A fairy-tale thatched cottage updated with a light and tranquil interior

This fairy-tale thatched cottage in the woods has been sensitively updated by its owners with a calm and neutral decorating scheme

black and white thatched cottage with well in the garden
(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

The owners of this fairy-tale 16th-century thatched cottage were sold on it the moment they stepped into the entrance hall and saw the inglenook fireplace. Featuring four different types of brick patterns, the suggestion of a bread oven, and the crooked character of its 400-year-old history, this single but significant feature was enough to convince them that the cottage was just what they were looking for.

Yet the property, located in the New Forest in England, came with its own unique set of challenges. Many of the rooms had low-beamed ceilings, which were painted in colors that made them seem almost oppressive. Natural light was restricted by small inset windows and the overhanging thatched roof.

The owners have, however, carefully and sensitively updated the interiors, making them feel light and airy so that the cottage can stand among the world's best homes as an example of how to successfully marry historic features and modern styling.

Introducing a greater sense of light and space

brick inglenook fireplace in an old cottage with armchairs uplholstered in white and blue fabric

(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

The owners were keen to bring the Grade II listed three-bedroom former yeoman's farmhouse up to date and introduce a greater sense of light and space. They wanted it to be comfortable and relaxing, and to have a connection with its location in the New Forest through colors, textiles, and textures. They also wanted the rooms to flow naturally through the house with common links providing a sense of continuity.

They worked with Jess McDonald of Bergamot Interiors, who suggested starting with the sanding and lightening of wooden floors as a painted floor idea and installation of fresh lighting before decorating with neutrals throughout in tranquil colors. 

white painted beamed living room in a country cottage with neutral sofa

(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

One of the most effective ways of making the rooms look larger and lighter has been to paint the walls and ceilings in the same color, which instantly ‘lifts’ the perceived height of the room while reflecting light throughout the space. 

As a beamed ceiling idea, the original beams have also been painted in the same color to further enhance the feeling of light and space in this living room idea.

Linking spaces through the color scheme

sitting room and adjoining hall space in an old cottage decorated with a neutral scheme

(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

The color scheme links the living room to the main entrance hall while the newly sanded floorboards complement the color of the stone floor, as an example of how to whole-house color scheme.

Furniture and accessories were chosen with the same tonal values in mind, keeping the colors light and neutral to allow the natural historic features of the property to stand out. The tones in the rug, sofa, and cushions seen above are also echoed in the armchair in the adjoining room to create a cohesive look.

‘Sometimes when you are doing up a whole house it’s difficult to know where to begin,’ says Jess McDonald. ‘It’s useful to find an anchor point for each room, like a favorite cushion or a particular lampshade, from which you can build the color scheme.

Updating a kitchen by painting cabinets

neutral painted farmhouse kitchen with wooden worktops and cream aga

(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

The farmhouse kitchen looks more light and airy now the units – once apple green – have been painted in Paint and Paper Library Sand III, and the walls and ceiling in Sand I.

The island was extended with a bespoke breakfast bar, with a wooden surface to match the wooden bar stools. 

Adding pattern through window treatments

patterned blind in a dining area of open plan kitchen diner with banquette and blue cushions

(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

Throughout the house, window treatment ideas with subtle organic prints that connect the cottage to its forest surroundings were the perfect way to inject a little pattern into the neutral scheme for a colorful uplift.

'In the kitchen, we focused on a blind fabric that the owner liked,' explains Jess McDonald. This worked as inspiration to set the theme for the rest of the space, as did the blind fabric used in the bedroom.

cottage attic bedroom decorated in neutral tones with accessories in soft pink and blue

(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

Small bathroom ideas

cottage bathroom with sloping ceiling, claw foot bath, floral curtain at window and hexagonal floor tiles

(Image credit: Nick Smith Photography)

Brimming with small bathroom ideas, this characterful space has a subtle nod to a more contemporary scheme through hexagonal bathroom floor tiles.

Color is added through a sage green tile trim, and floral curtains as a bathroom window treatment idea help to soften the feel of the space to make it cozier.

With its light decorating scheme and furnished with a combination of new and antique pieces, this historic Grade-II listed building has gradually had layers of comfort added by its owners that have turned it into a sympathetically modern family home. 

Heather Dixon
Freelance writer

Heather was a news journalist in regional papers until an interview with a theatrical couple living in a very theatrical house took her career down a very different route – and led to a long-standing passion for homes and interiors.

For 30 years Heather has travelled the length and breadth of the UK sourcing and writing about readers’ beautiful homes.