French style and coastal vibes give this historic thatched cottage a fresh look

Balancing period features with bright and airy interiors, this typically English cottage offers the best of both worlds

whitewashed thatched cottage exterior with blue front door and with white picket fence
(Image credit: Colin Poole)

It's the picture-perfect English thatched cottage. Steeped with history and sympathetically renovated inside and out, the 17th-century gem is situated at the heart of an idyllic East Devon village and is one of the oldest properties in the area. 

The cottage's historic connections and Grade-II listing would be sufficient in themselves to make this one of the world's best homes, but add to that its characterful French-style décor, and beautifully curated vintage and antique furnishings and this property really is something special. 

For the past few years it's been home to seasoned renovators Christina Dickinson and her husband Nigel. The couple weren’t intending to buy a long-term home when they found the thatched cottage. However, as soon as saw it they loved it and recognised its potential – even though it needed a substantial amount of work, as well as a new thatched roof. 

They saw past the overgrown front garden, which made the cottage very dark, and despite the yellow and tangerine paintwork, they could see it was light and spacious, even with its beams and low ceilings. 

Living room

living room with white and gray sofas and fireplace with wood burner and vintage copper pots and white painted beamed ceiling with twig decoration

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

By painting the walls white, and whitewashing the ceiling beams, the cottage was dramatically updated and brightened. Nowhere was the transformation more striking than in the living room. Living room ideas here include using a palette of soft blues, grays and neutrals to create a cosy, welcoming ambience. A homemade light fitting fashioned from willow branches and LED fairy lights i an ingenious way of avoiding fitting electrics around the ancient beams. The paintings over the fireplace are by Simon Hadley Attard (opens in new tab).

Kitchen

kitchen with range cooker beamed ceiling window seat and red oriental rug

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

There is no shortage of inspiration here for anyone looking for kitchen ideas for a period property, and there are practical solutions, too. How do you fit a new kitchen in an old property like this? The answer, Christina decided, is you don't. Instead, she found an antique butcher’s block and a large larder cupboard more in keeping with the historic surroundings, and luckily they fitted the space perfectly. She also commissioned some classic Shaker cabinets, which were custom-built by a local carpenter. 

Dining area

round table in dining room with striped cloth and blue chairs and dog on window seat pale painted walls and whitewashed beams

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

In the cosy dining space, there are more tricks of the light. White painted walls and beams open up the room, softening the boundaries to make it look larger. Anyone looking for dining room ideas for a smaller space would do well to opt for a round dining table, as here, while a large floor-standing mirror helps to enhance the sense of space. The walls are painted in White Clay by Earthborn Paints (opens in new tab), which is used throughout the house

The snug

snug with fireplace with large shells and woodburner with small wooden stools bright painting above mantelpiece and stairs in background

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

One of the biggest challenges was replastering the cob walls in the oak-beamed snug. The couple couldn’t find a local plasterer experienced in heritage properties who was available within their timescale. Luckily, Nigel is very handy and managed to do it himself with help from a local firm of heritage lime plasterers. They told the couple 'this house was built with love, mud, horsehair and straw. Treat your cob with love and treat it gently'! They also taught Christina and Nigel how to throw the cob plaster at the wall. ‘It looks a bit like grey porridge when it first goes on,' she says. 'Once it turns white, you apply the next layer.’

painted glazed cabinet with glassware and gilded armchair with blue upholstery and dark wood table with turned pedestal

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

The cottage is one of the oldest houses in the village and Christina wanted to use antique furniture as much as possible, saying they are usually far better made than modern pieces and have a zero carbon footprint, which is another huge advantage. Both the barley twist table and smart French-style carved armchair were antiques shop finds.

Bedrooms

bedroom with French style double bed and striped bed cover

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Anyone in search of bedroom ideas, will find plenty of inspiration in the cottage's three bedrooms. All have elements of French style, and a coastal vibe – influenced by the owners' previous homes in southern France and by the sea. Christina collects vintage and new cotton quilts, which she has layered up in this guest room. She even used one to upholster the panels on the French-style bed. 

bedroom with double bed and grey bed throw with bright painting at bedhead and beam over dormer window

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Denim blue and white décor continues the coastal theme in the second guest room, above. Christina bought the blue quilt and cushions locally and collaborated with local artist Tina Stokes to produce the picture above the bed. 

bedroom with ornate french-style upholstered bed and striped bed cover with round pillows and white walls

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

The main bedroom, above, has a distinctly French feel. Christina bought the quilted cotton bedspread at Forever England, and the Danish company Madam Stoltz makes similar round white linen cushions, available through Trouva. The French Bedroom Company is a good place to source similar French-style beds 

whitewashed thatched cottage exterior with blue front door and picket fence

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Rethatching the roof was a priority once the couple had moved in – note the rooftop hares, a signature touch from the master thatcher. The wooden window frames are painted in Parma Gray and the front door is painted in St Giles Blue, both by Farrow & Ball. 

Now that the project is complete, Christina and Nigel are both delighted they made the move and say the cottage suits their lifestyle perfectly. There's a cosy atmosphere when there’s just the two of them at home, but plenty of space for family and visitors. After completing an astonishing tally of 14 renovations on previous homes, it seems they have at last found their forever home. 

Original feature:  Jane Bowles

Karen is the houses editor for homesandgardens.com 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.