Now, first of all, before we get into this house a word about the house with the controversial staircase. The architect emailed me the other day to say he was loving the post and all the chat – he admitted the stairs were very Marmite – and suggested we have a chat about well, the stairs, and how the pandemic has changed things in interiors and I thought that would be fun so look out for that. I will, I promise, GRILL, him on the stairs. Now, back to this house. A complete contrast for you this week.
It has taken hours of trawling to find it so I hope you like it. We will have gone from blue in Brixton to pink in Norway and now black and white in Essex with this Grade II listed six bedroom timber framed house of which the front door is 600 years old. Imagine!
It’s on the market with The Unique Property Company for a straight million. I like that already -none of this starting or ending with a 9 to make you think it costs less – just a round number take it or leave it. I suspect most of us will be forced to leave it but that is what The Househunter is here for. So we can all go inside and have a virtual poke about and see what we think. And be nice – remember a real person lives here. Even if they don’t actually want to any more and are trying to move.
I grew up in a house like this when we moved in with my grandmother following my parents’ divorce so it feels very familiar to me. The wonky walls and bending beams, along with creaking floorboards and rooms that slanted. My uncle’s bedroom – he lived in Nepal but kept a room there for his return visits – was at such an angle that he had to have his bed on bricks to stop it sliding across the room. The most modern room in the house was the bathroom and that was because it had apparently been created in the original, and huge, chimney.
So what do we have here? I suspect it will be as polarising as the others – some of you will love its quaint charm others will feel stressed by its irregularities and low ceilings. The first point of which is that you can always paint the beams white to match the ceilings. That, along with white (chalky not brilliant) walls will make the edges recede a bit. Mind you there is a double height vaulted ceiling entertaining space on the ground floor so that helps. Unlike in my grandmother’s house where everyone over 5ft 6 ins had to bend to enter the dining room. I just remember a large piece of yellowing foam stuck to the top of the door frame in anticipation of the swearing that would ring out whenever there were guests.
The hous has six bedrooms, of which one is hidden at the far end of the sitting room – all the best timber houses have secrets don’t they? This property also has an annexe with a second kitchen and sitting room and a bedroom at one end as well as two garages.
It’s in the parish of Elsenham (which is listed in the Domesday Book) and dates back to a time of serfs and Lords of the Manor (anyone’s school history coming back to them?). The area used to be heavily forested and was, apparently, well known for its swine.
Now in terms of decor you are often asking me about low ceilings and small cottages (not that this, with six bedrooms is small but it IS cottagey). The tempation is to stick with the black and white and I like the way the owners have also stuck to a more urban furniture palette, by which I mean lots of modern white (yes I know it’s impractical but it’s pretty). This works in this setting as the walls are already quite maximalist so sticking to simple furniture and paring it all back works really well. Also like the determination not to go down the chintz route in a more classic country cottage style. And before you start shouting at me there’s nothing wrong with chintz – I’m a big fan – but you will recall me saying at the top that I trawled through a lot of houses to find you this one and you would not believe how many houses in Scotland have tartan carpets, or how many in the south west have red dining rooms. There’s more grey in the North fyi. There’s probably a whole feature in there for a number cruncher.
But, anyway, I digress. This shows you what you get if you go minimal in a country cottage which you might not have seen before as it’s usually more traditional. That’s not to say you can’t paint the walls. You probably have to go between the wall beams and a more earthy palette will work best – think clay pinks and soft terracottas. Keep the ceilings all white as mentioned above to give the illusion of raising them. When it comes to curtains the owners seem to have gone for discreet cream blinds in most rooms.
You can do that or you can have curtains but the key here (as the windows are small) is to hang them on long poles so you can pull them right back and away from the windows so as not to cut out precious day time light. Ideally you would hang blinds over the top of the window for the same reason but that isn’t possible here.
Another take of the modern v traditional would be to use curtains made of mattress ticking which is really classic but looks modern when it’s made into curtains -there are lots of colours available.
Pendant lights are obviously tricky with low ceilings so wall lights are your friend and there are lots of lovely ones around now. Or you can go for angled ceiling lights that you can fix among the beams and angle in the right direction.
In short, you can decorate how you like – a cottage like this will absolutely take the maximalist English country look but it also works with a more minimal scheme. Wallpaper can be tricky with all those beams but what about a mural. I found this the other day and it’s gorgeous. It’s from @the_listed_home who is doing up her own Grade II listed house built around 1690 so it’s similar to this if you want ideas.
So who’s moving this week? I hope there were some useful tips for those living in low ceilinged dark cottages. And can I also take this moment to thank those of you who bought the book for doing so. I am always so grateful for your support and I hope you will enjoy your very own slice of Mad About The House to write in. And I should point out that if you buy a house via The Unique Property Company you will get a signed copy of said book, which is, admittedly an expensive way to go about things but I’d thought I’d mention it anyway. Have a lovely weekend.