Real home: explore a restored 17th-century country cottage

Realising their dream of rural living, the Lovatts fell for a picturesque thatched cottage, transforming it into an idyllic family home brimming with relaxed country charm

English country cottage sitting room with beams
(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Do you dream of living in a classic English country cottage? Prepare to swoon as they don't come more adorable than this restored chocolate-box thatch. Looking to start a new life in the Suffolk countryside with their young family, Jamie and Rebecca Lovatt knew as soon as they set foot through the door of this 17th-century home that the cottage it felt like home and set about making it their own.

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The story

Owners  Rebecca and Jamie Lovatt live here with their
two children Freddie, ten, and Verity, eight. Rebecca is
a lifestyle blogger at My English Country Cottage covering country interiors, gardening, Aga recipes and interior design, and Jamie is managing director of commercial joinery manufacturer and contractor WJL

Property  A three-bedroom 17th-century thatched cottage, on the Suffolk/Essex/Cambridgeshire border

What they did  A bespoke timber kitchen was fitted and the couple redecorated throughout. They also converted
a stable block into guest accommodation and a creative room for Rebecca

When it comes to finding, ‘the one’, no matter how well a property fits your brief, for many of us it all rests on a feeling; something that Rebecca Lovatt knows all too well after discovering her dream home in rural Cambridgeshire.

‘My mother-in-law says it’s like walking in and getting a huge hug,’ she says. It was this same comforting feeling that won over Rebecca and husband Jamie on their first viewing in 2013. ‘We must have seen about 40 properties, but this was the only one that we fell in love with,’ she says. ‘A listed thatch was certainly not what we set out to buy, but when you fall in love with something, you just take it on don’t you?’

Lovatt thatched cottage exterior hollyhocks

Lined with hollyhocks, the cottage looks like a picture postcard during the summer months

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

While it may not have been what they originally envisioned, Rebecca and Jamie were looking for an older property, having previously sampled the delights of period living in a canalside cottage in Cheshire. ‘We knew that older homes demand a lot of upkeep,’ says Rebecca, ‘so we said, let’s not go listed, let’s not go thatched, let’s not go really old…’ she laughs. ‘But our hearts ruled our heads.’ 

Lovatt thatched cottage flowers front door

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

As well as its warm welcome, the Lovatts were drawn to the cottage’s uncharacteristically large rooms. ‘The ceiling height was amazing and it felt really spacious,’ says Rebecca. ‘I think it works well because there are two huge rooms downstairs which are perfect for a young family.’

Lovatt thatched cottage kitchen table with dresser

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Wary of the problems that old properties can conceal, the couple had an extensive survey carried out, which confirmed that the property was structurally sound. As has been the fate of so many period properties, some years before it had been unsympathetically extended to the side and back as well as with a porch, hallway, tack room and at one point, a boiler room. 

Lovatt thatched cottage kitchen table with beams

The handmade dining table was bought in Brighton over 20 years ago. Rebecca found the mismatched chairs from Greenwich market and Ebay and has painted them in Farrow & Ball’s Mizzle, Pigeon and New White. The pine dresser was another Ebay find, which Rebecca has upcycled using Annie Sloan’s Château Grey and Old White Chalk paint to create a country feel

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby / Styling Pippa Blenkinsop)

Luckily the previous owners had removed all the recent additions, meaning that the building was back to its original fabric when the Lovatts bought the house. ‘It was pretty much an empty shell,’ says Rebecca. ‘But hadn’t been lived in for a year and a half, so it looked neglected and needed us to come in and bring it back to life again.’

Lovatt thatched cottage kitchen aga

The rocking chair was given to Rebecca as a present on her 14th birthday; she loves to sit here and relax by the Aga. The handmade Pakistani Baluchi wool rug was bought from a retired Cambridge professor

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Fortunately, the cottage had retained an array of prized period features, including original beams, floorboards and a large brick inglenook fireplace. While the windows are not original, they had been replaced with sympathetic timber frames. Besides a nasty kitchen unit, concrete floor and dated carpet in the bedroom, the house was pretty much a blank canvas ready for Rebecca to lend her effortless rural style. ‘I definitely wanted an English country home with lots of textures, fabrics, rugs, thick curtains and comfy, sink-in sofas.’ 

Lovatt thatched cottage flowers in sink

To create a kitchen with a quintessential cottage feel, bespoke wooden in-frame base cabinets were teamed with freestanding pieces, including a moveable island, plate rack and wicker storage baskets. Hanging by the window is a painting by Jamie’s late great-aunt and celebrated artist Muriel Pemberton, former member of the Royal Watercolour Society 

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby / Styling Pippa Blenkinsop)

First on the list was a classic handmade country kitchen. The couple chose a mix of in-frame base cabinets and freestanding units to create a relaxed look and versatile layout. Jamie’s company built the cabinets to their own design while Rebecca sourced secondhand units, including a dresser and island, which can easily be repositioned for entertaining.

Lovatt thatched cottage snug corner dresser

A classic striped sofa from Laura Ashley creates a cosy corner in the kitchen. On the wall hangs another Muriel Pemberton artwork

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

‘It’s somewhere people can gather with muddy boots and where kids can run around and bang into things without us having to worry,’ she says. ‘Yet it’s still a beautiful space where grown-ups can sit and enjoy an evening meal.’

Lovatt thatched cottage sitting room

The original brick inglenook fireplace fitted with a wood-burning stove provides the central focus in the living room. Rebecca opted for an understated, timeless feel by teaming traditional duck egg sofas from Sofa Workshop with an antique chair from Ebay and a handmade Persian tree of life rug. Curtains in Kate Forman’s Roses linen finish the English country feel

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

As keen hosts, the couple found one of the drawbacks of the property was having nowhere to accommodate friends and family, but they soon saw the opportunity to convert a stable block in the garden into guest accommodation comprising
a double bedroom, bathroom and second bedroom, which also doubles as a creative room for Rebecca.

Lovatt thatched cottage cake and flowers

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

As the property is set in a Conservation Area and is Grade II listed, they knew planning permission would be needed, but happily the project was swiftly approved. ‘We showed them detailed plans, including the suppliers we intended to use,’ says Rebecca. ‘They could see that we loved the property and didn’t want to blight it in any way.’ 

Lovatt thatched cottage reading corner

Bespoke floor-to-ceiling bookshelves occupy the entire far wall of the living room complete with a built-in window seat, the perfect reading nook. ‘It was a tricky job for the joiner as he had to avoid touching any of the original plaster or beams,’ says Rebecca. 

‘Trying to get it straight in a house where not one wall, beam or floor is level was a nightmare!’ The seat cushion is covered in Kate Forman fabric with scatter cushions from Susie Watson Designs. The floor lamp is from Original Homewares – a friend’s company which specialises in mid-century pieces

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Indeed, rather than conceal its history, the pair have sought to embrace the property’s unique quirks, awkward angles, wonky floors, scrapes and even sways. Décor is kept simple with Farrow & Ball neutrals allowing the beautiful timber-frame structure to really sing, while wooden furniture and classic floral linens complete the English cottage look. 

Lovatt thatched cottage bedroom with beams

Neutral walls keep the bedroom feeling light and airy while the Frank Hudson Cane weathered bed and curtains in Paris Rose linen by Cabbages & Roses create a vintage French feel. The floorboards are so uneven that Rebecca uses old books to level up the bed

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

‘In the bedroom we took up the carpet to reveal original wooden boards,’ says Rebecca. ‘They were wonky, covered in holes, and had nails sticking out, but we love them! When the wind blows at night you notice the house genuinely does move; it’s like being in a ship’s cabin. But it’s been here for 400 years, so it’s not going anywhere.’ 

Lovatt thatched cottage

Just a short walk from the front of the house, across the garden and a patio area, is a stable block that Rebecca and Jamie have converted into guest accommodation for friends and family

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Like any country cottage it really shines in the summertime. Rebecca loves to throw open the French doors to the garden and host dinner parties on the patio, lounge in her handmade seating area, and pick the garden flowers, but admits there is still lots to do.

Lovatt thatched cottage pallet seating area

Jamie and Rebecca created the outdoor seating using old palettes and topped them with large bench cushions from Loaf and scatter cushions from Cabbages & Roses, Etsy and Ebay. The throw is from Ian Snow

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby / Styling Pippa Blenkinsop)

Lovatt thatched cottage potting table

Rebecca loves to create garden displays on her potting bench and is always on the look out for vintage pots and garden tools

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

‘The garden is our next big project,’ she says. ‘At the moment it would get ruined by cricket balls, but I dream of having a little knot garden.’ Rebecca knows that one day the family will outgrow the property and toys with the idea of extending, but wonders in her heart if it’s right. ‘It’s a practical solution, but I can’t help feeling that as it’s so perfect we should keep it as it is, for another family to continue its story.’ 

Lovatt thatched cottage

As the stable block had no period features worth preserving, it gave Rebecca free rein to showcase her flair for creating country rustic interiors. The front door opens into a bright bedroom clad in whitewashed pine for a modern rustic feel and the space is paved throughout with reclaimed Charles Howey brick tiles from Lubelska. For a similar bed try the Wrought Iron & Brass Bed Company 

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Lovatt thatched cottage bathroom

Old meets new in the stylish stable block bathroom. While laid out as a contemporary wet room, Rebecca created a pretty and unique bathroom vanity unit by mounting a transferware basin from Ebay onto a wooden washstand. The tiles in the shower are Baked Tiles’ Tuscany range

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Lovatt thatched cottage craft room dresser

The second bedroom in the stable block doubles as Rebecca’s creative room where she does a lot of her interiors work. The wardrobe is another Ebay find, painted in Annie Sloan’s French Linen. Rebecca found a quirky rattan lamp shade she liked on Ebay so created a pendant light using fittings from Creative Cables

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

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Pippa is Style Editor for Period Living magazine and spends many a weekend exploring the Cotswolds for decorating shoot ideas. A collector at heart, she is currently looking for a vintage cabinet to store her favourite wares.