Hill House


This former run down fisherman’s cottage has been transformed into a unique space filled with French brocantes finds; a coastal retreat to truly escape to...

Someone once said that one can never be too rich, too thin - or have too much space in which to express oneself. It may have been me but no matter - it still has a certain element of truth about it. When it comes to interior design, the available space between any collection of walls is critical, dictating both concept and execution.

If you've space by the barrel-load, you're laughing. Big spaces are not only generous in that they offer the greatest possibilities, they are also forgiving - a near miss here or a little indulgence there really doesn't matter, the grand design still triumphs. Smaller spaces are a whole different ball game. They hoover creativity and are about as forgiving as a rattlesnake.

So faced with a fisherman's cottage in Hastings offering what was effectively a grand total of four modest rooms Linda had her work cut out. Her treatment of her family's main home, under an hour away, had already been a serious success and the property had featured in a previous issue of Wealden Times (www.wealdentimes.co.uk/house/wt136a) but this was an entirely different animal and called for a completely different approach and skill set.

Linda is one of the Three French Hens, three Francophile old school friends who have set up a business sourcing brocante home and garden collectables and selling them at the regular sales at Silcocks Farm Shop in Tenterden. "We are all creative and artistic in various ways and each of us has a love for home-making with a style leaning towards the nostalgic and eclectic," says Linda

Linda is one of the Three French Hens, three Francophile old school friends who have set up a business sourcing brocante home and garden collectables and selling them at the regular sales at Silcocks Farm Shop in Tenterden. "We are all creative and artistic in various ways and each of us has a love for home-making with a style leaning towards the nostalgic and eclectic," she says. "One friend, Mandi, lives a large part of the year in France and Pippa, the other, has a daughter there so they are well placed to trawl the French markets, brocante sales and vide-greniers."

Unfortunately, their love of the markets and talent for spotting a bargain meant that there came a point when their own houses could take no more of their finds - so they started a business. Linda's home of 20 years is testament to her own eye. Although a 20th century build, the whole house is almost entirely made from reclaimed 17th and 18th century materials - the bricks, Kent peg tiles and oak woodwork have all served in more ancient buildings and have brought a myriad memories of their previous lives. It's the perfect setting for her.

If there is one unifying theme that runs through Linda's home it's that whereas we might hide away the apparently uninteresting paraphernalia of day to day living, Linda puts it on show and somehow it ceases to be dull and commonplace and becomes interesting and even beautiful...

If there is one unifying theme that runs through Linda's home it's that whereas we might hide away the apparently uninteresting paraphernalia of day to day living, Linda puts it on show and somehow it ceases to be dull and commonplace and becomes interesting and even beautiful. "I have to own up - I pinched the idea from Bill's in Lewes," admits Linda. Pinched or not, it was a great idea.

However, although this concept worked well in a spacious family home, in a somewhat smaller Hastings cottage, however pretty, it would leave no room to swing so much as a catfish. Clearly it was time to start with a completely new creative canvas and allow the property itself to call the shots.

Bought as a bolt hole for Linda, her husband and any of her now grown up children who might want to get away for a few days and enjoy the incomparable surroundings of the Old Town, the cottage consists of what was originally two downstairs rooms - which are now one open plan space divided by a light staircase - and two upstairs bedrooms, a single and a double. The downstairs space is now a living room and kitchen with a small bathroom off the kitchen. Outside there is a small pebble garden tumbling with roses.

"It was exactly what we were looking for," says Linda. "It's in the heart of the Old Town but hidden up a little passage so it's lovely and quiet even in the height of summer."

"It was exactly what we were looking for," says Linda. "It's in the heart of the Old Town but hidden up a little passage so it's lovely and quiet even in the height of summer. It's also not much more than half an hour from our main home in Kilndown so there's no real travelling to do - we can just jump in the car on a whim and under an hour later we're in a different world."

When they took it over, the cottage was in need of serious work and the first task was to strip out all the furnishings and floorings they knew would have to go and then take stock. The whole of the ground floor was tiled in imitation stone but when they had taken that up, it didn't get a great deal better - the floorboards beneath were painted bright orange. The carpets were then stripped out of the remaining rooms leaving bare-ish floorboards.

Linda's first task was to think in terms of a colour palette. "These were spaces which needed to come together as a whole, to run into one another so I knew I had to go for one colour scheme throughout. I love bright colours but I knew I was going to have to go for something more neutral if I was going to make the most of the rooms."

Linda went for white walls and French grey woodwork throughout including the floors. The grey has worked particularly well on the downstairs floors. They had been painted so many times before that the grain and imperfections had been, literally, glossed over which had left a lovely smooth surface for the new grey...

She went for white walls and French grey woodwork throughout including the floors. The grey has worked particularly well on the downstairs floors. They had been painted so many times before that the grain and imperfections had been, literally, glossed over which had left a lovely smooth surface for the new grey. White and grey is, of course, hardly an original choice at present but nothing could work better in this cottage. With plenty of light pouring in through generous windows, this was never a dark property but the white and delicate grey really works with this strength to provide an interior that never feels small or pokey.

In the kitchen, Linda took out all the high units which opened out the room dramatically. "We were only going to use the cottage as a holiday home so we really didn't need all the kitchen storage of a home kitchen," she says. Cost was a consideration and so the old pine surfaces were given a new lease of life with a coat or two of Farrow & Ball black floor paint and now, set off with a couple of black glass shopping boards, look a million dollars. The units, again originally pine, are now grey.

On the wall, is a clever French find that has allowed Linda to indulge in her passion of displaying every-day objects. During one of her visits, she saw an old pair of cupboard doors backed with chicken wire. She didn't know what she'd ever do with them but they just looked as if they had possibilities. What she has done here with one is to use it to hang a collection of matching stainless steel kitchen utensils on elegant chrome double hooks.

The bathroom, off the kitchen, is a mini triumph. At first sight, it must have looked big enough only for a shower but it has proven a tiled Tardis. Linda has sourced a dinky little bath which does the job perfectly, fitting neatly into the space available.

The living room is clean, crisp, comfortable and welcoming, the white walls set off with a grey sofa and red armchairs. There is no fireplace and so Linda has given the room a focal point with a large and elegant mirror. Opposite the bottom of the stairs stand a couple of old glowing wood canoe paddles and under the stairs is another little Linda on-display touch - instead of hiding the glassware away in a cupboard she has arranged it, catching the light, in shelves set into the wall.

Upstairs the bedrooms are two more cool white and bright spaces, colour and warmth added by her choice of lovely bedspreads. Both are equipped with welcoming Victorian-style 'iron' bedsteads. In all this is a master class in how to work with relatively modest spaces transforming them into a truly beautiful retreat.

Already, the cottage has proven a major success for the family who have always loved the Old Town and now have the perfect base. Linda now plans to offer it as a self-catering holiday let, complementing the B&B business they currently run at their main home in Kilndown. Personally, I'd like to put my name down now for extended stays at both.

Address Book:

  • words John Graham-Hart
  • pictures David Merewether
  • styling Lucy Fleming