This rustic cottage in Australia – influenced by the palette of the sea – is a haven of peace

James Watts of Armadillo rugs embraced slow design and pared-back beauty in the transformation of his bucolic cottage in New South Wales

exterior of white weatherboard cottage with a porch
(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

Aptly named Werona – Aboriginal for ‘quiet’ – this charming 1930s weatherboarded cottage in Burrawang, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, is the epitome of rural charm and its exterior and stunning interior ensure it is one of the world's best homes

‘This area is one of the few areas in Australia that enjoys the traditional four seasons, it reminded me of my roots in Rutland and Cornwall,’ says James Watts, managing director of Australian rug company, Armadillo.

James was keen to swap the city life he had enjoyed in Sydney for the past 25 years for a more quintessential British country village meets undiscovered Australian country outpost with his partner Tony Chapman. 

‘We fell in love with the burnt orange, maple tree-lined avenues and surrounding hills,’ says James. ‘Within a week of discovering the town, we completed on this charming house – it was all very serendipitous.’ 

Framed by decorative white railings, the cottage is set in the heart of a large garden, home to weeping cherry trees, crab apples, a vast claret ash, maples and magnolias. ‘We wanted to restore the building, but maintain the integrity of the original two bedroom footprint, with the only additions being an authentic front porch and rear deck,’ says James. 

James trained in film design and spent 20 years working as a set designer and prop buyer for high-profile TV shows and movies, in both the UK and Australia, before Armadillo enticed him to join. 

With his artistic credentials, he felt very comfortable designing the space and worked with a local builder to realise his vision, which took four months to complete in the spring of 2020. 

Kitchen

gray kitchen with gray cabinets and walls, striped rug, wooden stool, white range cooker and striped blind

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

Internally, the original kitchen, two bedrooms and a small back room were reconfigured to accommodate an extra bathroom, laundry and the pièce de résistance – a reconfigured kitchen area that connects to a stylish banquette seating corner, which also acts as an office.

A smart monochrome scheme was one of the kitchen ideas, with marble countertops and a white range cooker offsetting the dark gray walls and cabinets.

gray kitchen with shelves, white countertop and sink

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

The kitchen is artfully curated with paintings, ceramics and vintage boards and bowls.

Dining room

dining room with built in gray bench, gray and neutral cushions and vintage wooden table and chairs

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

‘This light-filled space is a lovely place to eat, work or entertain,’ says James.

Clever dining room ideas included a built-in seating area, which adds versatility to the space.

Living room

neutral living room with pops of greens and blues and striped armchair

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

Original features, such as the windows, panelling, fireplace ideas, floorboards and living room ceiling light, have all been lovingly restored and paired with reclaimed antique door handles and furniture in keeping with the period.

For comfort, sustainable modern luxuries were added – heated floors and reverse cycle heating. Carefully considered storage makes the most of the space. This includes a bespoke kitchen pantry with drinks bar, concealed wardrobe and bathroom storage, and abundant built-in shelves for displays of favorite pieces.

The living room's monochrome palette is lifted with warm wood tones, duck-egg blue, greenery and treasured pieces of art. Living room ideas to create a cozy space include a woodburning stove for chilly days.

neutral living room with striped armchair, round wooden occasional tables and pale gray sofa

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

James wanted to bring a British nuance to his home, so a painting by his grandfather takes pride of place in here. ‘It portrays a scene in a Surrey woodland,’ says James.

Main bedroom

bedroom with dark gray panelling, neutral bedlinen and wall light

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

‘The house gave me permission to be bolder with my colour choices and the effect is very cocooning, regardless of season,’ says James. Heritage colours in lichen, deep green and grey, influenced by the palette of the sea and surrounding landscape, are mixed with thoughtfully sourced antiques, new furniture, collected personal objets and art.

A rich dark hue brings a luxurious feel to the original panelling in the main bedroom, while a chest is a characterful bedside table. 

Bedroom

bedroom with duck egg panelled walls and ochre throw

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

Textiles and fabrics, in shades of tan and duck-egg blue have been carefully chosen and Armadillo’s handmade, hand-knotted rugs add natural, decorative appeal throughout the house.

Everything about this space feels relaxed – from the natural linens to the single painting displayed off-centre. In keeping with the informal feel, one of James' bedroom ideas was to do away with a headboard and allow the panelled wall to be the understated backdrop to the bed.

Bathroom

bathroom with duck egg vanity, natural fibre rug, round mirror and brass wall light

(Image credit: Marnie Hawson)

Bathroom ideas include allowing brass accents, including on the vanity James designed, to introduce a time-worn patina.

Through his role at Armadillo, James’ style is heavily influenced by the notion of slow design, with a buy once, buy well philosophy. ‘Armadillo’s ethos encourages a slower, more considered pace of life. Living in the country for four days a week, we are fully embracing that notion – and Werona cottage has given us both a renewed sense of calm, freedom and creativity.’

Photography/ Marnie Hawson

Styling/ Olga Lewis

Text/ Ali Heath

Vivienne Ayers
Vivienne Ayers

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.