This garden designer's home brings the outside in, with a soft, natural palette

Taking inspiration from the garden outside, this extended country cottage gives a new perspective on outdoor living

pale stone cottage with new wing white front door and flower beds in bloom and blue sky
(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

While most house hunters start with how many bedrooms they want, and what the kitchen and living room are like, the owner of this 18th-century home in an Oxfordshire village, in the UK, took an unconventional approach. Ailsa Richards is a garden designer and was far more concerned about the type of trees in the garden and whether there was scope to encourage everything from pollinators to hedgehogs into the outside space. She sees things from the outside in and so it was a 300-year-old yew tree and some gnarled old apple trees that sealed the deal on this house. No matter that the tiny two-bedroom cottage didn't have space for the growing family and that the main rooms had no view of the garden – all those things could be put right over time. 

Fourteen years later the house has more than doubled its footprint, with additions to the side and back. The interiors of the house, now one of the world's best homes, were inspired by its part-walled garden and the green space beyond it. The result is a harmonious and relaxing home, totally at one with its setting as the indoor and outdoor worlds merge in a soft palette of natural shades. Here's how it all came together. 


kitchen with blue island and window seat in bay window with wooden floor

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

One of the key things in redesigning the interiors was to open up the house to the views of the garden. All the main living areas are now at the back. The new kitchen includes a beautiful bay window dining space with a custom-built banquette, perfect for admiring the garden and observing the changing seasons. From the new window seat you can see apple blossom in springtime, then swathes of hostas, hydrangeas, sedums and then seedheads and bronzed hornbeam in winter.

Kitchen ideas include a large island workspace, painted in Farrow & Ball's Stone Blue. Simple Shaker-style cabinets are topped with marble and customised with antique-style handles.  

blue kitchen cabinets and steel range cooker with gray blue tiles in herringbone pattern and herringbone wooden floor

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

A stainless steel range cooker has been fitted under a false chimney hood that conceals an extractor. Lustrous gray-blue tiles are arranged in an eye-catching herringbone pattern that echoes the herringbone flooring. 

Dining room addition

dining room extension with vaulted ceiling and roof lights with wooden table and steel framed windows

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

This high-ceilinged family dining and living room space was part of the most recent phase of alterations to the house. Big picture windows were never part of the plan here, instead, steel framed doors frame the garden views, and add to the charm rather than revealing everything all at once. Dining room ideas for this busy family space include simple bench seats with a heavier, statement dark wood table. 

At the far end of the room, living room ideas are focused on the new stone fireplace with a pair of striking orange sofas positioned to enjoy the fire, and bring out the natural tones of the wooden furniture and the flooring. A gallery display of botanical prints behind one of the sofas leaves no doubt as to the plant passion of this home's owner. 

Library and reading nook

library with bay window seat and fitted bookshelves either side with view of gardend

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

If you're looking for home library ideas, there's plenty to inspire in this bright reading nook. The daybed window seat is set into a deep alcove, the perfect place to read a book, and enjoy the sounds and sights of the garden. 

Practical mud room

mud room boot room with blue cabinetry and coat and hats hanging up and basket on bench seat

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

Incorporated into the new kitchen extension, this handy space for muddy boots and outdoor gear was a must-have for its garden designer owner. Boot room ideas include smart bespoke cabinetry with pegs for coats and a bench seat and cupboard below for shoes and other outdoor clothing. 

Entrance hall

entrance hall with old bench and floor lamp

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

Hallway ideas were about creating another room in this transitional space. Treasured family antiques – the lampbase and settle seat – give a homey look and have been updated with a new cushion and lampshade. 

Stairway heaven

staircase with window and neutral runner and blue and white floral wallpaper dark wood chair and desk under stairs

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

At the other side of the hall, making the most of every inch, a small partner’s desk is the perfect fit under the stairs, and is paired with a characterful antique chair. 

Staircase ideas worth borrowing from this calm space include the botanical-inspired wallpaper, Beech, from Lewis & Wood, and the neutral runner which complements the natural choices elsewhere in the home. 

Main bedroom

double bedroom with dormer windows and neutral color palette with bench at foot of bed

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

Even the bedroom ideas in this house are inspired by nature. The calm scheme for this room under the eaves has a countryside flavor. The bedside chests and lamps were vintage finds, the dark wood furniture providing a deeper tone of brown that picks up on the earthy highlights of other accessories in the room. 

Shepherd's hut garden room

shepherds hut in garden in bloom with hedge and trees behind

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

A garden designer's own garden is always going to be something special, and Ailsa's certainly is that. The wide plot is divided into separate 'rooms', so that you don't take in the whole vista in one glance. Tucked into one corner is a delightful shepherd's hut, built by Ailsa's husband Ben from scrap wood. The boundaries of the garden merge with the woodland beyond. 

Cottage with modern extension and back garden with mature planting and parasol

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

For homeowner Ailsa, the interiors of the home relate to the garden, rather than the other way round. The garden always comes first. 

All the changes to the house have been designed to make the garden the main focus. Originally a small cottage, built in the 1700s with just two bedrooms, the house is now more workable as a family home. Two phases of building work added three extra bedrooms and a lounge diner, and opened up the main living spaces to the garden at the back of the house. 

Such was the importance of the old apple trees and that 300-year-old yew, that Ailsa surrounded them with protective frames to shield them from the worst of the building work. The trees live on, watching over the latest additions to this special home's story. 

Feature: Karen Darlow
Photographs: Polly Eltes
Garden design: Ailsa Richards

Karen Darlow

Karen is the houses editor for and homes editor for the brand’s sister titles, Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors, and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. She loves visiting historic houses for Period Living and writing about rural properties for Country Homes & Interiors, and working with photographers to capture all shapes and sizes of properties. Karen began her career as a sub editor at Hi-Fi News and Record Review magazine. Her move to women’s magazines came soon after, in the shape of Living magazine, which covered cookery, fashion, beauty, homes and gardening. From Living Karen moved to Ideal Home magazine, where as deputy chief sub, then chief sub, she started to really take an interest in properties, architecture, interior design and gardening.