Sam Wilson is excited. The reason: she recently discovered the Malvern Flea. ‘It was my first trip so I found it a little overwhelming – there were so many amazing stalls and such a great atmosphere. I only came back with a zinc planter for the kitchen and a collection of Observer’s nature books but I could easily have got carried away,’ she says.
Getting carried away at fairs and fleas is a real danger for Sam who admits to having a weakness for everything from old string and paper to baskets (picnic, wire, woven…). ‘My parents renovated houses when my brother and I were young so we were constantly getting dragged around antiques shops. That’s definitely were I get it from’ she says. ‘We don’t have much that’s brand new in the house. I like the house to have a relaxed artisan feel.’
The house in question is a cottage nestled on the edge of a field in an unspoilt Cotswold hamlet. Despite its idyllic location, Sam and husband Mark almost didn’t view it. They’d been house hunting in the area for three years but were still bent on buying somwhere nearby despite having had three properties fall through. ‘We weren’t keen to see this cottage,’ Sam recalls. ‘It was very tired and dated and certainly wasn’t our dream home. But we tagged it on to the end of our other viewings because we knew we’d have to buy a house in need of work to afford a place here.’
No matter how hard Sam and Mark tried, though, they struggled to see beyond its dated interior. ‘It felt like a big risk. I sobbed for two weeks when we moved in.’ Luckily, along with the love of scouring flea markets, Sam also inherited a knack for renovation from her parents.
The couple moved into the cottage in August 2012 and embarked on a year-long renovation project. They were determined to turn it into a place they would love spending time in, as both work from home – Sam as a freelance illustrator and Mark as the head of an graphics agency.
‘Most of the original features had been taken out,’ says Sam. ‘The fireplace was a 1960s-style floor-to-ceiling, faux-brick design, there was a pink, thick-pile carpet and the kitchen had 1980s orange wood cupboards. We ripped it all out, exposing beams and lime plastering, and put features back, such as ledge-and-brace doors and an old Cotswold stone lintel fireplace in the living room.’
In the kitchen/diner, simple shaker-style, handmade wooden cabinets and a pantry salvaged from a skip, create an elegant country feel while, in the family bathroom, the couple fitted an old Victoria and Albert roll-top bath bought on eBay. They also redesigned the layout upstairs, moving walls around to create three bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms. It was a major project and at the height of the work they were living in one bedroom with a makeshift kitchen comprised of a microwave on a table. ‘That was during a really cold winter so it was quite traumatic,’ says Sam.
When the building work was finished, Sam had the fun and satisfying job of dressing the house almost completely from scratch as she’d sold most of their furniture. ‘We’d been living in an open-plan barn conversion in Staffordshire and all our furniture was too big,’ says Sam. ‘I kept our favourite pieces though – an old, scrubbed-pine kitchen table that we’ve had since before our children were born, a Liberty sofa that’s really shabby but we can’t bear to part with and a blue-painted cupboard bought from an antiques shop in Ashbourne.’
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This meant that she had an excuse to frequent auctions, reclamation yards and some of her favourite antiques and vintage shops, such as Tinsmiths in Ledbury, Baileys Home & Garden near Ross-on-Wye and Anton & K in Winchcombe. Her best finds include old church chairs, a reclaimed shelf for the kitchen and some screens that were customised to make a wardrobe.
Today, the beamed ceilings and walls, calm palette, plush carpets and rustic accents make the house particularly cosy at this time of year, especially in the living room, with its wood-burning stove and tea-light tree. It seems that Sam and Mark’s risk has more than paid off. ‘We didn’t know where to start when we first bought this cottage. It was
a wreck but now we absolutely love it,’ says Sam. ‘When you take a building right back and start again, everything about it is yours.’
Find out more about Sam’s illustrations and products, or visit her shops, via samwilsonstudio.com
Photographs: David Parmiter
Words: Rosanna Morris