We dropped in on Sassy to take a look at her gorgeous kitchen and find out what she’s been cooking on her new AGA ...
Saskia Gregson-Williams and her boyfriend, Ed, were splitting their time between Los Angeles and the UK before they decided to move back permanently because they were concerned about the impact travel has on the environment.
While planning their return to the UK, Sassy was also running her hugely successful business, Naturally Sassy, which she launched alongside her career as a professional ballet dancer. To escape the gruelling 12-hours-a-day dancing schedule she began cooking. Initially she sold snacks into supermarkets, then began giving cookery classes and writing books.
When an injury put an end to her dancing career, she began offering fitness classes too, creating Ballet Blast, a fusion of Pilates, ballet, and strength and conditioning training. As much of the business was online, it meant an international move was possible.
Sassy knew she wanted her new home to be a light-filled sociable space. The couple, who have known each other all their lives – their mothers were close friends – were on a mission to find a house they could live in for years and share with Barley, their rescue spaniel. Sassy was keen to find a barn conversion but Ed had his heart set on a cottage. Quite by accident, they found a mix of the two nestling in the heart of the Cotswolds.
“The barn was converted 30 years ago,” Sassy says, “when they made them feel more cottagey. We set about trying to make it like the kind of light and airy barn conversions you see now. We knocked down lots of walls to try to make it as spacious as possible, so rooms could share windows and light.”
Much of Sassy’s work centres on cooking and it is an activity she loves, so the kitchen was all-important. The original one was a little dated and had a peninsula unit and cabinetry on the walls. Sassy and Ed wanted it opened up, so they knocked down another wall.
“It was a real lesson in what I wanted a kitchen to be like, but also what was possible,” Sassy laughs.
Working on a budget and keen not to waste perfectly good materials, Sassy and Ed called in kitchen designers Harvey Jones to build an island unit, but also to advise on how to repurpose what was already there.
“The only new things we have are the Harvey Jones island, the AGA and the worktops. The only thing that gave away the age of the cabinets was the more ornate styling around the door fronts. We discovered you can flip the faces round and they become Shaker-style. The kitchen designer at Harvey Jones was so helpful with reconfiguring where we could put everything.”
The original, slightly yellowish-cream colour of the cabinetry was repainted in Farrow & Ball’s Wimborne White.
“I went through so many different shades of white before settling on Wimborne White as it really is beautiful. I’ve used it on the kitchen cabinets, on the walls, the ceilings and the skirting boards. I know people usually vary the shades but in this house with low ceilings it looks different in every light.”
Choosing to use one colour in so many areas was another move that made the kitchen feel brighter and, once this was settled, Sassy and Ed were able to concentrate on other areas of the kitchen. The worktops were next on the list. Sassy loves the look of Carrara marble, but wanted something super-practical and so chose Calacatta Valencia quartz from Sharpstone Granite, a family run business in Essex, which, she says, came in at an amazing price point.
“I’m quite clumsy and I cook a lot so I wanted something that would give me more of an opportunity to keep it pristine for longer,” she says.
Centre stage in the kitchen is an AGA eR7 100. Along with an air-source heat pump, it was one of Ed’s non-negotiables.
“For me, the question was how can I enjoy all the benefits of an AGA sustainably?” Sassy says. “The fantastic thing about the AGA eR7 is that it does everything a traditional AGA can do but without using energy unnecessarily.
“If it were on all the time, I would feel it wasn’t completely in line with my values of trying to eat and cook sustainably. As I can choose what to turn on when, I make sure I’m only using the bits I need so I’m utilising less energy. That’s really important to me. I don’t want to have something running all the time. That’s why it’s a brilliant AGA for this generation.”
After much deliberation, Sassy chose the Dove colour for her AGA. “We have a watercolour picture that was Ed’s dad’s and I knew I wanted it to go in the kitchen. It is one of those beautiful pastel paintings of the coast in Italy or Tuscany. Dove AGA reminds me of it as feels really artisanal and in some lights it’s like a blue, while in others it looks quite dark and rich and then it can look quite grey. It changes with the light and you can put colours around it. If we change the kitchen or as it evolves over the years, I know the AGA will remain timeless. I think it’s a really beautiful colour.”
As Sassy cooks a lot, she wanted a cooker that could do everything she needed super well.
“The best cooks can be the laziest cooks and I think the AGA helps you to do that. I love the that I can make chillies, curries that sit in their juices and simmer for a while. I love being able to pop the lid on whatever I’m cooking, put it in the oven and allow it to do its thing. I’m a big believer in one-pot pastas and being able to leave them.
“I’ve been making a delicious pasta dish with coconut cream. I’ll do stock and start boiling the pasta and add the coconut cream and mushrooms and asparagus and then put it into the AGA and let it all meld together and become delicious as it absorbs all the juices. It feels really Italian and as we can’t go on holiday the next best thing is to make something that is so rich and delicious and everything you’d want at a restaurant abroad.”
It’s the pleasure you can take in cooking and movement that is at the heart of the success of Naturally Sassy.
“It all comes back to what you give yourself,” Sassy says. “It’s the food and the movement. I love cooking so much as it’s a moment in your day you have to slow down and connect with what you’re doing. I love the AGA as you can use cooking to take a breath and be with yourself for a moment in such a lovely way. I like things to take a bit longer as it can be so much more enjoyable if it’s not rushed.”