SUMMER IN THE COUNTRY
A rundown cottage became a summer retreat
A rundown cottage was transformed into a summer country retreat.
Louise was looking round a summer house that her family could immediately walk into, but for a reason that she still has trouble articulating, she decided to purchase the very disused and run down cottage on the plot that was actually opposite it. No one had lived in the cottage since the 1940s, and it certainly did not look like the previous inhabitants had been a family. There were a number of single beds dotted around the cottage, still with their original straw mattresses. It did not look like there had ever been a working kitchen in the cottage and whoever had decorated the place had seen fit to paper three layers of wallpaper directly onto the timbers. The wilderness of a garden was so overgrown that there was no light coming through the windows. It was hard to see how anyone could see any future in this ramshackle place.
And yet it was precisely because of these possibilities that Louise did not hesitate. “I really saw the potential in the cottage because literally everything had to be improved!” Since the cottage was so untouched, and no one had ever renovated anything, she was taking on an enormous project but she did have a couple of aces up her sleeve - her husband was a carpenter and she and her mother were very determined and inspirational interior designers.
Her husband, Emil, takes up the story - “I hadn’t seen the cottage, but when Louise told me about it, it was obvious to me that she had fallen for it. And yet she was a little economical with the truth about its condition! When I got there, I literally fell through the stairs and couldn’t quite believe the amount of work that was going to be necessary. I wasn’t sure my skills were up to it.”
Indeed, the decision did appear somewhat foolhardy. They had two young children at the time and Louise was supposed to be working full time in her interiors
shop. And yet somehow Louise's natural flair and energy took over, and Emil got the bug too and they just went for it. After they had bought the cottage, the first step was to renovate the roof because it looked as though it was about to fall in on top of them. It also looked as though the cottage was leaning to one side, and so they needed to look at one part of the cottage and basically rebuild one of the supporting walls.
In order to have a feeling of home, they decided to work on the garden before they had done too much to the cottage. As Louise says, “Gardening is really a therapy for me, and as we cut back the overgrown brambles and grasses, we started to feel the calmness and the history of the cottage. It started to come alive”.
Whilst Louise worked on the outside, Emil was busy getting basic electricity and water into the cottage, whilst replacing most of the windows that were rotten to the core. “Sadly, some of the old floors were also so bad that we had to replace them completely” said Emil. He insulated the walls and set to in stripping off the old wallpapers and laying bare the fine timbers. “I spent many pleasurable hours bringing those timbers back to life” recalls Emil. He brightened up the living room, painting it with light glossy colours.
The kitchen was a problem - Louise was determined to try and use some of what was there, given that the cottage dated back to the late 1800s, even though it was hard to see that anything was really worth it. But, as she recalls “I did not just want to throw in anything without thinking carefully how it would fit in. I did not want to destroy its soul.” In the end, the only kitchen fixture that was installed was a long bench with IKEA cabinets. The shutters were specially ordered from a carpentry firm (which Emil accepted with good grace)
because Louise wanted solid wood, which was then painted with linseed oil. Initially, Louise wanted everything to be grey, but then she changed her mind and opted for a white colour fortunately before any painting was done! She knew the fittings, in untreated brass, would darken over time, but they fitted her idea that everything should feel as genuine as possible. For this reason she also chose open shelves above the bench, where old porcelain is combined with newer designs in beige, white, blue and red. A cream-colored Smeg refrigerator gives an oldfashioned feel to the kitchen.
The wood stove was completely renovated and there is also a baking oven that works.
"We often bake in it. I am still surprised that this simple cottage with no kitchen to speak of had such a beautiful wood stove”, Louise says with happiness. The old pantry was mint-coloured which Louise began to scrape away. “Now I've actually begun to wonder if I should paint it all over at all or whether it looks better as it is - it does not have to be perfect and I actually like it” she says. Similarly, the doors to the porch and into the living room have retained their stripped colours and are somewhat shabby in appearance, and the pale green contrasts well against the white pearl wall. The table and kitchen chairs actually came with the cottage (and, remarkably, are fit for everyday use), but Louise has bought another similar table for the larger family when it is holiday time and she has guests coming to stay. Old chairs are something that Louise really likes, and she has accumulated a lot of them over the years. “It's weird”, Louise laughs, “that the house is full of old wooden chairs, and yet there are still not enough when the family descend”. Over the long term, she loves old furniture and accessories and, despite the fact that it is really contrary to good business sense, she often advises her customers not to buy new all the time.
“It takes time to create a home”, she advises, “It's so tempting just to buy a style straight off and shop for all that's needed and, hey presto, it's done. Yet I
don't think that really works. You have to spend time collecting things you like, and do not throw things away just because they are old.”
To point this out, Louise goes to one of the kitchen shelves and shows something which reflects her interior design philosophy. As an eighteen year old she found a nondescript, small porcelain teapot that came from a local hotel. You can still see the original lettering in red on the white background. It has no commercial value, but for Louise it means the world and has many memories attached to it. She would not be without it. And yet she does not mind modern design, and so, like many good designers, likes to mix things up.
Emil and Louise come to their cottage as much as they can, even though their children are now grown up and she has actually closed the shop. They have a small flat nearby and yet their plan is ultimately to come to live all year round and to continue to renovate and perfect the cottage. She has recently contacted an architect, in order to develop the unused space. In the meantime they enjoy the summers here. The couple agree that “Here we get to rest in the garden, look at the lovely lake, take cold showers outdoors in the sun, read and spend a lot of time with family and friends. This is our oasis in everyday life.”