As a self-confessed homebird, Chrissie Rucker is making the most of the time she now has to spend at her 17th-century house in rural Buckinghamshire during lockdown. "The rare occasion when we get time to be just at home is a complete treat for me," says the founder of The White Company. "Home has always been such a special place. Somewhere we can close the door from the outside world and feel instantly calm and cosseted."
Set in landscaped gardens, the house, which has a great hall with a mezzanine gallery, a drawing room, spacious kitchen, study as well as stables (for the family horses) and outdoor pool, is an inspiration to anyone who considers home a sanctuary.
The great hall, with its stunning mezzanine gallery, was designed by Rose Uniacke
(Photos: Chris Everard)
It is also one of the 12 amazing town, country and coastal houses featured in her first interiors book, For the Love of White, which also includes her London home. It was published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The White Company, a luxury lifestyle brand that specialises in fluffy towels, crisp bed linen and luxurious bathrobes as well as scented candles, spa bath and body treatments.
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Along with husband Nick Wheeler, the founder of Charles Tyrwhitt shirt company, Chrissie is part of a power couple who were ranked 301st on the most recent The Sunday Times Rich List with a combined wealth of £452m. Not bad for someone who left school at 16 and started her business in an attic with a 12-page mail-order brochure.
Chrissie's husband Nick is the founder of Charles Tyrwhitt
Her home, which she shares with Nick and their children Tom, 23, Ella, 22, India, 20, and Bea, 16, and their four dogs, perfectly encapsulates her pared-down aesthetic. Decorated in a soothing, neutral palette of whites, creams, pale greys and taupes, texture is added with cashmere and linen throws, seagrass and sisal rugs, timber and stone floors and oversized cushions. Antique pieces are mixed with modern furniture and there are scented candles, diffusers and flowers throughout the house.
Interior designers Anne Boyd and Rose Uniacke helped Chrissie, 51, create the country haven, which she describes as a "work in progress". When she moved in more than ten years ago, there was a yellow hall, turquoise drawing room and dark-red guest room. How did she cope? "I genuinely don’t like colour. The idea of having red or bright blue cushions gives me a panic attack," she laughs.
Chrissie has opted for white interiors throughout her home
"I was looking for something with Rose and opened my wardrobe and said: ‘Do you think I’m stuck in a rut?’ I realised that every blouse I owned was white, black or grey." She adds: "Rose has been trying to persuade me to have a few green cushions but that’s definitely not happening!"
Nick wouldn’t even consider bringing brighter soft furnishings into the house. "Although he does have a very dodgy orange jumper," says Chrissie disapprovingly. "In our homes, a little like the perfect little black dress, white is simple but effortlessly stylish, modern yet classic."
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Along with her study, once the children’s playroom, her favourite retreat is the bedroom. As a working mother of four who has suffered problems with sleep in the past, it was essential for her to have a peaceful environment in which to relax. "I’ve had phases when I’ve felt overwhelmed and exhausted, and it’s at those times I know I can’t cope. About 15 years ago, I saw a brilliant stress doctor who taught me in one session how to unplug, to take the pressure off and focus on sleeping well.
The master bedroom is Chrissie's favourite retreat in the house
"My ability to cope and function was literally tripled by just getting on top of that. There are people who say they can survive on four hours’ sleep but I’m not one of them."
Along with a "supremely comfortable bed, beautiful white linens and blissfully comfortable duvets and pillows", she has changed her habits. She ditches her phone and the room is a screen-free zone. "I take time to have a hot bath, sort my clothes for the next day, climb into bed and read." She would, she admits, rather stay in than go out. "I’m always happy to spend a weekend at home, whereas Nick is often up and about and busy." Softly spoken and mild-mannered, she describes herself as an introvert and Nick an extrovert, "though he would say it’s the other way around", she says.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
She started her business in 1994, shortly after she helped Nick, with whom she celebrates her 25th wedding anniversary this September, set up his home. Busy with his new shirt company, he asked Chrissie, who was a journalist, to find the basics. Overwhelmed by the choice of colours and patterns, she decided to keep it simple and buy white-only bedroom and bathroom essentials. It proved a light-bulb moment that prompted months of research. "I’d ring stores and pretend to be a Sunday Times journalist, saying I was writing about bed linen and asking what percentage of sales were white. They consistently said over 50 per cent, which was a good start."
The sleek kitchen, designed by Ann Boyd, is the hub of family life
FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS…
Using £6,000 that her grandmother had left her, Chrissie, at just 24, produced her first brochure and The White Company was born. It is now a global brand with more than 60 stores in the UK and a flagship shop on New York’s Fifth Avenue. "Nick gave me the confidence to start, saying: ‘It’s a great idea, you can do this – go for it.’ I loved seeing the passion he had for [his business] every day. I wanted to feel that. Over the years, being married to someone who is very outgoing has probably helped strengthen my confidence. I’m definitely single-minded and make decisions quickly."
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But these are skills she had to learn. "As a child I was incredibly shy. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t thrive at school," she says. Chrissie left school at 16 with six O-levels, and moved to London to study couture design and tailoring at Lucie Clayton. "I found something I really loved and felt passionate about, and when that happens your confidence begins to grow," she says. "I thought I was going to be a famous fashion designer – sadly, this never happened! But it taught me to always really study the cut, shape and proportion of a design."
The entrepreneur lives in a 17th-century house in rural Buckinghamshire
She became a receptionist at Condé Nast, then a beauty and fashion assistant at GQ, Brides and Vogue, then Harper’s Bazaar’s assistant health and beauty editor before setting up her business. "One fantastic thing about working on a magazine is that you’re given incredible opportunities at short notice and sink or swim. I joke with my old magazine friends that we had to fake it to make it, and pretend to look like you know what you’re doing."
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In 2017, both she and Nick received OBEs for services to business. They may be high-achieving entrepreneurs living under the same roof but they are not, she insists, competitive with each other. "There have been times when he has been ahead of us and times when we’ve been ahead of him. But we’re always there to support each other. It’s incredibly special to understand what the other does as a job. It joins us together, as well as what goes on at home and in our family life. If Nick’s having a bad day at work, I understand that, and vice versa, so you know it’s not personal.
"We’re good at carving out time together. We have different interests – he’s mad about Tottenham and I’m mad about horses. We always walk the dogs together at weekends and chat. At the beginning of the year we put time into our diaries where we’ll go away as a family and also together, just the two of us. We’re best friends."
For the Love of White: The White & Neutral Home by Chrissie Rucker & The White Company is out now
They are also patrons for The Prince’s Trust, for which Chrissie is the founding patron for the #ChangeAGirlsLife campaign, which brings together diverse women from the worlds of business, arts and philanthropy to raise money and help support young women in the UK to get their first job, train or start their own business. "I’d been involved in The Prince’s Trust for 12 years but took on this project when I turned 50," she says. "I was keen to step up and do a bit more."
Which of all her considerable achievements makes her feel most proud? "Gosh," she says and pauses. "One thing is if we can have inspired and encouraged people to reconnect and truly love their time at home with friends and family. That would be a special thing."
For the Love of White by Chrissie Rucker and The White Company is published by Mitchell Beazley at £30 in hardback.
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