Meet the 'rebel' couple adding colour to their life and home

Peter and Jo Thorndike at home in their 17th century thatched cottage

Peter and Jo Thorndike at home in their 17th century thatched cottage - Credit: Lucy J Toms Photography

Over the past 19 years, eco-conscious couple Jo and Peter Thorndike have transformed the inside of their weather-boarded thatched cottage into a cacophony of colour and maximalist design.

And now they are hoping they can inspire others to live differently, too.

The pair say that 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 splashed colour on pretty much every wall, furnished it with secondhand and upcycled furniture, and even installed parquet flooring from an old school sports hall – complete with yellow striped tape for when it was used for games. 

Bright and colourful living room in Jo and Peter Thorndike's 17th century Suffolk cottage

Inside Peter and Jo's colourful living room - Credit: Ross Willsher

“We like it brightly coloured. Lots of people don’t do that with beams,” says Jo. “They think if you’ve got beams it’s got to be white.” 

But as trained architectural technicians, they wanted to do even more. “We wanted to evolve the property completely and add something very modern, as our nod to evolution,” says Peter. “You know, construction and design and the way it moves on – but we weren’t allowed to. As custodians of a Grade II-listed period property, we take that pretty seriously.” 

Properties reflect the people who live inside them and, for the Thorndikes, this is especially true. In their home they have turned something black and white into something fun and vibrant – which is exactly what they’re trying to do in their lives, too.

Black and white weather boarded thatch cottage in Suffolk, which is Jo and Peter Thorndike's home

The couple's home is a weather-boarded thatch cottage and listed - Credit: Lucy J Toms Photography

Over the past few years, the couple has endured huge changes to their careers, experienced bereavements and even suffered illness. “All of life happened in a short space of time,” says Peter – and that was all before the pandemic had even begun. 

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 says. Since, she has promised to “wear her best” and “do anything that spreads a little bit of joy”, which is exactly what their business, V V Raven, is all about. 

Jo set it up as a floristry business around five years ago, following the death of a family friend. “I really needed to do something,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to own my own business, and it was now or never.” So she left her 30-year career and went out on her own. Two years later, Peter joined her. 

But it wasn’t until the first Covid lockdown, after Jo’s cancer diagnosis, that the pair realised another passion, and one which had already underpinned so much of their lives: the environment. 

Peter and Jo Thorndike working on a camo jacket in the colourful kitchen of their home

The couple's new venture combines their love of fashion and interior design and allows them to work more mindfully - Credit: Lucy J Toms Photography

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 is enough clothing on the planet to clothe the next six generations without creating anything else. How do you get your brain around that?”  

After Jo’s surgery she found the physical demands of floristry too difficult, so the pair pursued yet another of their passions, fashion, and tried their hand at something else. They started hand-lettering slogans on the back of secondhand camo jackets and, after a trial run, began offering them for sale, combining two of their loves. 

The response was good and now their original business, V V Raven, has been reinvented. It’s a vintage clothing shop, as well as a “style, design and lifestyle studio” – although their bigger 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 heartfelt mission: to give courageous individuals the space to be confident, calm and comforted."

Close up of Peter and Jo modelling their customised camo jackets which they sell through V V Raven

Peter and Jo modelling their customised jackets - Credit: Lucy J Toms

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“I think we were very much caught up in the generation that thinks if you’ve got your four-bedroom detached house and your garage and your BMW on the drive, you’ve made it – you should be happy,” Jo says. “And then people get there and go: ‘I’m not happy, what did I do wrong?’ 

“I think it’s really interesting that what’s come out of lockdown is that so many people are starting new businesses, so many people are rethinking their lives. That’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 for four or five years, Peter says, and by choice they don’t have children, but they’re not “evangelical”. 

“We’re not living off grid or anything like that,” Peter says. “It’s just about being responsible and having a view. We’re very aware of the issues for the next generations to come, that we’re responsible for, to a certain degree – we’re just trying to change that.”  

Bright purple velvet sofa in a heavily beamed sitting room in Jo and Peter Thorndike's Suffolk home

Peter and Jo have filled their home with colour and secondhand or upcycled furniture - Credit: Ross Willsher

The couple is honest about the fact that their business is just that: a business. Its something they need to live on. But they’re also clear that it’s not about greed or about the “want want want culture” they grew up with. They’re just trying to reconfigure how they live. “We’re trying to do a bit here, there and everywhere,” says Jo. “That will make it a more interesting life and meet interesting people. It’s more about that quality of life – not loads of money, just enough to pay your bills.” 

“We’ve worked for a long time,” says Peter. “We put plans in place that, if the rainy day came, we gave ourselves a cushion. With the traumatic things that happened to us in a very short space of time, it’s only now that the dust is starting to settle, that we’re able to reflect. Essentially, we’re re-thinking life and certainly working life and taking a lot of lead from younger people in the way they do business, the way they conduct themselves, the way they are about their futures.” 

These days, being creative and building a business often centre around self-promotion, something the couple say they struggle with – particularly on social media, which doesn’t always fit with their principles.  

“We’re incredibly private people,” Peter says. “We’ve got to be on social media, for our business, but we don’t want to influence anybody – we just want to inspire people to maybe take a different view, whether that’s our age or not.” 

Peter and Jo Thorndike wearing designer camo coats with their rescue dog, Greyson, in the garden

Peter, Greyson and Jo Thorndike in the garden of their thatched cottage in Suffolk - Credit: Lucy J Toms Photography

The good thing, Jo says, is that by sharing snippets of their life, and of their home, they are able to show people their vulnerabilities. This, they hope, will encourage others – whether it’s through ill health, bereavement or the encouragement they need to do what they love. 

“It’s to help others,” Jo says. “To say: ‘look, this is where we were, and we were on our knees, yet we’re here now.  

“Our generation, lots of our friends, they’re now realising that they can do stuff because they’re still young enough to do stuff. Their kids have gone onto uni or whatever, so I think it’s a new dynamic of people starting businesses at our age.” 

The pair is respectful and understanding of other people’s situations, from where they are, financially, to where they’ve been through illness and bereavement. It is clear, talking to them, that they not only want to live fuller, more colourful lives – just like their home – but to do good, too. 

“We’re very open in many different circles to things that we would have kept to ourselves,” says Peter. “No experience is a bad experience – genuinely the worst experiences that you can think of, actually, you can take positives from –so why not have a bit of fun?” 

Find out more at vvraven.co.uk or on Instagram at @vvravenstyle and @vvravencurated.