Before and after: this renovated cottage is a masterclass in year-round cosiness

Dark and moody scheme inspiration this way…

Living room with original brick wall, large fireplace with woodburning stove surrounded by dark painted slatted panelling. Black velvet sofa and sleek black square coffee table
(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

James Brett was brought up near the cottage where he now lives, on the beautiful Northumberland coast. His parents still live in the village, and once he graduated and became established in his career, which involves a lot of international travel, he realised he wanted a base near home. His mother had worked with interior designer Cathy Dean, of Studio Dean, on some projects and introduced James to her.

‘I’d bought a dated cottage and wanted to revamp it into something a bit more unique’, he explains. ‘It was pine lined with lowered ceilings and lino on the floors. An architect had come up with a solution that gave me the three bedrooms I wanted, but it didn’t quite work for me; it was filled with lots of corridors and very little storage. I wanted the house to flow better, and when I met Cathy, her ideas sounded as if they had a lot more potential, so I was delighted to engage her.’

The resulting house renovation is a masterclass in dark and moody design that's cosy and welcoming all year round. Scroll on to take the tour.

The kitchen

'Before' shot of white galley kitchen with speckled worktops

(Image credit: James Brett)

The owner James Brett, a geologist
The property A three-bedroom semi-detached stone cottage in Northumberland
Project cost £85,000

Cathy came up with a simple solution to the unsatisfactory layout of the cottage – adding a porch and extending the kitchen. ‘Immediately I could see the benefit of having somewhere you could take off muddy boots and store coats,’ says James. ‘We rearranged the parking outside so that you enter the house through a welcoming porch and step into the dining area of the kitchen.

Dark brown wood panelled kitchen and breakfast bar with brown leather bar stools and black pendant lights overhead

Kitchen carcasses, Ikea. Worktops, Dekton Trilium. Walls painted in Collingwood and stonework in Regent Green, Benjamin Moore. Cerdisa floor tiles, Dordini Tiles

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

The kitchen is beautifully laid out so James can enjoy the views while cooking at the peninsula. Studio Dean added scorched reclaimed wooden doors to the Ikea cabinetry for an industrial edge. Through a sliding barn door, you reach what was originally the old kitchen and some lean-to outhouses. These have all been fully incorporated into the property and turned into a third bedroom and a utility room, with a useful adjoining linen store and a boiler room.

The dining area

Kitchen-diner with beige walls, large format beige floor tiles, round black and walnut dining table, black wishbone chairs, bar pendant light over table, and brown leather bar stools against a kitchen island

Dining table, Habitat. Wishbone chairs, Hans Wegner; find similar at Cult Furniture. Walnut pendant light, West Elm. Rug, Benuta

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

Suspended ceilings were removed, beams and rafters were exposed, and original features reinstated but with a contemporary twist. ‘I didn’t want to go all-out country cottage,’ says James. ‘I wanted my home to be a masculine space, but comfortable. Cathy totally got that and removed all fake, pastiche-y, non-original details, added lots of industrial contemporary elements, and chose colours that I really like, letting light into the kitchen-diner but otherwise keeping the palette relatively monochrome.’

Sliding doors leading from dining area out onto balcony

Floor lamp, House of Isabella

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

'The extension includes a wall of glass that leads out onto a raised patio and the views, which you can enjoy inside while cooking or from the new outside balcony, are stunning,' says James. He tackled the landscaping himself. ‘I love gardening in my spare time, so it was a joy – and beyond the garden, there are views of fields for miles around,’ he says. ‘The interior, however, was completed by Cathy and her team, over a period of 12 months. It passed very quickly, though. I travel a lot and the progress whenever I came home was amazing!’

The living room

'Before' shot of exposed brick fireplace

(Image credit: James Brett)

The living room is at the front of the house and only has a couple of small windows, so Cathy and James agreed that this should be a dark, evening space where you could enjoy the fire and withdraw at the end of the day. 

Living room with original brick wall, large fireplace with woodburning stove surrounded by dark painted slatted panelling. Black velvet sofa and sleek black square coffee table

Metal ribbon pendant lights and leather drop pendant lights in corner, all Rockett St George

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

James wanted to add drama to this naturally dark room, creating an evening space with the focus on the fireplace. Natural materials, warm paint colours and cosy fabrics are a soft contrast to the bold black elements.

The bedroom

'Before' shot of bedroom with cream walls, wood chest of drawers and red fabric blind

(Image credit: James Brett)

James chose his own builder, electrician and plumber, but used Cathy’s team of specialists for the tiling and joinery. She installed timber latting in a few places and embraced the history of the building, using sharp contemporary joinery to add a modern interpretation.

Bedroom with plaster pink painted wall, dark wood panelling behind bed and black panelled wardrobes across one wall. Also features dark wood dressing table, stool, mirror and Anglepoise-style lamp

Wardrobes, Ikea, upcycled with leather handles. Dressing table, Maisons du Monde. Wall light and mirror, Cox & Cox. Oval mirror, House of Isabella. Bespoke vegan leather woven headboard, Studio Dean. Cushions, HK Living and Ikea

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

The bedrooms have a deliberately moody palette and, again, are places where you want to retreat. 'Cathy introduced me to Benjamin Moore paints, which include a number of rich, warm shades – perfect for the setting of the north Northumbrian countryside,’ says James.

The guest rooms

Guest bedroom with black extended panelled headboard and brown feather-effect wallpaper

Tassel suede cushion, Trouva. Assorted cushions, H&M. Bedding, La Redoute

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

Simple timber latting behind the bed in one of the guest rooms sets off the gorgeous Feather wallpaper by Woodchip & Magnolia. In another room (below), Cathy painted the wood of the bunk beds charcoal, to match the monochrome scheme, but left some exposed as a trim to add interest.

Kids' room with black and teak bunk beds, black painted ceiling, white walls and monochrome patterned feature wallpaper

Bunk beds, Happy Beds. Wallpaper, Scion. Rooflight, Velux

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

Though James was happy to splash out on a few items, in general, the renovation was done on quite a tight budget. James was keen to maximise the space rather than overextend the house and resisted adding extra rooms. ‘I didn’t want to over-capitalise,’ he says. Materials were kept simple: for example, the same dark engineered wooden floor was laid throughout the house for continuity.

The bathroom

'Before' shot of plain white bathroom

(Image credit: James Brett)
Costs & contacts

Building work £25,000
Fixtures and fittings £19,000
Furniture £15,000
Kitchen £12,000
Professional fees £10,000
Bathrooms £4,000

Design Studio Dean
Aluminium sliding doors The Bi-folding Door Company

The bathrooms are small. ‘I really wanted an en suite for myself and a separate bathroom for guests,’ James explains, ‘so one large bathroom wasn’t going to work. I presented Cathy with a bit of a challenge here, but she rose to it brilliantly. Her solutions are ingenious: both bathrooms honestly feel like a miniature but luxurious spa.’ The bath in this compact space, below, is tucked away behind a corner and doubles as a shower.

Small bathroom with brown wall tiles, burgundy painted walls and stone basin

Hexagonal tiles, local tile store. Hot Chocolate wall paint, Benjamin Moore. Tap, Lusso Stone. Marble basin, Tikamoon

(Image credit: Susie Lowe)

‘With Cathy’s help, I’ve managed to achieve exactly what I wanted – a convivial, comfortable base from which to explore and enjoy the amazing Northumberland countryside,’ says James. ‘There are stunning beaches minutes away and it’s just a short drive to the Cheviot Hills. The cottage is a wonderful haven to share with family and friends.’

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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.