When Jo and Peter Flavell decided to return to the UK, having spent a very happy decade living in France, it was a speculative online search that led them to their stone cottage in a Leicestershire hamlet.

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Dating back to 1701, the Grade II-listed cottage had not been updated for many years and featured a distinctly 1960s decor. ‘We could see the potential of the house, of course, but it was definitely the stunning views across the Welland Valley that sealed the deal,’ Jo recalls.

The couple’s move, in mid December 2012, took place during a particularly vicious spell of cold weather with a heavy snowfall. At the time, the cottage had no central heating and their first challenge was simply staying warm. ‘The house was absolutely freezing,’ says Jo.

It was a very stressful start to their new life, but they managed to get the old Rayburn oven working and made the kitchen their base while they set to work getting one bedroom and the shower room workable, before embarking on the more complex renovation that included completely rewiring the cottage and transforming a redundant double garage into a new kitchen-diner.

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Jo and Peter are freelance creatives, and together they decorated and furnished each room to reflect their love of understated, classic design. Peter specialises in making furniture that he hopes will become ‘the antiques of the future’ and Jo creates beautiful cushion covers and throws from antique fabric, so most of their furnishings are either skilfully handmade or carefully chosen vintage finds.

‘I think our preference for older things has become more pronounced over the years,’ says Jo, who collects old glass and vintage kitchenalia, as well as the textiles she buys in order to repurpose.

Walls and woodwork throughout the house have been painted in rich shades of cream and grey to act as a foil for the natural, earthy colours in her textiles. ‘I wanted warm, welcoming colours that are bold but not bright,’ Jo explains, adding that she took her inspiration from the surrounding countryside.

‘We spend a lot of time walking along the Jurassic Way, absorbing all the colours of that landscape, so although our rooms each have a different tonal focus, using ideas from the same palette brings a sense of cohesion.’

A talented carpenter, wood-turner and joiner, Peter created the freestanding kitchen cabinetry, as well as cupboards for the bathroom, all the wall panelling and much of the furniture throughout the cottage. ‘I’ve always been a collector and I love wood in particular,’ he says.

‘Just now I’m enjoying picking up old wooden bowls from antiques fairs. Some I leave alone and others I strip and stain using Swedish black linseed wax.’ One of his favourite possessions is his father’s old tool trug, which sits next to the range in the kitchen and is used to store oils, vinegars and spices.

‘I’ve recreated it many times and it’s a popular choice for customers. I’m also very attached to my collection of ancient, moth-eaten teddy bears, which we’ve dotted around the bedrooms.’

Jo and Peter are constantly drawn to antique and vintage items – an instinct they indulged fully while living in France. ‘We took every opportunity to buy unique objects that caught our eye at brocantes, marchés aux puces (flea markets) and also the vide-greniers – a tradition where villagers set out tables in the streets to empty their attics and sell their unwanted pieces.’

A favourite Saturday venue was the brocante at Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, which proved an especially good place to find old French textiles such as the vintage grain sacking that Jo has dyed and turned into floor cushions.

‘I love to buy old fabric and give it a new lease of life through colour. I don’t use standard, off-the-shelf dye, but prefer to mix colours myself. These always seem to produce a result that tones in with our decor, but not always what I was expecting.’ She also dyes a lot of vintage linen sheets that she picks up at antiques fairs, which she uses as tablecloths or cuts up to create matching napkins.

Now regular browsers of collectors’ fairs, car boot sales and antiques shops back on British soil, Jo and Peter are still adding to their collections. ‘I don’t think we’ll ever stop. Collecting and creating is at the heart of who we are,’ says Jo.

Although the Christmas season is a busy time for Flavell Trading, the couple still find time to decorate the cottage. Throughout the year, Jo carefully gathers and stores oddments of ribbon, beads and bric-a-brac, before crafting them into beautiful, traditional decorations for the tree.

The week before Christmas is always a family affair, but Christmas Day itself is a tranquil time spent quietly by themselves. ‘Candles are lit and the focus shifts to homemade food, log fires and sociable dog walks. We use the Christmas break to recharge our batteries before New Year, which we always celebrate in style with a houseful of friends,’ explains Jo.

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‘Our friends love the house as much as we do and consider it their country retreat. I don’t think we’d be allowed to move... not that we’d wish to.’

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