With fairy lights twinkling, wreaths on the doors and the table decorated with fir cones, candles and mismatched vintage plates, Kerry and Matt Knight’s Cornish cottage is all set for Christmas.
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Owners: Kerry Knight, an interior designer, lives here with husband Matt, a restaurant manager, and their six-year-old twin daughters, Sydney and Saffron
Property: A semi-detached late-Georgian cottage in St Erth, Cornwall, with four bedrooms and a 100ft garden
What they did: Kerry and Matt renovated all the windows, replaced the boiler, stripped off the wallpaper and painted the walls, doors, upstairs floorboards and kitchen cupboards
Its festive welcome, rustic and relaxed, is interesting but unpretentious – just like the 200-year-old cottage, which has an instantly appealing, natural charm.
Once two small cottages that were joined together decades ago, the cottage has a 100-foot garden, where the family keep chickens and guinea pigs, and sits on a country lane bordering a river.
Three years ago, Kerry and Matt had been looking for a house with a garden and space for a home office, and saw the cottage online. ‘I was intrigued because I couldn’t find it on Google Earth, so I knew it had to be down a tiny lane,’ says Kerry. ‘We loved the area, but this place had everything: peace and quiet, a garden for the kids and an open fire, which we’d been hankering after for years.’
The house had been loved but not well maintained over the years, and one of the couple’s first tasks was to hack back the ivy that obscured the walls and windows. ‘You couldn’t open the upstairs windows and the ivy was full of frogs that had found their way from the river at the bottom of the garden,’ says Kerry.
‘After we had cleared it, I got a carpenter to take out the rotten wood and fill the frames so they would last a few more years; eventually we’ll replace them all.
‘Apart from ripping up the carpet, we lived with the interior of the house for a year, until I took two months off work to do it up. I stripped off the 30-year-old Laura Ashley wallpaper and, with the help of Matt’s father, painted everything in neutral shades.’ The floor tiles were fine downstairs, but upstairs Kerry wanted to sand the floorboards.
‘I couldn’t, though, because there’s no ceiling below – the dust would have made such a mess,’ she explains. ‘So I rubbed them down a tiny bit by hand, then painted them with Annie Sloan’s Country Grey paint, and varnished them.’
Into this calm setting Kerry and Matt added the furniture and accessories that they have collected over the years, some of them from the award-winning vintage shop that they used to own, others bought at auction or car boot sales. Kerry, an interior designer for Beaten Green, rarely buys anything brand new for her own home.
‘I struggle with the concept of mass production,’ she says. ‘Obviously, I do buy new furnishings for clients and I appreciate a modern look, but I prefer to surround myself with things that have a story. I’m a bit of an old soul and I like things to talk to me. In fact, even when I’m working on a client’s project I put in some old pieces, especially repainted wardrobes and chests of drawers, because I think a completely new room can look like something out of a catalogue.’
Kerry is used to upcycling when necessary: she had both sofas and a bed reupholstered locally, she cut down a dining table to repurpose as a coffee table, and she is skilled at painting old wooden furniture – she even repainted the old handmade kitchen units.
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Finding just the right inexpensive accessory is another skill: like the star decoration in the bathroom, which came from The Range, or the framed map of the world in the bedroom, bought cheaply on the high street.
Kerry likes to keep her Christmas decorations simple. ‘I like a natural, relaxed style,’ she says.
‘Early every December I visit my mum in the New Forest and we go foraging – that’s where the pine cones on the dining table came from – and I add evergreen branches cut from the garden.’
Night lights and candles complete the look, while the tree is hung with an assortment of baubles, some made by Matt and their twin daughters, Saffron and Sydney, and others collected over the years, usually from Ebay or vintage stores.
Piled underneath, the presents are wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with ribbons and lace.
‘On Christmas Eve we put Santa sacks out for the girls, and in the morning we open presents and eat chocolate for breakfast,’ laughs Kerry. ‘Matt’s a really good cook and he’ll do something like roast beef or pork belly, and after a late lunch we have a walk around the village.
On Boxing Day we join in a group sea swim from Porthminster Beach in St Ives – last year Matt and I swam while my mum and the girls watched. Afterwards, we came back to a roaring fire. Bliss!’