haven’t gone completely farmhouse, I suppose,’ she laughs. ‘I still like a bit of kitsch.’
Anna has also just overhauled her living room. ‘It was the last room to finish,’ she says. ‘I needed the tigers and the rhinos in the zoo to be comfortable before we were — so it was a bit cold in here.’
She’s swapped a Chesterfield sofa for a modern one, has decorated in shades of taupe with chalky grey paint and a dark wooden floor — and has put up metallic tiles behind the wood burner. For colour, she’s painted her cupboard camomile pink. ‘I love it; I would paint everything that colour if I could.’
Anna believes her change of lifestyle has changed her taste in interiors. ‘I used to be all about size and designer furniture,’ she says. ‘My first flat in London was like a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barbarella — it was all white, fur and Perspex. I now make allowance for comfort.
‘Tiny, one of our Shetland ponies, walks into the kitchen when we leave the door open and eats cereal out of the cupboards — and I don’t mind.’
A new series of 60 Minute Makeover starts on February 5 at 7pm, on Quest Red