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Mollie Makes - - Contents - Words: LARA WAT­SON Pho­tog­ra­phy: RACHAEL SMITH

In­te­ri­ors lover Sara Carl­ton shows us around her plant-filled cot­tage ren­o­va­tion

For Sara Carl­ton, a home is a con­stant work in progress. Tak­ing on this ren­o­va­tion pro­ject on a bud­get has led to some sur­pris­ing fixes, with plenty of room for her beau­ti­ful wall hang­ings.

The 200-year-old cot­tage she shares with her pho­tog­ra­pher boyfriend Chris and cat, Cat (a stray who wan­dered into their lives), sits in a small vil­lage in County Durham, not far from where they grew up. “We weren’t look­ing to buy a house,” says Sara. “We were sav­ing

to go trav­el­ling, but this old wreck was such a steal that we just went for it. It was the per­fect lo­ca­tion for us in the coun­try­side.”

Once in, plas­ter and ceil­ings came down, and brick walls and pip­ing were ex­posed. “We’ve gone for an in­dus­trial vibe,” Sara ex­plains. “My style is quite eclec­tic; bo­hemian and rus­tic, but Chris likes in­dus­trial style. He’s not a huge fan of tex­tures and pat­terns and is more min­i­mal­ist than I am. We clash some­times but he’s very cre­ative so we make de­ci­sions to­gether.”

The cou­ple tried to re­tain the orig­i­nal fea­tures, while find­ing modern ways to up­date the prop­erty. Chris came up with the ex­posed pipe con­duit in the kitchen, and walls that were stripped back to rem­edy damp have stayed bare. “That was an ac­ci­dent. We stripped the wall­pa­per and the plas­ter fell o!! We set the beams free as well – there are still some ar­eas of damp so it helps. It’s a bit dusty but we love it. That was the look we were go­ing for – a bit un­fin­ished, homely and rus­tic.”

The house is a “lit­tle tardis”, small to look at, but hid­ing long cor­ri­dors, quirky fea­tures and beau­ti­ful views at the back. The kitchen-diner is Sara’s favourite spot, although she’s not mad on cooking. It’s a won­der­ful place to sit, with a huge DIY chalk­board along one wall. “We painted the wall with black­board paint, then screwed a few floor­boards we had left over around it to give the board e!ect.”

In the four years since the cou­ple moved in, the styling has changed a lot. “I’m con­stantly mov­ing things,” ad­mits Sara, who’s been go­ing through a de­clut­ter­ing phase. “I’m try­ing to make o"ce space in the bed­room. And I al­ways change cush­ions around, move plants, swap the liv­ing room about. It’s con­stantly evolv­ing.”

Their fur­ni­ture mostly comes from eBay and Gumtree, or is thrifted or sec­ond-hand.

Sara and Chris bought just a cou­ple of new pieces, the so­fas and their din­ing room chairs. The kitchen ta­ble was a school or work­man’s ta­ble from an auc­tion house, and Sara loves the char­ac­ter the marks add to it. It also helped that Chris’s dad has a re­moval com­pany, so he found a lot of fur­ni­ture for the cou­ple, too. “Most things I just give a lick of paint to – even the doors were res­cued from a fire pile.”

The house be­came such a DIY pro­ject, in fact, that it sparked Sara’s new busi­ness, Fern Art and In­te­ri­ors. A blank space on the wall be­hind the couch got her think­ing about ways to bring in other tex­tures and styles. “I wanted some­thing a bit di er­ent with a bit of move­ment, so I just de­cided to give it a go my­self. I started from scratch with yarn and tried a few dip-dye­ing tech­niques. I love do­ing stu like that and I was re­ally happy with how it turned out.” Sara is pro­lific on In­sta­gram, where she started get­ting re­quests for cus­tom wall hang­ings. And though it’s not a full-time job right now – she works for a char­ity sup­port­ing un­paid car­ers – Sara re­ally rel­ishes her cre­ative time in the evenings and week­ends.

So is there any­thing Sara would change? “As it was a ren­o­va­tion pro­ject, we rushed it a lit­tle bit,” says Sara. “There are prob­a­bly some things we’d both change. But some­times you have to try it, and if it doesn’t work, just cover it up!”

The Barker and Stone­house sofa was one of Sara and Chris’s only splurges in their bud­get ren­o­va­tion.

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“This to the is the best £20 I’ve spent!” The bam­boo head­board and bed­side ta­bles add

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