Are you looking to inject timeless English style into a period home on a shoestring? Take inspiration from the Spurling's thrifty ideas used to transform their Period Living award-winning thatched cottage in Wiltshire...
'One day, I’ll own a pretty cottage and it will be in a magazine,’ wrote a teenage Susan in her high school yearbook. ‘I can’t believe it’s actually come true,’ she says today as she looks around the beautiful home she shares with husband Phil, light streaming through the window on a bright and breezy day. ‘I can’t imagine living anywhere else now.’ Yet the journey wasn’t all plain sailing.
Owners: Susan Spurling, a veterinary technician, originally from Wisconsin, lives here with husband Phil, a retired audio engineer, and their three cats: Beauty, AP and Ferrell
Property: A thatched cottage dating back to 1720, which originally consisted of two one-up, one-down properties. The house was later extended in the 1940s
What they did: Susan and Phil reconfigured the space and redecorated throughout. They ripped out all the carpets and laid wooden flooring across the ground floor
Having married in 2013, just a year after meeting on Phil’s US business trip, the happy newlyweds decided in 2014 to settle in England, and Susan left behind her 1860s Folk-Victorian farmhouse in Loganville, Wisconsin. ‘I’m a complete Anglophile so was very excited at the thought of living in the UK, but also a little hesitant, especially about leaving the beautiful home I had spent the last 20 years enjoying and evolving,’ she says.
When it came to searching for the perfect property, Susan knew it had to be old, and took the opportunity to hunt out the chocolate-box house of which she’d always dreamed. The couple knew it was going to be hard to find a house to match Susan’s last, and it took over a year of trawling estate agents online to find a shortlist for viewing.
‘It was so difficult to find a period property that retained its original features and matched my four credentials,’ says Susan. ‘I needed a room that I could make into a pantry, a kitchen-diner large enough for my farmhouse table and dresser, a living room with a fireplace and space for floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and outside, I wanted space for a potager, lawn, and greenhouse,’ she explains.
A passionate antiques collector, Susan had amassed several pieces of furniture over the years that she couldn’t bear to part with, so this too had to be considered. Happily, all their remote research paid off, as when they stepped into their second viewing Susan knew instantly that she’d found the one. Despite being dark, dated and fitted wall to wall with tired carpets, the house was structurally sound and had been rethatched in 2012.
The couple moved in during November 2014, but it was a long time before they could put up their feet, as Susan’s furniture took a further seven months to arrive. ‘I felt a bit homesick at first, but once all my things had been shipped across I felt far more settled.’ At least, until it was fitted…
‘In my old house the ceilings were 10ft tall, so we found a lot of the furniture didn’t fit and we had to shorten a few pieces, which was scary!’ she says. ‘We cut down the legs of the armoires in the pantry and sitting room, but luckily for the kitchen dresser we managed to cut sections out of the floor instead.’
In the meantime, the couple had set to work reconfiguring the space. The previous owners had relocated the kitchen from its original position in the centre of the house and were using it as a dining room, but Susan had other plans. Instead she decided to reinstate the kitchen back into the centre, providing a warm welcome as you walk in, turning the previous kitchen into the dream pantry.
Once the furniture had arrived safely, albeit a little modified, Susan could focus on the fun stuff. ‘My home in the US was English country style mixed with 1940s Americana and French vintage,’ she says, ‘oh, and with a touch bohemian flair, too.’
She has sought to replicate this style in the country cottage. First came selecting the paint, which proved more problematic than anticipated. ‘My US home was full of light, but these little cottage windows created different shadows, so it was hard to decide on the right colour,’ she explains.
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Faced with rooms smaller than she was used to, complete with all their quirks and awkward angles, Susan was forced to think creatively when it came to storage, opting for bespoke floor-to-ceiling shelving, Sheila Maids, pot rails and plenty of rustic wicker baskets in order to make the most of space and light. ‘It’s always a good idea to think about height when you have small spaces,’ says Susan. ‘When you can’t go out, go up!’
Open shelving also makes a brilliant place to store her wealth of antiques. ‘I never miss a boot sale,’ she says. Indeed, everywhere you turn shelves are brimming with vintage finds, cherished books and old china.
Susan’s latest buy, a reclaimed freestanding bath, is next to install, but besides that, it’s time to relax and make the most of their new life together in the English countryside. ‘I will miss the snowy Wisconsin winters, and will always prefer fries to chips, but those minor details aside, England is wonderful and now my forever home!’