Lapped on three sides by a quintessential country garden, tumbling with roses, sweet peas and lavender, this pocket-size home in a sleepy Wiltshire village is overlooked only by the church tower and a few horses in the neighbouring field. From the moment Sam Pullen-Campbell stepped through the thatched doorway, she says she was aware of a deep sense of peace and tranquility.
Owners Sam (pictured opposite) and Iain Pullen-Campbell. Sam is a theatre director and drama teacher, Iain is head of classics at a school in Oxfordshire. The couple have three children: Iona, 13, Lily-May, 11, and Kai, 10. When the
family aren’t using the cottage it is let as Faerie Door Cottage (uniquehomestays.com) .
Property A Grade II-listed brick and flint cottage, originally built in the 17th century, with 18th-century additions. The two-bedroom cottage near Avebury, Wiltshire was originally a row of three or four workers’ cottages.
What they did Renovated and refitted the kitchen and bathroom, updated the electrics and decorated throughout.
During school terms Sam, Iain, and their three children live on campus at the Oxfordshire boarding school where Iain is head of classics. Sam and Iain wanted to keep a property in rural Wiltshire where they’d lived when they first married. ‘The idea was that we could still have a foothold back home and eventually retire here,’ explains Sam.
Read on to find out how Sam brought the little cottage up to date, making space for modern family life without compromising the home's many original features, then browse the rest of our real home transformations. Don't miss our guide on how to buy an old house.
‘We knew the lovely valley, and the view over to the church, which we’d seen from the road into Marlborough, but we’d never actually been into the village,’ Sam adds. ‘When we first saw the estate agents’ details we nearly didn’t bother to arrange a viewing because the photos showed the house right on the roadside. But because the area is so nice we went to see it and were completely bowled over. We soon realised that the road was little more than a quiet country lane.’
Sam was instantly struck by the thickness of the cottage walls, the heaviness of the thatch and the six-inch-deep sills. ‘It felt like it was full of trapped sunlight and it was so quiet,’ she says. ‘We could hear rooks calling outside and you could even hear the horses munching in the field opposite through the window. It was like stepping back in time.’
Sam and Iain were won over by the cottage and its idyllic location. Their offer was accepted, the sale went through in just three months with scarcely a hitch, and they became the property’s proud new owners.
Although the cottage and its thatch were in good repair, the interiors felt cluttered and were in need of an update. Sam wasted no time in transforming the kitchen and bathroom, and decorating throughout.
Her aim was to make things cosy but also to make the most of what is a surprisingly light space with unusually high ceilings for a cottage of this type. ‘I chose quite pale, restful colours,’ she says, ‘and I wanted some kind of sheen to the surfaces so it would bounce the light around. The living room has quite a lot of silver and reflective surfaces in it, which is deliberate to catch the light.’ Pale whitewashed wooden floors add to the effect.
Sam also likes to include an element of symmetry in every room, saying it gives a feeling of calm and order. Matching console tables and mirrors on either side of the fireplace serve that purpose in the living room, while upstairs, there are matching chests of drawers and lamps.
In the kitchen, it was more a case of stripping things out and paring things back than adding new elements. Sam removed the fitted wall cabinets and replaced the wooden worktops with dark stone from a local stonemason. The quarry tiles
in the kitchen inspired a warmer look. ‘I love the terracotta tiles, so to complement that there are bits of copper everywhere and amber colours, but I’ve also made use of neutral shades, white and glass to give that feeling of space and tranquility.’
It was while the couple were checking the state of the roof that they made an interesting discovery. Tucked under the thatch was a leather pouch containing a piece of parchment dated 1735 and repeated lines of copperplate script - possibly written by a child as punishment or for handwriting practice.
The manuscript confirmed the cottage as predating 1735, and Sam and Iain’s further research revealed that the central section of the house dated from the late 1600s. That original parchment, a small piece of the cottage’s history, is now displayed on the upstairs landing.
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Adding another chapter to the cottage’s story, the electrician who rewired the cottage told Sam and Iain he had lived in the village as a boy, and remembered the property when it was a row of separate cottages. ‘We think it was four tiny cottages for farmworkers before it was combined into one house in the 1970s or 80s – although there are still two staircases,’ explains Sam. ‘Later on it became the housekeeper’s cottage to the manor house, on the other side of our garden wall.’
Sam’s updates to the cottage stay true to its humble beginnings, with her simple, calm interior style choices, while cosy sofas, wood-burning stoves, generous window seats and even a special reading corner on the landing upstairs celebrate
all that’s welcoming about the property’s more recent incarnation.
Above all, there’s the sense of tranquility that fills each room and which Sam noticed right from the start. ‘It felt a happy place,’ she recalls. ‘Some older properties can feel a little bit severe and unfriendly, but this was very welcoming and peaceful, a real haven. We both have very busy working lives, and when we walk over the threshold here we literally heave a big sigh and start to unwind.’
Photographs Kasia Fiszer