With a passion for historic structures, Emma and her husband’s move from Kent to a small worker’s cottage was prompted by a new job. Now, more than eight years on – and many building challenges along the way – they’ve restored it beautifully. Adding back character and charm that’s sympathetic to its more than 300-year old history.
‘We fell in love with the age of the property and all its original features,’ Emma tells us. ‘We just felt ‘at home’ when looking around and only looked once before making an offer straight away!’
A LABOUR OF LOVE
As is often the case with older properties, once the work began, more and more challenges were unearthed.
‘We have done much more work than we originally planned. It was previously a rental property so it looked ok on the surface but actually when we started digging we found it really needed a lot of work!
‘When we bought it we thought we’d live in it and renovate it ourselves around our day jobs, and then move on in four years. It was only meant to be a ‘stepping stone’ house for us but the more we uncovered and restored, the more we fell in love with the place.
‘There were many challenges, and we lost battles with planning and conservation over restoring the exterior stonework of the cottage, which was a massive set back for us. Physically, the hardest part was probably living with no back to the cottage during winter, whilst we were building the second extension. At the time, my husband was a builder by trade, so we were building the extension ourselves around our day jobs, it was just so slow and I was also expecting our son! I remember going to bed fully dressed and wearing two coats one night because it was so cold!
‘I wouldn’t change it though. Doing all the DIY with a few days’ help from family meant we could get a much higher finish on our interiors here than we would have managed if we’d paid another builder. It allowed us to add features, such as our glass floor, which is a really unique way of letting more light into a tiny cottage!’
Thought to date back to the 1700s – ‘there’s no exact date but we have found an old map with the cottage on’ – Emma’s taste and decor style really takes into account its age. Championing the original features they uncovered along the way, rather than hiding them.
‘We were lucky to find a lot of original features when we were renovating which we have restored. I thought about how the colours we used would work with these as well as things such as our stone floor. It felt a little overwhelming at first, but the longer we have lived here the more confident I have become with using colour, and knowing how to use it subtly to accentuate these features and add interest.’
Inspired by older properties, in particular those owned by the National Trust, Emma tells us much of her inspiration for interiors comes from the cottage itself and the character it holds.
‘I found some old limewash on the stone in the living room which was a really muted pink so I drew my inspiration for the living room decor from this. My style has definitely evolved a lot over the past year. I’m really learning what I like, which is so important.
‘I kept everything really plain when we were completing most of the work as I was heavily pregnant and we just needed the building work done! But now I have more time, I’m finding my own unique style. I feel like it’s a mix of a few different styles, but always a neutral backdrop with fun pops of colour, whilst staying sympathetic to the building.’
RESTORING THE GARDEN
It’s not only the house that has been sympathetically restored. What was once just a concrete rectangle has been transformed into a beautiful Cotswold cottage garden – all at the hardworking hands of Emma and her husband. Although not quite finished, Emma tells us it’s one of her favourite places to be.
‘We lived here without being able to use it at all for five years whilst we were building so it feels so rewarding to see everything coming into bloom for the first time this year!
‘The hardest part was definitely the stone cladding. I have such a fine eye for detail that once we had the stone delivered from the quarry, we actually cut it all down again into different sizes so it looked more random, more authentic. The walls took all of last year, so we are really looking forward to just enjoying it now!
‘I do love our living room though for the mix of stone and beams – and the log burner in the winter!’ Emma adds.
It seems Emma’s Instagram (thelittlestonecottage) followers love their garden transformation too – ‘I find the living room, garden and our antique butcher’s block get the most love on Instagram!’
The addition of the butcher’s block came soon after the purchase of the cottage – and has become one of its greatest talking points.
‘When I found out we were buying the cottage I knew we needed one somewhere. We are so tight on space we couldn’t have a freestanding one like in many country homes, so I decided to sit it on our kitchen units. It’s a lovely feature and is a pretty yet such a practical chopping station! I think of it as the heart of our home.’
A trend that shows no signs of slowing down, Emma admits she’s planning on adding some panelling to one of their rooms too, but remains mindful of the size of their cottage. ‘As a little worker’s cottage, I’m sure our home would have had some here at some point over the last few hundred years but I want to be careful using it here. Our ceilings are very low and the rooms are small, so I wouldn’t want it to make the spaces feel ‘closed in’. I’ve always loved seeing panelling in older properties. It’s nice it’s being used in new builds to add character too,’ Emma adds.
‘THE DECORATING LIST’
Taking some of her inspiration for new projects from Instagram, Emma tells us a few of her favourite design accounts are those who use colour and do a great job of mixing old and new, like @salvesengraham and @follyandthegarden. ‘They use colour but in a timeless way, almost drawing from historic decor. I’ve also found a new account recently called @townley_terrace who are doing a great job renovating their home – I love watching other renovation accounts!’
With a decorating list and a renovation list, Emma reveals their son’s room is next in line. Updating it from a ‘plain nursery to a fun toddler room.’ And for renovations? ‘The next big renovation here will be our bathroom. We’ll be ripping out the ceilings and exposing more stone… if all goes to plan!’
Spending many years renovating and decorating, Emma tells us she has learnt the importance of comfort and admits it has played a huge role in their choices and decisions.
‘You can have a pretty space, but if there’s not a table where you need it to be able to put a drink on, or enough space to walk between furniture, it’s going to make for a pretty uncomfortable space! So, practicality is my main thing, as well as taking into account any original features in the design of a room.
‘We have decided to take our time whilst renovating to get a high finish that we are happy with.’
CREATING A CONSIDERED HOME
Admittedly not one for decorating for the seasons, Emma does look to bring a touch of the outside in with simple foraged finds for vases and table settings throughout the year. ‘The summer brings us an abundance of cow parsley-lined hedgerows here which is wonderful, and I love using the dried heads in the autumn too. This year I’m hoping to use some dried bits from our own garden, like allium heads. I’ll use branches during winter and whatever I can find in spring!’
Together with creating a practical space, Emma reveals open shelving, a sense of warmth and of course, family, all help to create a home for her.
‘I don’t know why but I love seeing a collection of plates and glasses on an open shelf in a kitchen. It feels so homely and welcoming to me, as if I can just reach in and help myself to something.’
And warmth? ‘This can come from anything,’ Emma tells us. ‘Little things you have picked up on your travels or a framed picture passed down from a family member. They may not be ‘on trend’ but it’s these things that add the warmth and character to a home for me. Ultimately they are memories, unique to you.
‘When decorating, I like our home to feel like ours. It’s important that it’s always unique to us, and changes and adapts how and when we need it to.’
Looking for a little more inspiration? Read Emma’s tips for creating a beautiful and informal tablescape.