‘A Small Home Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Be Bold’
By using the ‘less-is-more’ rule as her guide, Kim Low made some big design statements that work well in her tiny cottage
Having moved from London to Cranleigh in Surrey some 20 years previously, Kim
Low was understandably fond of the town where she had brought up her family. So when she was looking to downsize, she was keen to stay in the vicinity, especially as her two grown-up daughters and two grandchildren were still living in that neck of the woods.
The cottage she chose certainly didn’t look promising at first. The run-down property had once been a railway inn and, on paper, it appeared to need a lot of work as it dated back to 1567, with later Victorian additions. Although it wasn’t listed, it was a building of special historical interest, which really appealed to Kim. ‘I realised that the key to making it work would be to harmonise the different eras somehow,’ she explains. ‘The two cottages on either side of the one I was looking at had been modernised, but this one had plenty of its original features and some gorgeous old timber beams.’ Newly single Kim was no stranger to the challenges of living in an old property, having previously renovated a 15th-century house, and with her children grown up and out of the house, she wanted to find a home that was just right for the next phase of her life.
‘I’m very sociable – I love to have people come to visit me, whether just for a chat and a cup of coffee or for a full-on party,’ explains Kim. ‘As it was going to be just me and my two cats, Bertie and Tilly, living here, I didn’t need more than two bedrooms. The guest room at the top of the cottage was large enough to fit in a couple of blow-up beds if necessary, so I felt confident that I could be happy here.’
Kim knew she would need advice rethinking the cottage’s cramped, dark rooms, so she decided to enlist the help of her friend,
‘By opening everything up, I could create one big downstairs space to harmonise the whole floor’
interior designer Alexe Meddings. ‘She agreed to be project manager and helped me see the cottage’s potential,’ says Kim. ‘She persuaded me that by opening everything up, I could create one big downstairs space to harmonise the whole floor, then I could introduce separate zones for relaxing, eating and entertaining.’
Carrying this out involved removing many of the internal walls to allow the available light to flow through the space, as well as sandblasting the remaining black beams to reveal the pale timber underneath. ‘It’s made such a difference,’ says Kim. ‘The living room is now my favourite space. It works at different times of the day and year, whether you’re curled up in front of a roaring fire or sitting with the sun streaming in. There are now plenty of seating options for all sorts of social occasions.’
For a small space, the cottage is full of smart storage ideas, too. ‘I love the wine storage under the stairs,’ she says. ‘The area used to be rammed with horrible cupboards and I was considering paying hundreds of pounds to have something bespoke built in, then I saw these racks outside a charity shop. They cost £20 for the lot and they fit the space perfectly.’
In the kitchen, Kim installed simple painted Shaker-style units in a soft cream. She was
determined to hang on to the little hatch that links the kitchen with the living room. ‘I love to cook and the hatch means that I’m not isolated in a separate room while my guests are having fun without me,’ she explains. ‘I can stay involved, chatting and giving people drinks and snacks while standing at the hatch.’
When it came to choosing the furniture and fittings, Kim was starting virtually from scratch. ‘I only kept three things of any substance from my old house: two comfortable neutral sofas, which were the basis for the living room’s colour scheme, and a very old wooden cupboard that sits at the top of the stairs, which I use for storing linen,’ she says. ‘Everything else is new or, at least, new to me.’
A fan of pottering around antiques markets and car-boot fairs, Kim has sourced several quirky pieces, from storage units to lighting, that give her home a really individual touch. ‘I’ve been slowly getting each area of the house just as I want it over the past year or so, taking my time choosing which table lamps, furniture and accessories to add,’ she says.
Keen to support small businesses, she asked a local carpenter to make the wardrobes for her bedrooms. ‘You can get exactly what you want with made-to-order pieces, which is especially handy in an old house like this, where the walls aren’t straight,’ she says. ‘Both wardrobes cost me a total of £2,200, which is good value for money compared to what you’d pay in a shop.’
Kim’s next plan is to install an en suite for the guest bedroom at the top of the house, so that visitors don’t need to tramp down to the next floor in the middle of the night. But for the moment, she’s very content with the outcome of her downsizing experiment. ‘Taking on a neglected cottage and renovating it has been a great start to a new life stage,’ she says. ‘The fact that I’ve been able to stay close to friends and family is simply the icing on the cake.’
‘You can get what you want with made-to-order pieces, which is handy in an old house where the walls aren’t straight’
3 Kitchen TO OPEN UP THE SMALL GALLEY KITCHEN VISUALLY, KIM WENT FOR CREAM WALLS AND UNITS WITH PALE-GREY GRANITE WORKTOPS Shaker-style cream kitchen; oak-effect laminate floor; both price on application, Howdens Joinery
6 Main bedroom BAROQUE-STYLE FURNITURE AND PAINTED WHITE BEAMS CREATE A FRENCH CHÂTEAU LOOK IN THE SMALL COTTAGE Versailles double bed, £1,399, Feather & Black. For a similar upholstered stool, try the Provencal white, £481, The French Bedroom Company
7 Staircase CARPET ON THE STAIRS ADDS A TOUCH OF LUXURY AND KEEPS NOISE TO A MINIMUM. VINTAGE WINE RACKS FIT PERFECTLY UNDER THE STAIRWAY Pebble houndstooth carpet, £69.99 per sq m, Brintons
10 Bathroom THE UNFUSSY BATHROOM SUITS THE COTTAGE’S AGE AND HAS A DISTINCTLY VINTAGE FEEL THANKS TO UNFINISHED FLOORING,
AGED METAL DETAILING, PANELLING AND METRO TILES Artisan Eau De Nil tiles, £95 per sq m, Laura Ashley. Savoy loo,