A wonderful white Elstree cottage
PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 December 2016
Sally Underwood and Nick Scott's Christmas decorated Elstree cottage is a masterclass in making white rooms feel cosy, writes Natalie Flaum
Sally Underwood has always had a passion for interiors and has enjoyed making her mark on all the homes she has lived in. ‘When Nick and I rented a tiny student flat near Regent’s Park in London, I designed window seats and wallpapered everywhere,’ she says. ‘I remember saving up to go on shopping sprees at Heal’s and the incredible interiors department at Liberty. I’d buy a metre of Designers Guild fabric at a time to make covers for scatter cushions.’
After eight years of renting a small flat in Fitzrovia, Sally and Nick decided it was the right time to invest in a property of their own. ‘Having lived in very cramped quarters in London, where we both have relatively intense jobs, we made the decision to move away and enjoy life in the countryside with our rescue dogs, Tinker and Rascal, near where I grew up in Hertfordshire,’ Sally explains.
The couple rented a two-bed house in Radlett to use as a base for their property search. Just two months down the line, they found their dream home – a three-bedroom Victorian worker’s cottage in Elstree. As there was no chain, the couple were able to move in five weeks later.
‘We’d been living in small spaces for so long that I couldn’t wait to begin furnishing and enjoying having a spacious home,’ says Sally. ‘The cottage had been rented out for 10 years and was empty for eight months, so it was very unloved, but we instantly fell for its charm and the view of horses in the adjoining fields. The property came with all sorts of land access and backs on to a livery yard, with plenty of open space and fields, which is great for walking the dogs.’
It wasn’t all positive though. ‘The kitchen was like a dumping ground,’ says Sally. ‘It had three washing machines, a chest freezer and old carpet that was riddled with damp. The bathroom wasn’t much better. ‘Nick said it reminded him of the cold shower cubicles at boarding school.’ says Sally.
The couple’s first challenge was to open up the ground floor by removing the wall between the kitchen and utility room. The property had been extended with an outbuilding attached the kitchen. Sally and Nick replaced the roof of this extension and turned the room into a pantry, before turning their attention to the kitchen.
They found the website ratedpeople.com useful for getting quotes from local tradesmen to complete the building work and carpentry. ‘We used the same team to fit the kitchen, as we were really pleased with the finish of their work on the pantry and they were very reasonable,’ says Sally. ‘As the building work was done in July, we spent a lot of evenings in the garden eating Chinese takeaways, while the back of the house was a concrete shell. I designed the kitchen, which wasn’t an easy task, as we were working with difficult dimensions and I’m not great at maths, but we had a very clear idea of what we wanted it to look like.’
All the decorating and furnishing was done on a strict budget, and the kitchen units and worktops came from Ikea. ‘I wanted a tongue-and-groove design for the unit doors and Ikea was the only place I could find them,’ says Sally. ‘The doors had to be custom fitted into a frame made by our carpenter, so that we got the design was wanted in a way that worked in the space.’
The couple moved the washer-dryer to a utility cupboard created in the alcove beneath the stairs. Sally found the wall and floor tiles for the kitchen, which were also used in the bathroom, at Fired Earth. ‘Magda Freeman at the showroom was wonderful and we spent many hours with her selecting the right limestone tiles for the floors,’ says Sally.
A love of antiques led Sally to up-cycle pieces of Victorian furniture bought in junk shops and on eBay. ‘We spent a total of £850 on all the furniture in the dining room,’ she says. And buying secondhand had other perks too: ‘When we went to the south coast to collect the dining table from the sellers, we got on so well they invited us to stay for dinner!’
Sally and Nick have created a feeling of calm throughout the house by painting walls white and adding soft accents in dusky pink and chalk blue. ‘Our main priority was to create a sense of space and light while still making it feel homely,’ says Sally.
The couple got stuck in with decorating – painting walls in their spare time. ‘I’d say it’s best to try to do everything in one go rather than concentrating on a room at a time,’ Sally advises.
‘The tiles in the living -room fireplace were in poor condition, so I plastered over them and the tiles the hearth.’ Sally also painted the Victorian cast-iron fireplace in the main bedroom white to tie in with the soothing, pale scheme.
White-painted furniture and storage give the home a timeless country style, while mirrors have been used all around the cottage to make rooms appear bigger and brighter. Sally has added colour and interest with artwork and landscapes. ‘I love moody paintings of nature with atmospheric skies.’
The couple couldn’t be happier with the outcome of their to move to the countryside. ‘As much as we love London, when you live in the centre of it you never really switch off,’ explains Sally. ‘Here, it’s so easy to relax. The light it fantastic, we get the most incredible sunsets and we are surrounded by nature.’ 4