The transformation of a Hungerford country cottage
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:37 19 August 2020
Andreas von Einsiedel 2012, All Rights Reserved
Kate Pols skillfully transformed her 17th century country cottage in Hungerford, adding picturesque gothic windows and an extension that gave her the space and light she desired.
Until around 10 years ago, Kate Pols ran a successful antiques and interior design business based in the picturesque town of Hungerford. “As much as I loved dealing in antiques, after 20 years I decided it was time for a change and a simpler life,” she says. “Once the dust had settled after selling the shop and disposing of the stock, I began looking around for a new challenge.”
For Kate, who lives and breathes design, it was a foregone conclusion that ‘new challenge’ was the sub-text for ‘new home’. She continues: “I’d been looking for a while but nothing really appealed until I saw details of this house, an extended 17th century cottage.
“I drove by to take a look and decided, without even going inside, that this was where I wanted to live. I phoned the agent and put in an offer.
“Looking at the floor plans, I saw that the interior would benefit from a few changes and there was certainly scope for improvement on the garden front. In other words, it was ideal – and a challenge.”
Being only a mile or two outside Hungerford the cottage was convenient and close to friends, and the far-reaching views gave it a real sense of being in the country.
In due course, the sale was completed and six months after Kate moved in, the transformation began.
“I’d renovated several houses in the past and I knew what needed doing, so with the help of my very competent builder I submitted the planning application myself,” she says.
Fortunately, Kate’s new home was unlisted so replacing the existing windows on the front elevation with custom-made gothic ones wasn’t a problem. Neither was her proposal to extend the building by adding a glass-roofed orangery to the kitchen.
“The kitchen used to be cramped and dark but now it opens into a light-filled living and dining area, it feels like a completely different space,” says Kate, who designed the orangery so that it can be used throughout the year.
During the winter a wood-fired stove set into the fireplace casts a cosy glow over the dining table and the seating area but in the summer the folding glass doors allow the interior and the sheltered walled garden beyond to become one large entertaining space with a big fruitwood dining table.
The kitchen has a distinctive period charm with the walls hung with framed needlework samplers and the open shelves of two dressers filled with vintage crockery and decorative sponge-ware.
China dishes fill the dresser to the left of the Aga, which was fabricated from a set of kitchen shelves resting on the slate worktop, formerly a billiard table. The shelves were then painted in French Gray to match the shaker style doors of the cupboards below.
Despite living in the heart of the country, Kate and her husband, Rod, have a busy life. “We love having friends over for meals and my grandsons, Harry, 11, and Zac, 10, often stay at weekends, as does my son’s three-year-old daughter, Madeleine, but I don’t do much serious cooking. The Aga was installed years ago by former owners,” she adds.
During the summer months, Kate uses the electric hob and oven fitted into the island unit that she designed. The sink and dishwasher are on one side and the oven and hob on the other, with saucepans suspended from the hanging rack above. For someone who professes not to like cooking, Kate’s batterie de cuisine is impressive.
A pair of fireside armchairs upholstered in a richly coloured stripe echo the tones of the Oriental rug. The painting, a 1920s British oil of a racing scene points to Kate’s love of horses, whilst the 1930 ceramic owl vases are indicative of her passion for birds; be they chickens, doves or owls.
The utility room is decorative as well as being practical with plenty of open shelf space for vases. The cloakroom can be seen beyond – a stone figure festooned in ivy.
When furnishing the house, Kate used some pieces from her former home. “To begin with there was furniture piled up all over the house but gradually I filtered out what I didn’t need,” she says.
Kate describes her decorating style as looking lived-in and undecorated.
“I think a house should reflect the personality and taste of whoever lives there. I look around my home and all I can see are things I love; cats, dogs, the garden, family photographs, furniture and art I’ve gathered over the years,” she says. “When I had the shop I mainly dealt in decorative 18th and 19th century French and English antiques and I’ve always furnished my own homes using the same styles. After all, what else can you buy that is beautiful, well-made, affordable and a good investment?”
The original sitting room in the oldest part of house is heavily beamed and has an inglenook fireplace. Kate furnished it with winter evenings in mind, basing the upholstery fabrics on warm pinks and reds. A needlepoint throw, a Persian rug and needlework cushions add to the profusion of pattern and colour. “That’s where I hibernate during the winter,” say Kate. “As soon as it gets dark, I light the fire and curl up on the sofa with a pile of garden books.”
On the upper floor, Kate made a few changes, such as enlarging the en-suite bathroom and creating more wardrobe space in the main bedroom. Walls are painted in earthy neutrals and for the curtains and bed-covers, Kate chose Chelsea Textiles’ embroidered designs.
Embroidered linens for the bedcover and cushions in the master bedroom create a luxurious look, with a Watts of Westminster toile used for the upholstery on the French bergere armchair adding to the subtle effect.
“As elsewhere, the furniture is a mix; French, English, painted, polished, large and small. I already had the large French mirror that is in my bedroom. It’s designed for a much taller room but I think it looks at home here,” says Kate.
The stairwell is hung with a collection of framed 19th century silhouettes whilst the French fruitwood chair still retains its original tapestry cover.
Beams are still much in evidence in the guestroom, which is in the oldest part of the house. Kate has created a restful, timeless look with walls painted in Old White by Farrow & Ball. The contemporary drawing of a donkey by Katie O’Sullivan above the fireplace is flanked by a pair of decorative candlesticks made to Kate’s design in reconstituted stone.
The beamed family bathroom was updated with contemporary sanitary-ware and floor-mounted taps, with the details such as the 19th century mahogany hall chair and framed engraving of Admiral Nelson providing a link to the past.
Finally, new gothic windows along with the picturesque arched porch painted in Farrow & Ball’s French Gray transformed the front of the house.
In the years since Kate has moved to her new home, she has worked ceaselessly on the garden as well, with help from Hungerford Garden Centre and Yew Tree Garden creating a fitting setting for what is now a truly picturesque country cottage.
The orangery opens into a sheltered walled garden which Kate filled with white flowering plants. During the summer months it becomes an outdoor living area furnished with all-weather furniture.
Kate thought she’d miss the cut and thrust of antique dealing but, in fact, she has no regrets about giving up the shop. “Designing gardens for clients keeps me busy these days,” she says.
“It’s similar to designing interiors – you decide on a style, plan the space, install the lighting and choose the plants. Knowing that someone else is going to do the digging and weeding is a relief – I have quite enough of that to do in my own garden!”