It was a serendipitous viewing that led to the purchase of Steph’s historic home. A beautiful stone cottage that dates back almost 600 years, Steph tells us it is a medieval fortified farmhouse, known as a Bastle house, with very thick walls. ‘This was something only the wealthy could afford to do at that time to defend themselves against raids.’
Today, this fascinating nod to its history offers unrivalled charm and character where Steph and her young family have created a warm and timeless home.
Bought in 2016, Steph reveals they were viewing a different property when it came to light this one was on the market just 500m down the road. They took a chance at viewing and fell in love. ‘It was the beautiful original features (not that many of them were on show at the time) and the large rooms with high ceilings. And although it was incredibly dated we saw it had so much potential having great bones to work with!’
BRINGING IT BACK TO LIFE
Spending many years as a rental property, Steph explains there was a lot of work to be done. ‘It was completely run down and wasn’t liveable. On the surface it looked like it had a lot of issues, like damp. I think we snagged it purely because others were put off by the amount of work it required to pull it around!’ But with the help of a glorious summer and opening all the sealed windows, this allowed the cottage to breathe, bringing it back to life.
‘We stripped it back and found amazing features which have now become celebrated focal points.’
Tackling most of the work between them – with the grateful help of family members – Steph tells us it involved many a late night and long weekend to fully restore it; learning much along the way.
‘When I fell pregnant not long after we started work there was a sudden rush to make it liveable and get settled in. I felt like a lot of our decisions were quite rushed.’
Naturally progress slowed when their first daughter arrived, shortly followed by their second daughter. ‘This turned out to be the best thing for us,’ Steph explains, ‘because living in the house whilst decorating has made us realise how we use the spaces and what it really needs.’
Time has clearly worked in their favour as Steph has created, in her own words, a ‘restful, muted and timeless’ home that is sympathetic to the cottage’s heritage and original features.
‘I would say we have gone for a modern country style. Or Modern Rustic. It’s natural, simple, very laid back, I don’t like fussiness. It’s an easy calming backdrop for life (which can be chaotic) to happen.
‘My style has definitely evolved since living here. In the beginning, being quite young and with it being my first own home, I hadn’t quite figured out my style. I tried to force it into being something it wasn’t. I had been used to living in new houses and I was very much influenced by what was trending on Pinterest at the time – clinical stark whites and greys.
‘It’s only been with living in it and experiencing how we use it that I realised how important it is to remain true to the history of a building and to the style you’ve chosen. Continuing this throughout the home is important to me.
‘The colours have since changed to warmer historic Farrow & Ball colours which complement our natural stone and wood elements. We’ve also used a darker colour on the kitchen which really grounds the space. We have continued this same colour on the front door and up the house on the bannister which provides some much needed contrast.’
A CONSIDERED APPROACH
With the likes of Instagram and Pinterest providing such a plethora of inspiration these days, they can be helpful resources but at times, quite overwhelming.
‘I love getting inspiration from Instagram,’ Steph tells us. ‘I find it’s my first port of call if I’m looking to see how a piece of furniture or paint colour looks in a real home.
‘But I think it’s easy to go off on a tangent when you see someone else implementing the latest trend, especially on Instagram you can feel like you need to ‘keep up with the Jones’’. What I’ve found is, if I follow a trend I quite often end up changing it or getting rid of it if it’s been an impulse or cheap buy for the house. I’m a lot more considered in my purchases now, which in turn is a lot more sustainable and better for the environment. There is a lot of furniture we still need for the house but I’d rather wait and save up to buy pieces that will stay with us for a lifetime.
‘I really want to create a sense of timelessness. Things that aren’t going to date quickly. Not trendy pieces but just honest, solid, hardworking furniture, that sits quietly within this historic home. I especially love The Cotswold Company for this.’
NEW WITH THE OLD
Living in a cottage that is nearly six centuries old, Steph tells us that she likes to take this considered approach when it comes to decorating too. Being sympathetic to the light, history and original features it contains. ‘It’s these features that make a home unique so they need embracing! We’ve learnt to appreciate new and old and how to combine the two.’
It seems Steph’s 50K+ followers on Instagram (@stephgowla) love this blend too. ‘My most popular posts are corners which mix old and new and show a lot of texture. Like our recently built cupboards in the entryway which contrast against a rough old stone wall.
‘We’ve used muted, timeless colours taking inspiration from the stone and surrounding countryside views. The colours don’t compete with the features and instead allow them to shine. I’ve steered away from bright colours instead adding them in with accessories like cushions or tablecloths when I fancy a seasonal mix up.’
ON THE TO-DO LIST
A big ‘trend’ sweeping homes on – and off – Instagram is panelling. An inexpensive idea for adding character and texture to your home, Steph tells us she’s hoping to incorporate tongue and groove panelling in her bathroom – ‘I think it’s perfectly fitting for a country cottage.’
‘A home needs to be what you love so if you absolutely fall in love with something that is trendy I say go for it. If it’s something you truly love it will never go out of style!’
Taking this approach head on, Steph reveals the success story behind the DIY rough sawn cladding in their guest bedroom. ‘We sourced some timber from a local merchant and got them to saw it into the thinner planks. Once we had attached them to the wall I gave them a couple of coats of watered down paint to give them a lighter look. This cladding would be perfect for adding a lovely natural texture to any age of house.’
DECORATING WITH THE SEASONS
With each new season offering an array of colours, textures and foliage, Steph tells us a few of the ways she brings elements of seasonality into her home.
‘Right now I have pots and dishes filled with bulbs, vases of blossom and birch sticks with homemade hanging Easter decorations. Going into summer I like to add more fresh white flowers.
‘One of the wonderful things about living along a small country lane is the abundance of foliage in the hedgerows! In autumn I love bringing in dried foliage from the garden like Allium heads, and adding cushions and throws in rusts.
‘For winter it’s cosy, woollen throws, berry branches and layers of lighting in the form of candles, fairy lights and lamps.’
A home that lends itself to cosy evenings in and weekends at home, Steph tells us the living room is her favourite place to spend their time. ‘It’s a cosy sanctuary where you feel hidden away from the rest of the world and it’s a great space for my daughters to play. I love its pitched ceiling, the stone walls and huge unique stone fireplace. Every time I sit in there and look around I think ‘wow – we did this!’
MAKING A HOME
A home takes time to build. You add layers, filling it with things you love. Steph tells us it is a sense of family, of comfort and memories that really makes a home for her.
‘It wouldn’t be home without my husband and two daughters filling the house with love and laughter! Creating spaces to make memories with your family and investing in beautiful quality furniture that will grow with you. I love displaying things we’ve collected or made – the girls and I do a lot of crafts. I find homemade items so meaningful. And that feeling of being safe and comfortable, which has been more important than ever during this past year.
‘I think home is a reflection of you. I love the relaxed style of our interior, we are quite laid back people! Also for it to be practical as well as pretty is something I now appreciate more – having a designated home for everything just makes day to day life easier.’