'The cottage reminds me of my grandma’s house – I know she would have loved it,’ says Rachel Southern of her bolthole in England's Cotswolds that dates from the mid 1600s and is undoubtedly one of the world's best homes.
Originally a barn adjoining the next door farmhouse, it was later converted into two simple ‘one up one down’ cottages, then in the early 1900s it was knocked through to create one cottage.
Rachel describes it as ‘a pandemic buy’. Having bought it in February 2021, building work started in March and the interior was completed by September.
‘Our main home is in London but we wanted somewhere closer to family that we could all enjoy, but also generate some income by renting it out. Lockdown gave me the time and space to do it.’
In the spirit of authenticity, the renovation project focused on keeping as many original features as possible. ‘Beams were stripped and repaired,’ says Rachel. ‘We tried to preserve as many of the 300-year-old floorboards as we could, but some just disintegrated in our hands. We had to source similar floorboards and a five-metre original oak beam during lockdown. It was needed to keep the ceilings in place. We eventually found one in a reclamation yard in Gloucester but we were viewing everything on a mobile phone in a video call, which wasn’t easy!
‘We lifted the floorboards on the top floor to secure the ceilings and found the two original stone spiral staircases. It was fascinating to see 400 years of history but, unfortunately, while they were beautiful to look at, they were impractical for a family home and with regret we had to cover them over again.’
Because the interior was dated, Rachel turned to her friend, interior designer Laura Stephens of Laura Stephens Interiors, for help. ‘Laura was phenomenal. It was such fun renovating the cottage with her. Due to lockdown, we had to plan and create mood boards from one two-hour visit, which was challenging.’
Laura’s brief was to bring in the colors of the local surroundings and introduce earthy tones. ‘Rachel wanted the cottage to feel authentic and simple,’ says Laura. Her aim was for each room to feel different but with a continuous flow from one to another, creating a cosy look that was in keeping with the cottage’s roots. The architecture dictated the color palette. With its low ceilings and beams, the old part of the cottage is dark and Laura and Rachel wanted to embrace that while ensuring it didn’t feel cave-like.
Living room ideas included establishing a modern tone by choosing a vivid green for the sofa.
Striped and tartan textiles in bright hues were introduced as a foil to the golden tones of the stone and wood beams.
Although the kitchen extension dates from more recent times, painting the units a deep, rich red was one of the kitchen ideas. ‘It was a brave move but I love the color,’ says Rachel.
An unattractive island in the kitchen was removed but the existing handmade solid wood cabinets were retained and repainted, while the walnut worktop was sanded and oiled.
Tongue and groove panelling was also fitted. ‘We wanted to inject color and character,’ says Laura. Everything above the cabinets was painted a warm cream to balance the rich red shade of the wood, while nostalgic touches such as enamelware and a hanging rail were added.
Flagstone floors and pretty scalloped pendant lights imbue the space with additional endearing nostalgic charm.
A swathe of modern color was introduced in the main bedroom to keep things contemporary.
One of Laura's bedroom ideas was to take the wallpaper up onto the ceiling for a sense of cohesion and to enhance the decoration.
There are nods throughout the cottage to Rachel’s love of botanicals, from a pressed-flower gallery on the upper landing to the Cathy Nordström wallpapers in one of the bathrooms and a guest bedroom. ‘I love the yellow wallpaper in the guest room,’ says Rachel. ‘There’s a golden glow in that room when the sun comes in through the window.’ The simple bedstead and striped cushions stop the scheme from becoming chintzy.
Pops of maroon counterbalance the yellow tones.
Bathroom ideas include choosing tiles with a lovely artisan feel. Their deep rose pink color is continued on the panelling for an overall sense of richness.
The cottage was once a barn that adjoined the next door farmhouse.
To rent Well Cottage, visit Sand and Stone Escapes
Interior designer/ Laura Stephens Interiors
Photographer/ Paul Massey
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Interiors have always been Vivienne's passion – from bold and bright to Scandi white. After studying at Leeds University, she worked at the Financial Times, before moving to Radio Times. She did an interior design course and then worked for Homes & Gardens, Country Living and House Beautiful. Vivienne’s always enjoyed reader homes and loves to spot a house she knows is perfect for a magazine (she has even knocked on the doors of houses with curb appeal!), so she became a houses editor, commissioning reader homes, writing features and styling and art directing photo shoots. She worked on Country Homes & Interiors for 15 years, before returning to Homes & Gardens as houses editor four years ago.
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