“There is never a dull moment when Woody is around, especially in the country,” says Susie Atkinson, who owns a prestigious London-based design firm and counts the Soho House club both in London and Berlin as two of her many acclaimed projects.
“He is known around our little hamlet of Dipley [in Hampshire] as the escape artist who is on the hunt for food. On several occasions he has even appeared at our back door with someone else’s supper in his mouth. One Christmas it was Stilton cheese.”
The River Whitewater drew Atkinson and her family – husband Justin and their three children – to the property. When Woody is at home in the country, this is his favourite spot. The bank is covered with snowdrops, daffodils, bluebells, and fritillary, and in summer, wild garlic. “It is the place that both Woody and I love to be,” says Atkinson.
“He barks at the geese and ducks and generally loves to roll around in the grasses and the wild garlic. And, of course, after a long walk when he is hot and panting, one of his tip-top favourite things is to cool off right there in the river.” Walks are taken twice a day and Woody will dramatically sing out a reminder to his family lest they forget.
Atkinson has worked continuously on the property over the 19 years she’s lived there. Outside, she has created “rooms” with different focal points, including a potager with a greenhouse and raised beds clad in willow, where Woody loves to lie in the morning sun. A side paddock wraps around the drive with crab apple trees, and it is here that Woody has his own little outbuilding surrounded by a picket fence where he goes after muddy walks and spends the night. A dog flap allows him to come and go when he pleases, and a heater keeps the temperature cosy.
A front garden has been laid with York stone and planted with evergreen plants like yew and box for structure during the winter months. “After a long walk, Woody uses the yew hedges like a towel, rubbing himself along them to dry off,” says Atkinson.
Inside, the 1846 house has been completely renovated, from enlarging the once small kitchen to putting in a new staircase in the central hall. “One of the most important things for me when designing our home was to fill it with light and to have as many windows as possible looking out onto the garden,” says Atkinson. “I really wanted my house to flow well, to feel open and to work practically as a family home as well as being a place to entertain friends.”
A dilapidated barn has been transformed into an entertainment space, complete with a huge open fire and gym and is used constantly by the children. However many guests come and go, Woody, with his boundless energy, is always keen to keep up. “Woody is not a dog for the fainthearted,” says Atkinson. “But we absolutely love him, noisy singing and all.”
From At Home in the English Countryside, Designers and Their Dogs by Susanna Salk, Rizzoli.
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