Over the past 19 years, eco-conscious couple Jo and Peter Thorndike have transformed the interior of their cottage into a cacophony of color and maximalist design.
And now they hope they can inspire others to live differently.
The couple say they have transformed their home – a 17th century cottage in the Suffolk countryside, once owned by a farming family – into the “antithesis” of what they bought.
They’ve done away with the black and white and color splattered on almost every wall, furnished it with second-hand and upcycled furniture, and even installed parquet from an old-school gym – with tape. yellow striped adhesive for when it was used for Games.
“We love bright colors. A lot of people don’t do that with beams,” says Jo. “They think if you have beams they have to be white.”
But as trained architectural technicians, they wanted to do even more. “We wanted to completely evolve the property and add something very modern, like our nod to evolution,” says Peter. “You know, the construction and the design and the way it evolves – but we weren’t allowed to. As custodians of a Grade II listed period property, we take this very seriously.
Properties reflect the people who live there and, for the Thorndikes, this is especially true. In their home, they’ve turned something black and white into something fun and vibrant – that’s exactly what they’re trying to do in their lives too.
In recent years, the couple has undergone huge changes in their careers, experienced bereavement and even been ill. “All of life happened in a short time,” says Peter – and that was before the pandemic even started.
In September 2019, Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to undergo life-saving surgery and received chemotherapy during Covid. “I’m very lucky to be here,” she said. She’s since promised to “wear her best” and “do anything that spreads a little joy,” which is exactly what their company, VV Raven, is all about.
Jo started it as a floristry business about five years ago, following the death of a family friend. “I really needed to do something,” she says. “I always wanted to own my own business, and it was now or never.” So she gave up her 30-year career and started her own business. Two years later, Peter joins her.
But it wasn’t until the first Covid lockdown, after Jo’s cancer diagnosis, that the couple realized another passion, and one that had already underpinned much of their lives: the environment.
Between chemo sessions, Jo started using Pinterest a lot and found post after post about the fashion industry and its environmental impact. “The statistics are terrifying,” she says. “There are enough clothes on the planet to dress the next six generations without creating anything else. How do you get your brain around this?
After Jo’s operation, she found the physical demands of floristry too difficult, so the couple pursued another of their passions, fashion, and tried their hand at something else. They started handwriting slogans on the back of second-hand camouflage jackets and, after a trial run, began offering them for sale, combining two of their loves.
The response has been good and now their original company, VV Raven, has been reinvented. It’s a vintage clothing store, as well as a “style, design and lifestyle studio” – although their biggest hope, they say, is that they might inspire people to live a little differently. It was, they say, “founded with a rebellious soul and a sincere mission: to give courageous individuals the space to be confident, calm and comforted”.
“I think we were very taken with the generation that thinks if you’ve got your four-bedroom detached house and your garage and your BMW on the way, you’ve made it – you should be happy,” says Jo. “And then people come in and say, ‘I’m not happy, what did I do wrong?’
“I think it’s really interesting that what’s come out of the lockdown is that so many people are starting new businesses, so many people are rethinking their lives. It’s a fantastic silver lining, isn’t it? »
The couple’s interest in sustainability has, for many years, been a lifestyle choice. They haven’t flown in four or five years, says Peter, and by choice they don’t have children, but they’re not “evangelicals”.
“We don’t live off-grid or anything like that,” says Peter. “It’s just about being responsible and having a point of view. We are very aware of the problems for the next generations to come, which we are responsible for, to some extent – we are just trying to change that.
The couple are honest that their business is just that: a business. It’s something they need to live. But they’re also clear that it’s not about greed or the “culture of want, want, want” they grew up with. They are just trying to reconfigure their way of life. “We try to do a bit here, there and everywhere,” says Jo. “It will make life more interesting and meet interesting people. It’s more about that quality of life – not a lot of money, just enough to pay your bills.
“We’ve been working for a long time,” says Peter. “We have plans in place so that if the rainy day comes, we give each other a cushion. With the traumatic events that have happened to us in a very short time, it is only now that the dust is starting to settle, that we can reflect. Essentially, we are rethinking life and certainly working life and we take a lot of inspiration from young people in the way they do business, the way they conduct themselves, the way they envision their future.
These days, being creative and building a business often centers around self-promotion, something the couple say they struggle with, especially on social media, which doesn’t always align with their principles.
“We’re incredibly quiet people,” says Peter. “We need to be on social media, for our business, but we don’t want to influence anyone – we just want to inspire people to maybe take a different perspective, whether it’s our age or not.”
The good thing, Jo says, is that by sharing snippets of their lives and homes, they’re able to show people their vulnerabilities. They hope it will encourage others – whether through poor health, bereavement or the encouragement they need to do what they love.
“It’s to help others,” says Jo. “To say, ‘Look, this is where we were, and we were on our knees, yet here we are now.
“Our generation, a lot of our friends, they realize now that they can do things because they’re still young enough to do things. Their kids went to college or whatever, so I think that’s a new dynamic of people starting businesses at our age.
The couple is respectful and understanding of each other’s situation, from where they are, financially, to where they have been through illness and bereavement. It’s clear from talking to them that they not only want to live a fuller and more colorful life – just like their home – but also to do good.
“We are very open in many different circles to things that we would have kept to ourselves,” says Peter. “No experience is a bad experience – truly the worst experiences you can think of, in fact, you can get positives out of them – so why not have a little fun?”
Find out more at vvraven.co.uk or on Instagram at @vvravenstyle and @vvravencurated.