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