Christmas house: a Victorian riverside cottage makes the perfect country hideaway

This riverside chalet-style home practically had to be rebuilt but is now a peaceful Scottish hideaway

Christmas tree with sofas and fireplace
(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Having a job that can take her anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice made it difficult for Molly Rowan Hamilton to commit to buying a property, even though she knew it would make sense. Buying in London, where her work is based, seemed an unnecessary expense when she is often abroad, so instead she bought in Scotland, where she grew up.

Find out how she did it, then browse all our real home transformations. For practical advice on how to renovate a house, read our essential guide.

See more Christmas houses on our dedicated page, too.

The Story

Owner: Molly Rowan Hamilton, a freelance branding consultant, lives here. She occasionally lets Laundry Cottage on Airbnb  

Property: A former Victorian laundry in Perthshire, now a one-bedroom chalet-style home overlooking a river  

What she did: The wooden building had to be almost rebuilt from scratch and reroofed. A new kitchen and bathroom were fitted and an ornate balustrade added around the veranda. The clapboard exterior was repainted

 ‘On my family’s farm in Perthshire there are a number of tumbledown outbuildings, which are  a lot of work for my parents to keep up,’ recalls Molly. ‘So I ended up buying Laundry Cottage from them. It had been a laundry business, washing for the farm and the wider area until the 1960s. As children we had used it as a Wendy house and I used to daydream about having it as my home. Now it is exactly as I had envisaged it.’ 

Turning it into Molly’s dream home, however, was quite an undertaking. The building was a wreck. Its riverside setting and its former life as a laundry made it wet and dank - the two huge vats that had been used for boiling up hot water from the river were still there. The wooden joists were completely rotten, and the house had to be practically rebuilt, but not even that would deter Molly from owning her pretty chalet-style home, and she felt it was well worth the effort. 

exterior shot of house

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Once the fabric of the building had been restored, Molly chose a fresh blue-green paint for the clapboard exterior and added a decorative white painted wooden balustrade to enclose the veranda, topped with obelisks for a final touch of drama. ‘I love to sit out here all year round, just drinking in the scenery,’ she says. 

small kitchen with metallic oven

Molly sensibly chose to keep things simple in the small kitchen with wooden cabinetry, handbuilt by local craftsman Gary Luke, to house an Ikea sink and a Fisher & Paykel dishwasher. The Britannia range cooker was a bargain buy on Ebay, along with the stainless-steel catering unit. For similar tiles, try Walls & Floors. Little Greene’s Pearl Colour Dark is a similar paint

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

She laid a wooden floor throughout, originally, choosing carefully so that it would be suitable for the underfloor heating. Unfortunately, just over a year later, a flood from a burst pipe damaged the floor in the hall and living room, and it all had to be replaced. Molly chose slate this time, a more hardwearing and practical choice. 

The wooden kitchen cabinetry was handmade by local craftsman Gary Luke. ‘He made the sink unit and an open-shelved cabinet; the rest of the kitchen is freestanding, bought on Ebay,’ says Molly. 

bedroom with wooden floor and decorative bedspread

The bedroom scheme echoes the Highland shades of heathers and pine, accented with bright cushions from Joss & Main and a throw from Achica. The headboard fabric and curtains are from Scottish Linen, and the coir rugs are from Ikea. Molly bought the bedside lamps unpainted and finished them with Annie Sloan paint and lampshades from Oka

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

The finishing touch for the laundry’s new incarnation as a riverside sanctuary is an indulgent bathroom complete with cast-iron bath. Molly bought the bathtub online; for similar, try The Cast Iron Bath Company. The floor tiles are from Strathearn Stone & Timber. She bought the curtains from Oka and the print from the Edinburgh College of Art degree show. 

bathroom with tin bath

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

As for the décor, a neutral backdrop layered with the very best Scottish linens and richly patterned textiles from further afield has resulted in a rich, warm interior. Salvaged furniture mixes well with the newer pieces and a few bespoke, fitted features save space in the tiny cottage. A high, vaulted ceiling ensures that the living room has a spacious feel, despite the small scale of the home, and its pleasing proportions mean it never feels cramped.

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

The cottage is hardly recognisable from the wreck of a building Molly took on. Now warm and dry under a new roof, the light-filled living room features built-in seating, upholstered in a Scottish Linen fabric, with storage beneath. A Riva inset wood-burning stove from Stovax brings extra warmth and cheer, and Molly chose a sofa and ottoman from Graham & Green. The coir rug is from Ikea, the table lamps and bright cushions are from Oka, the striped cushions are from Wayfair, and the bamboo lanterns are from Festive Lights

Outdoor dining area on veranda

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

A smart balustrade around the veranda allows plenty of space for an outdoor dining set from TK Maxx, and wicker loungers draped with faux furs from Next and TK Maxx. The tablecloth is from Achica

dining room set for christmas

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

Molly rescued the glass-fronted cabinet from her mum’s kitchen and found the oak dining table in a junk shop, freshening them both up with a coat of paint. The canvas above the fireplace is Sassy Chalmers’ A Shepherd’s Life. Molly originally chose wooden flooring for the cottage but when a burst pipe damaged it she fitted hardwearing slate tiles from Strathearn Stone & Timber. The fresh garlands and wreaths in the dining area, and kitchen, are from Adelaide’s Secret Garden, a floristry business run by Molly’s friend Adelaide Knott

wreath on christmas door

(Image credit: Douglas Gibb)

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Unsurprisingly, the beautiful Highland setting has inspired many artists, and some of the paintings on the cottage walls are by family friends, including pieces by Sassy Chalmers, who has stayed on the farm a few times as an artist in residence. 

‘She has an obsession with the landscape around here,’ Molly explains. ‘It is a wonderful place to come  and paint. 

The light is reflective and sometimes the bleak, haunting skies can have a real sense of foreboding, producing grey metallic light unlike any other.’ 

Molly has also hung a few prints by Royal Academician Chris Orr, who was a neighbour when the family lived in London.

When work commitments keep her away from Scotland for too long, Molly occasionally lets the property on Airbnb.

‘It’s nice to think that someone is still enjoying the beautiful views and the peace and quiet when I can’t be here,’ she says. 

She takes every opportunity to return to her country roots, however. ‘I find the landscape very inspiring. I wanted a retreat from travelling and my London life, and the cottage is perfect for me.’ 

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Feature writer and stylist Alison lives with her husband Douglas near Edinburgh. He is a photographer, so the couple work as a team finding Scotland's most beautiful home stories to share.