A run­down cot­tage be­came a sum­mer re­treat

Chic & Country - - Contents - Text: C&C Pho­tos: C Grant

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.”

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