The Househunter: Combining Old and New

A great find for you this week. We are always discussing the blending of old and new on these pages and how to pull it off to best advantage, and this week I have found you a 17th century cottage with a modern interior that, like last week, is not in London – not even close – but up in Cheshire, in the north west. So if you live with low ceilings and wonky floors and crave modern design while despairing that everything is very London-focused then Walk This Way (name that tune – it’s here if you want to but Jane it’s quite loud so be warned).

It’s on with The Modern House for £1.7m and that brings me to the next point – no it’s not cheap and that’s because in the eternal triangle of interior design where the points are Good, Cheap, Fast, you can have two but you can’t have three. You can have cheap and fast but it might not be the quality you want. You can have good and fast but you will have to pay for it. And if you want good and cheap? Well let the rest of us know where you find it.

It is lived in by the architect owner and set in a pretty cottage garden with views of fields and woodlands. For the international audience, it’s about 30 minutes by train from Manchester and under two hours from London. This award-winning renovation has been done by Annabelle Tugby Architects, who specialise in modern living arrangements in period homes.

Shall we start in the kitchen (a very good place to start – and another, quieter tune for you this time). This kitchen is just over 15ft wide (4.74m) which is about as wide as my entire terrace house but also gives you an idea of the space you might have if you do live in a terrace and want to fill in the side return to create. full width kitchen.

And immediately you can see the mix of period and modern with the wooden beams in the ceiling and exposed metal ceiling joists and the black metal doors framing the view. The heavy curtains soften that metal while the AGA contrasts with the sleek modernity of the units.

This is all about natural textures and a natural colour palette – when you have this many different materials – birch ply and old wood, brick and steel, glass and metal you don’t want to bring in too many colours of you will end up with, in modern terms – a hot mess. If you don’t have an award-winning architect or designer on hand you need to keep it simple to make it work – choose texture or colour but, unless you are very confident of what you are doing don’t have both. I’m absolutely not saying you can’t have both I’m saying you need to take it slowly and build it up.

There are so many different materials in this house that if you added a mass of floral curtains – even if it was a country-style William Morris, the eye wouldn’t know where to go and the design wouldn’t appear to hang together as there would be too much going on.

Come with me into the sitting room for a minute and you will see what I mean. Here the colour palette is still small but there are fewer textures vying for your attention – the beams have been painted the match the ceiling which, in turn matches the plaster wall and the flooring is a plain neutral. This is a shell in which you could add floral curtains and more colour if you wished. Do you see the difference between all the materials in the kitchen and in here.

It’s possible that the owner kept the colours simple, not just for personal taste reasons, but also not to distract from the view outside the windows – and that is another thing to bear in mind. If the view from your best room is over a car park or a busy road then you might want to amp up the decor inside to distract from what is going on outside. It’s a balance but here the furniture recedes into the background allowing you to notice the pictures on the wall and the house plants which, in turn, take your eye to the view beyond.

And talking of the view, we need to go outside to get to the home office so let’s step outside. And this, this is what I want. I have spoken before about how, if I were building a side return I might create a fabulous pantry rather than widening the kitchen and if I wasn’t building or extending at all then I would definitely love a glass house like this over my urban side return. This would be my home office of dreams and, in fact, you could even create similar without the glass – wooden beams with vines trailing over might not be rainproof but it would be lovely and shady on a hot day.

And then you could wander over here for lunch. You know how people say there’s always one element that sold them a house. This, for me, would be the selling point of this one. Although let’s have a look at that home office.

Once again it’s all about the texture. The outside is perfectly in keeping with the rural surroundings while inside, once again, there is a mix of modern ply cupboards and a smooth concrete or resin floor with the rusty looking beams and pitted butchers block table in the centre.

Below you can even see a row of super modern office chairs around a new table. It might not be to your personal taste but it’s a great example of how to mix old and new and that is what makes for the most successful interiors. Whether it’s a vintage stool in a sleek fitted bathroom or an antique chair next to a modern sofa the best interiors are those which blend both to create character. Sometimes it’s called tension – the paradox being that good decorative tension makes for more interesting and relaxing spaces.

I’ll leave you with this rather lovely bathroom – you can see the rest of the bedrooms and other spaces here at the link. What do you think? Helpful to see a mix of old and new? Fancy trying it yourself?


Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I’ve been selling furniture for over 25 years, long before the term upcycling was invented. For most of that time I was working/renting space in a local shop and spent many long hours discussing this very subject with customers. Interestingly, given that it is a Georgian shop and my furniture is often antique or vintage, it wasn’t just people with new houses unsure as to whether older pieces would look out of place. I also encountered people who had bought a period property and were looking to replace most of their existing contemporary furniture for the same reasons! I have always been of the opinion that you can successfully mix and match if you have the confidence, and there is absolutely no reason why you can’t include vintage in a modern home or vice versa.
    A good example would be the young lady who fell in love with a very ornately carved Victorian dresser that had been whitewashed and distressed (I know, but that was the look everyone wanted in those days 😉 It was only when we delivered it that we discovered she had bought a tiny new build, with one kitchen, living, dining space that was pretty much filled with the dresser! Even I might have advised against it, had I known, but it actually looked amazing. So much so that the removals men (who in my experience are not known for their interest in interior design) commented after they had helped us in with it.
    Another would be the rather older customer who asked me to visit her newly acquired cottage to give her some design advice. I ended up spending quite a lot of time persuading her not to send all her very good quality mid century furniture to auction (this was in the days before it became popular again) and buy a selection of not so good quality Victorian pine and painted pieces instead – for those who think antique furniture is always ‘so much better made’ I have bad news, by no means all of it is! I’m obviously not much of a saleswoman, but my conscience is clear…

    1. This is so interesting Gerry. Have you considered blogging about your experiences?

  2. I think it’s lovely. The choice of colours and fabrics are so calming and I love the mix of old and new. Yes please.

  3. Oh, what a cottage! The tension is exactly what makes the space fantastic in the kitchen, the lack of it makes the sitting and dining rooms very ordinary (as ordinary as a £1.7-million house can be!).
    I just found that sticking-out sitting sofa-bench in the kitchen a bit odd (the last kitchen photo), as if trying to fit something from the previous house into the new house! But I’ve learned my lesson here, it suits the family! Oh, is odd though! 😂

  4. Really love this home. The outside office space is truly inspiring. Considering I’m a big fan of colour, I could quite happily live in this space. A great find! And up north too 🙌 xx

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