House Design

This pretty cottage – with Victorian additions – looks extra special at Christmas

A 17th-century cottage and adjoining Victorian schoolrooms have been renovated to create a harmonious look

kitchen with black aga and open shelf decorated for Christmas
(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

Full of festive sparkle and seasonal delights, Kim and Mark’s home is quite a contrast to the cold and gloomy property they saw when they first looked round.

‘If I’m honest, I didn’t find the house instantly appealing,’ says Kim. ‘It was actually two properties: the 17th-century timbered cottage that first caught our attention and, joined to that, the former village school.’ Only it wasn’t exactly joined, it wasn’t exactly habitable and, adds Kim, ‘It wasn’t particularly attractive – you had to have a lot of imagination. The beams were black, the carpets were pink, plus the front garden had been the school playground so was all tarmac. I couldn’t figure out how we would make it work for us.’ 

With a little help, the couple did figure it out. The home they have created is cozy and welcoming and celebrates the original features of the two different sections of the house. A new kitchen has been designed to showcase the huge arched school window and high ceilings, and is packed with great kitchen ideas

kitchen with arched window and aga and Christmas tree

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

The old school had been decommissioned 15 years earlier and had no working electricity, heating or plumbing. But it was in one of Kim and Mark’s favorite Norfolk villages and the cottage was perfectly placed with views of the church and common, and – unusually for Norfolk – on a slight hill. Despite their misgivings, they thought it was worth pursuing and acted fast because they knew it would be in demand. 

white door with wreath and light on in converted Victorian school building

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

Soon after, the family moved in. Or rather, they moved into the cottage as it was still a home of two halves. The couple called in an architectural technician to draw up plans to turn the disparate buildings into a harmonious whole and to talk through some kitchen layout ideas. Then there were false ceilings to remove, walls to replaster and new stairs to go in – and that was just in the school. 

Exterior winter view of converted Victorian village school building adjoining 17th-century thatched cottage

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

The thatched cottage had once been the village rectory and the couple learnt that part of it had burnt down around 200 years ago. It was left derelict until the village school was built in about 1860. ‘The school was rather unceremoniously tacked onto what was left of the cottage after the fire,’ says Kim. The two sides are still separate on the first floor, with a staircase each. From the outside it’s easy to see the rough join between the Victorian school and the cottage. 

While the work took place in the school, the family lived in the cottage. Then, once the kitchen was up and running, they moved over so that the cottage renovation could begin. False ceilings and walls had to come down, there was a bathroom to fit, floors to strip, and all the original 17th-century beams to sandblast.

Kitchen

Christmas tree in unfitted farmhouse kitchen with aga and farmhouse table used as island

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

Working with the architectural technician, Kim and Mark looked at how to create a country kitchen by converting the smaller of the two schoolrooms, at the front of the house. They realized it could be transformed into a big open-plan kitchen that would be perfect for entertaining, with a range cooker and lots of storage space. Local cabinetmakers built and fitted the kitchen, adding some freestanding furniture and open shelves to soften the look. 

freestanding kitchen cupboard decorated for Christmas with baskets stored

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

There are plenty of useful kitchen storage ideas here, too. ‘I can’t resist a basket!’ says Kim, and luckily this cupboard, made by the people who built the kitchen, is the perfect place to store and display them. 

christmas baking on a farmhouse table used as kitchen island with Christmas tree and arched window and pantry cupboard behind

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

The result is a bright, comfortable space, with high ceilings and the dramatic arched window in the gable end. It’s certainly spacious but it doesn't feel too big, thanks to Kim’s careful zoning of the room. On one side is the cooking and preparation area, and under the window is a butler’s sink they rescued from the garden. With a pantry cupboard to its right.

At the heart of the room, and the mainstay of many farmhouse kitchen ideas, is a vintage farmhouse table serving as an island. Opposite the island is an oil-fired Aga that fills the room with warmth and brings it to life. On the open shelf above it is Kim’s treasured collection of china and ceramic jugs, given a festive touch of holly. A berry garland from Sarah Raven adds extra seasonal color. 

Informal dining area

dining table and mismatched vintage chairs in open-plan country kitchen at christmas

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

Down a shallow step from the working space of the kitchen is an informal dining area. Kim and Mark bought the Jarrah wood table when they were living in Australia. The room as a whole now offers exactly the country-kitchen welcome Kim was hoping for. 

Living room

living room with blue sofas antique furniture in converted Victorian school

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

The larger of the two Victorian schoolrooms is now an elegant living room, with the original schoolroom windows. There is no shortage of inspiring  living room ideas in this room for those who like a characterful look. The pull-down bureau came from a Norwich antiques shop, the chest of drawers and console tables are old family treasures, and the rug is from Country & Eastern. 

detail of painting and hyacinth bulbs on a sideboard with small christmas tree fruit and plant

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

‘Occasionally someone will knock at the door and ask to see our kitchen, or living room,’ says Kim. ‘We’re used to it now – they’re curious to see the old school where they were pupils and love to tell us about how the desks were arranged in rows in our living room, and about the roaring fire in there.’

Nowadays the space is furnished with a mix of antiques, family pieces, and more recent artworks, including that by Alice Mumford, above. 

Dining room

Christmas tree and dining table with festive touches candles lit in cottage with beams and staircase behind

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

For anyone looking for dining room ideas, this welcoming space in the old cottage part of the home is full of inspiration. It has taken some work to get it looking this cozy. The beams were black, so they were sandblasted and the walls were refreshed with lime plaster and breathable paint. Kim bought the dining table from an antiques shop and gave some old chairs a new look with loose covers. 

The couple decided to open up part of the wall near the stairs to make a feature of the timbers and give the impression of more space. A table runner and napkins from Ian Mankin create the perfect setting for some festive teatime favorites. 

Christmas tree and inglenook with stove lit and stockings and garland and beams above

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

The dining room looks beautiful dressed for the festive season with a real Christmas tree and baubles, plus some old favorites that Kim has collected. In the inglenook is an Arada stove. 

Study

room beams and stove lit with artists easel and chest of drawers and colorful rug

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

This cozy room makes a perfect winter studio for Mark, who enjoys painting in his spare time. The chest of drawers is a family antique and the rug is from Country & Eastern. 

The bedrooms

double bedroom with exposed beams

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

As Kim and Mark were renovating this double bedroom at the back of the cottage, they discovered a gap in the timbers. ‘We were told it might have been a priest hole, as the house is opposite the church,’ says Kim. ‘Even if it’s not true, it’s fascinating to think about all the people who have spent time here over the years.’ 

When looking at bedroom ideas for rooms with beams, as here, or other strong architectural details it can work well to keep the décor simple. Kim and Mark bought the two basketware tables in Australia. 

twin bedroom with exposed timbers and grey painted beds and red covers with christmas presents

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

In the little twin room under the eaves, the beauty of the old beams shines through after layers of black paint were removed. 

Garden

view of church and garden in winter with winding path and pond

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

The kitchen and living room may have a familiar look to the old school's former pupils, but one thing they won’t recognize is their old playground. The hard surface is long gone, and last year, Kim and Mark thought about their favourite cottage garden ideas and transformed the outdoor space with the help of Tatterfly Wild Gardens and RS Jackson Landscapes

They have completely redesigned and replanted the garden, digging a pond to encourage wildlife and laying a circular path that weaves its way past both parts of the house, as if rounding them up and gathering them together. Next spring the plan is to add French windows to the living room so the couple can enjoy the new-look garden, and admire the view of the church and village common that first drew them to this spot. 

christmas table detail with candles vintage china cheese fruit and red striped runner.

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

Besides working on the garden, the couple have plenty of plans to update the interiors with fresh paint colors and Kim is always adding to her collections of paintings and china. For now though, she is happy to make the house shine, ready for a cozy Christmas. And whether she and Mark are hosting lunch for friends in the kitchen, or a candlelit dinner in the dining room, there’ll be a thoroughly festive welcome. 

thatched cottage in winter with white walls with curving path leading to door with christmas wreath

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

The couple have brought harmony to both sides of the house and the garden. Kim says, ‘It feels like home and we really appreciate having two styles of property in one.’ So much so that when it came to deciding where to put the Christmas tree, there was no debate. There are two trees: one in the school, one in the cottage, as the two parts of this beautiful home are equally worthy of celebration.

Subscribe to Period Living for more inspiration

This house is taken from H&G's sister brand, Period Living magazine

Subscribe to Period Living for more inspiration Period Living is the UK's best-selling period homes magazine. A subscription provides you with all you need to know about caring for and improving a traditional house and garden.

Karen Darlow
Karen Darlow

I'm the homes editor of Period Living magazine and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. I've also moved house quite a few times – totting up 10 homes in 12 years during a particularly nomadic time in my life. I like to think that makes me quite the homes expert, or at least very experienced and with a clear idea of what I like and don't like in a home. 

I love visiting and writing about old houses for Homes & Gardens' sister magazine Period Living and working with photographers to capture all kinds of historic properties. It's inspiring to talk to people about their traditional homes and to hear the stories behind their furnishing and decorating choices. And by the time I've finished an interview with a homeowner I've always got a handful of new ideas to try in my own house, as well as plenty of good stories for the magazine. It's the perfect work-life balance.