a warm welcome
Sarah Montague reworked a listed cottage to create a family bolthole filled with stylish furnishings and ideas
Careful planning and a clever new layout have revived this quaint chocolate-box cottage in the New Forest
Down the road from Sarah Montague’s chocolate-box cottage lies the picturesque landscape that was made famous in the Oscar-wining movie, A Man for All Seasons. ‘The Beaulieu River was one of the things that first attracted me to this area,’ says Sarah, who loves to sail and kayak with her son, James, along the stretch made famous in the film.
But when she started searching for a forever home – working as an army GP meant living in a military quarter – she hadn’t considered the New Forest at all. ‘I was looking in north Hampshire and spotted this place for sale at auction,’ says Sarah. ‘Perhaps it was because it was August and there weren’t many people bidding but I walked away realising I’d just bought the most amazing house.’
Apart from boasting a new thatched roof, the property was in need of quite a bit of love and attention. ‘The couple who owned it before had started renovating but never managed to finish it,’ explains Sarah. ‘So the interior was a warren of dark old-fashioned rooms.’ Sarah knew she would be renting out the property as a holiday home in between using it herself, so she concentrated all her efforts on ensuring it would be as accommodating as possible, which meant a major renovation.
‘Originally the kitchen opened up to expose the beams above, so I knew getting in a fifth bedroom would be tricky and quite cramped,’ says Sarah. After thinking over the problem for a few months, Sarah and her builder dreamt up an ambitious scheme, which involved lowering the kitchen ceiling and suspending it on a bespoke, steel beam, so she could have greater headspace in the room above.
Downstairs, the old bathroom was converted into a bedroom overlooking the garden and a new shower room was fitted in the middle of the building. Unfortunately, during the renovations, Sarah discovered that water run-off from the adjacent field was draining into the ground beneath the cottage. ‘When we took up the floorboards, it was like a swimming pool underneath,’ says Sarah. ‘But I was
extremely lucky because it took £250 and a few days’ work to re-route the drain and solve the problem.’
The kitchen was another design challenge. On the suggestion of her builder, Sarah placed bifold doors each side of the dining area, flooding it with light and transforming it into a welcoming space. To create more wall space for cupboards, she blocked up a side window and installed two new windows that look out onto the meadow. ‘However, I soon realised that the blank wall between the windows looked wrong and so I had a false housing built in over the range,’ she says. The room is also home to the striking wood and steel staircase, which leads up to another guest room.
Even being posted abroad 14 weeks into the project didn’t daunt Sarah. ‘Throughout this time I was compiling a mood board with colours, ideas fabrics and sketches of how each space would look,’ she says. This enabled her to make decisions on what to buy more easily as she already knew what she needed. She decided each room would have a theme and some kind of meaning, therefore one of the downstairs bedrooms contains a small metal bed that belonged to her great aunt, and the snug room displays her late father’s fishing rod. She also took inspiration from the country house decor at the nearby Pig Hotel, choosing hardy tweeds and solid, wooden furniture alongside lighter touches.
While Sarah is away, she rents out the cottage for holidays and weekends, but always enjoys returning home. ‘ We’ve found that it really is a year-round house,’ she says. ‘Cosy in winter with the fires lit, beautiful in spring with the bulbs in the garden, and relaxing in the summer with its outdoor space.’
sitting room sarah opted for a woodburning stove as it’s a safer alternative to an open fire in a thatched cottage. Stovax Huntingdon 25 multi-fuel woodburning stove, £795, Stovesonline. Bead mirror in Champagne, £115, John Lewis, is a close match. Stag Toile wallpaper in Moss, £74 per roll, Little Greene. Beams painted in Mole’s Breath matt estate emulsion, £ 43.50 per 2.5 litres, Farrow & Ball
snug ‘Light-coloured blinds were a slightly more practical choice in here as they don’t cover the smaller windows too much,’ says sarah. Cushions and blinds in Honey Bees fabric in Charcoal, £54m, Barneby Gates. Cambridge two-seater leather sofa, from £1,549, Sofasofa. Walls painted in Radicchio and Down Pipe estate emulsion, both £ 43.50 per 2.5 litres, Farrow & Ball
Master bedroom Chestnut Cottage is available to book for holiday breaks via airbnb and New Forest escapes. French hardwood double mahogany-stained sleigh bed, £ 499, the Furniture Market, has this look
bathroom ‘We ordered three baths before we could find one that would fit up the stairs,’ recalls sarah. Delicato floor tiles in Volcan, £119.70sq m, Mandarin Stone. burlington windsor bath, £562, Sanctuary bathrooms, has this look
Guest bedroom sarah based this scheme around the vintage fern prints on the walls. wild fern fabric in Citrus, from £29.50m, Clarke & Clarke at eden Fabrics. For vintage botanical fern prints like this, try oka, £295 per set of eight. Checked throw, £85, National trust