Looking at their stone-built Georgian cottage in a quiet village, you might think Kerry and Thomas Bell had struck it exceptionally lucky when they found their pretty home, not far from Edinburgh. The reality, however, is that it has taken the pair quite some time and effort to get it looking this good.
Read on to find out how they transformed it into the perfect family house, giving it a fresh new look, then browse the rest of our real home transformations. Read our guide on renovating a house, too, for more guidance.
Owners Kerry and Thomas Bell live here with daughters, Pippa, 11, Tessa, eight, and Eliza, five. Kerry is a designer and runs candlemaking and fragrance workshops from her home (cantocandle.com). Thomas works for a marquee business.
Property A C-listed semi-detached cottage, built just outside Edinburgh in 1752, with a kitchen extension added in 1850. There are four bedrooms.
What they did They knocked down walls in the living room and kitchen to enlarge the reception spaces, updated the bathroom, replaced floors and decorated throughout.
When the couple first saw the cottage it was in poor condition. ‘It had been a council property for many years, and hadn’t been updated in the meantime,’ says Kerry.
‘Inside, it was a garish mixture of blue and yellow, and the living room and kitchen were tiny. But we loved the village, and we knew that with a little work, we could transform it into a lovely family home.’
They were newly married with a baby when they first moved in, so decided to live with it as it was for several years, initially just redecorating.
‘We wanted to focus on our young family and give the renovations some thought before we launched in with any big changes,’ says Kerry. ‘The house was perfectly habitable, the heating and plumbing were all in good working order, and it was really just the décor we wanted to tackle initially.’
Eventually they were ready to take on more significant improvements. ‘The living room was tiny,’ Kerry recalls. ‘As was typical in the Georgian period, the formal public rooms were upstairs. The room that is now our bedroom has a beautiful fireplace with elegant windows on either side, overlooking the garden. This was obviously the original drawing room. The rooms downstairs were the kitchen and servants’ quarters.’
The kitchen has been doubled in size since the couple knocked down the wall to the dining room. Kerry lined the walls with tongue-and-groove panelling and designed the open shelving, adding wrought-iron hooks from Screwfix. Simple cream kitchen cabinets from Howdens are teamed with two inherited wooden dressers for additional storage.
Kerry trained as an interior designer, so once the renovations were complete, she was happy to make the décor decisions. ‘Happily, Thomas and I have very similar tastes,’ she says. ‘I’ve opted for natural textures such as wood, linen and exposed stone, and I’ve chosen a palette of muted greys, olives and taupes.’
She and Thomas share a ‘less is more’ ethos and the result is rustic and peaceful. The couple enlarged the front room downstairs by removing a cupboard, and added a wood-burning stove. ‘It is still quite small for a living room, but we do have a playroom as well,’ adds Kerry.
They doubled the size of the kitchen by knocking down the wall between it and the dining room, and then lined the kitchen with tongue-and-groove panelling. The kitchen now serves as another entertaining space and is the setting for Kerry’s candlemaking workshops - the big farmhouse table provides workspace for up to 10 participants at a time.
The tranquillity of the village setting, hidden in a leafy dip in the countryside, is something else they both really appreciate. Being just on the edge of Edinburgh is an added bonus. ‘We really do have the best of both worlds,’ Kerry says.
‘The city centre is less than an hour away, yet driving home through the wooded landscape is so therapeutic – the sense of peace and privacy out here is all pervading.’
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The pretty home’s simple style is ideal for family life, and for Kerry’s work, too. Her business is growing as her children grow up and she has more time to devote to it. ‘I am introducing a new course on making reed diffusers,’ she says. ‘I am passionate about fragrance blending and it’s lovely to see other people learning and enjoying the craft.’
As for the décor, Kerry isn’t planning any further changes for now. ‘We are all so busy with our different interests. I designed this house to be lived in; it is not a show home. So I am delaying phase three, complete with extravagant designer details for a few years yet.