High in the uplands of the Andalusian Serranía de Ronda, an hour’s drive from Malaga, bathed in a golden light, sits a haven of tranquillity: El Ventorillo, an ancient finca restored 13 years ago by the interior designer Susan Wyndham and her husband Harry. As you wind your way up the hillside, past herds of goats lying comatose under ancient evergreen oaks, monumental 360-degree views unfold before your eyes. There is a touch of the desert about these undulating primeval horizons – Africa is only 40 miles away as the crow flies.
In 2006, the Wyndhams began thinking of buying a holiday house in the sun and, as they had many friends in Spain, started their search in Galicia. But a Spanish friend pointed out the flaw in their plan as this region is windy and has rainfall levels similar to those in Scotland. ‘He took a map and ruler, drew a line between Cadiz and Malaga – where the sun shines virtually all year round – and advised us to look up to 100 kilometres north and south of the line,’ Susan says.
Harry was in no rush to begin the quest. ‘But being a decorator, I started looking online that night,’ says Susan. In 20 minutes, she had identified four houses, one of which had an arched entrance and seven bedrooms. ‘It shone through the rest.’ They bought it in November and moved in by the following spring.
The house, in view of a magnificent bowl of mountains, with its own well, consists of three parts: the main house, originally a barn; the guest house, once stables; and the casita which, before the Spanish Civil War, was a bar run by the great uncle of Susan’s housekeeper. There is still a drystone sheep fold beside it, where herdsmen left their flocks while supping on ham and beer.
With her experience and inexhaustible attention to detail, it was not difficult for Susan to pull the house together. The buildings were sound, the floors were tiled and the walls were white – without cornices or skirtings. Before furnishing the house, she commissioned large Indian carpets from Jaipur inspired by old Mughal designs, ordered new mattresses and carved out two bathrooms from a storeroom in the guest house.
‘We brought furniture from everywhere,’ explains Susan. Most of the beds came from Gerry the Bed, a quirky English dealer based in Morocco, and she has draped these in her favourite printed Indian muslin. The mother-of-pearl inlaid chests of drawers and mirrors were from Syria, where she had a business importing them before the civil war there. Several inexpensive religious paintings that she felt would work well in Catholic Spain were bought at Bonhams and garden furniture was made bespoke. ‘A friend and I raided the back-street antique shops of Tangier for old lanterns and light fittings.’
An interplay of shades of green and pink unifies all the rooms in the house, including the main bedroom. The sofas in the drawing room, bought in England, are covered in a blue-green fabric by Marvic Textiles with pink printed cushions from Claremont. What appear to be greenish-hued tapestries on each side of the fireplace are actually facsimiles, printed on linen by Zardi & Zardi: they have a warming effect in winter without looking too opulent.
Life at El Ventorillo revolves around its main terrace. The colour scheme continues here and drifts into the garden: pink and white roses and scented geraniums surround a pomegranate tree, and the evergreen oaks stretch to the horizon. Above the banquette in the seating area, a mosaic roundel of mirror and green marble, commissioned from Emma Cornish in Tangier, commemorates 30 years of marriage. Chairs covered in grey-green and white stripes surround the table in the dining area, which is covered with a colourful Indian tablecloth.
Beyond the pool is the guest house with its old vaulted Mexican wooden ceiling installed by the previous owner. ‘The decoration here is an eclectic mix of fabrics, patterns and objects – Indian cobra wall sconces, sofas in pretty blue Colefax and Fowler printed fabrics and chairs, not yet re-covered, found at Lots Road Auctions in London as well as Chinese mirrors from Ronda and obelisk bookcases from my mother-in-law painted a dark brown by Fernando the gardener. People are frightened of throwing everything together but it often works.’ The result seems to be that rare combination of exuberance and elegance.
Susan’s lifelong heroine is Jane Digby, the 19th-century English aristocrat who led a life of adventure. A copy of her carved mahogany bed, by master cabinetmaker Jamie Orr-Ewing, brings a touch of fantasy to a spare bedroom. He also worked on the Moroccan cupboards and mirrored shutters in the bathrooms, which Susan designed. The house has been a triumph in every season, and at Christmas the family feasts on roast partridge and mulled wine on the heated terrace, to the sound of goat bells in the distance.