‘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

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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



AGED METAL DE­TAIL­ING, PAN­ELLING AND METRO TILES Ar­ti­san Eau De Nil tiles, £95 per sq m, Laura Ash­ley. Savoy loo,

£449, Bath­store

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