How to Make a Luxury Cottage by Designer B Osborne

How to Make a Luxury Cottage by Designer B Osborne

There’s no reason a small house can’t look like a big house, says interior designer Bea Osborne.

Several years ago, I went looking for a house in the Cotswolds that would be closer to my daughter’s school. After I stopped to buy a sandwich at a local store, I saw a For Sale sign next to a dilapidated sign covered by bushes.

My reaction was impulsive. Within 10 minutes, I made an offer and started creating my first luxury cottage, consisting of a small, but carefully thought out, series of spaces that can grow and extend as needed. It’s a home that doesn’t cost a fortune to run, but is still filled with high-quality items, so it feels luxurious and comfortable. After it gained great fame thanks to its resemblance to the house that appears in the movie HolidayI sold it and set about finding my next project – my ninth project – and my second “cool cottage.”

This house was completely derelict and the project involved spending 15 months living in a shepherd’s hut in the park (cooking over a barbecue in the rain and sometimes snow), as the builders began renovations. I was very clear that I wanted enough space for me to host eight friends for dinner — something I couldn’t do in my previous house — and for my three daughters to come and stay with their husbands or boyfriends.

A Cotswolds cottage has been doubled in size with a modern extension. Credit: Simon Brown for Country Life

Ideally, a large country house should be like a pyramid, with more space downstairs than upstairs, but of course, this is not always possible. In this case, it’s about looking with fresh eyes at what’s available and making the most of it. Here, in every room, I fought for every square inch, digging into voids, removing plaster ceilings, lowering floors where necessary.

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The benefits of remodeling a very old cottage, even one that requires planning permission and listed building consent, is that you have the opportunity to be in an attractive village site that is almost impossible to replicate with a new build site. Once you return it to the stone walls, it is possible to create a thermally efficient home with the best lighting, good plumbing and plugs right where you want them.

Of course, since the square footage is not huge, the project will not be expensive to implement and the home will be more efficient to operate in the long run. So, I found myself able to spend more money on the details that really mattered to me.

Hotel style specifications

There are some areas where I will spend and other areas where I will back off. Lighting is crucial. I use very little overhead lighting, except for directional points of artwork, and I like to create pockets of light for atmosphere. We use floor lamps and lamps and put everything on dimmers for flexibility. The fact that each bedroom had to have its own bathroom was another non-negotiable. I don’t think anyone would feel comfortable walking down the corridor in the middle of the night looking for a restroom. My bedroom has a roll-top bathtub at the end of the bed, which adds a little charm to the space.

I like to use “thunder box” baths – the ones that have storage space left and right and come with a lid so one person can sit and chat with the other person in the bath. My youngest daughter’s bedroom has what we might call a “mini shower” – built into the closet space.

Although I’ll be using inexpensive siding from a lumber yard, I’ll opt for some wow factor, like faucets.

Super cottage bathroom

A touch of magic: This spare room features a roll-down bathtub at the end of the bed. Credit: Simon Brown for Country Life

Create space

I like spaces that flow easily and feel calm, welcoming and very comfortable, so I use a lot of natural materials, like recycled wood, rattan, cotton and linen. It’s not that I don’t like patterns, but I think when rooms are small, it’s easier on the eye to work with simple fabrics.

In any family home, storage is important, so I’ve included built-in sofas with space to put things underneath. I also carved cabinets into recessed walls throughout the house, which were outfitted with push doors. In bathrooms, even 15mm of wall space will provide enough space to accommodate essential products.

Achieve height

As in many country houses, ceiling height in parts of the original building was limited. My brother-in-law is 6 feet 3 inches tall, so I knew this needed to be addressed. We excavated to lower the floor to create additional space and continued at the same level for the new barn-like extension which houses the kitchen. This was one of the largest expenses for the entire project. Once the floor was lowered, we excavated the wall below the original windows to create window seats, which helped combat the feeling that the windows were higher than they should have been.

One of the first things I tend to do when remodeling a cottage is to raise the ceilings to the top. This means you’ll lose the loft – if it has one – but for me, lofts are full of stuff no one uses, so it’s worth the sacrifice. Doing so provides a much greater sense of space. In my bedroom, we removed the suspended ceiling, revealing beams and stone walls. We also replaced the Velux rooflight with a dormer window with a window seat, which required planning permission.

A mix of natural materials, such as rattan, cotton, linen and reclaimed wood, creates a calm, inviting and homely atmosphere. Credit: Simon Brown for Country Life


The downside of being in the middle of the village is that it can be overlooked. One way to overcome this problem is to use hazel grouses as a screen and then plant hornwort trees, which do not lose their leaves in winter, in front of them. The barriers will last about 10 years before they collapse, at which time the trees will be established. Meanwhile, the beautiful thing is that light is filtering through the gaps in the hazelnut branches as the sun begins to set.

Secondary housing

Despite my extensive experience with space planning, there was no way I could make space for a fourth bedroom within the house. Many would choose to convert an outbuilding into a guest house, but that wasn’t possible here. Instead, the shepherd’s hut I had been living in while tidying up the house became a spare fourth room. It comes with a shower room and toilet, but, to make it extra special, I designed an outdoor bathroom next to it. Inspired by a hotel I stayed at years ago, the bathroom is located in a hut open to one side. They are made from reclaimed scaffolding boards and are completely special.

Empathic extension

It was clear from the start that I would need to rebuild the structure on the side of the hut which had fallen into complete disrepair. In doing so, I doubled the size of the original 1,000 square foot home.

In this case, the planners were careful that the new part did not mimic the original building. The use of contrasting materials in a modern design means that the new part can clearly be read as different from the old house: it is clad in black-painted wood. There are large Crittal-style doors along the terrace, which reach a maximum height of 2.5 meters (8 feet) giving the room a wonderful feeling of space and natural light.

Outer Space

The thoughtful use of space extends to the garden as well. I created a 10m by 2.5m (32ft by 8ft) balcony with a concrete floor that sits at the same level as the extension, so that it dips down, making it feel very private.

Super cottage outside

An outdoor bathroom is a clever addition to a shepherd’s hut that doubles as an additional guest room. Credit: Simon Brown for Country Life

The original plan was to build a seating area for 12 people, but it faces south and that means sacrificing any seating space in the sun when it’s not fun.

Instead, I designed a multifunctional space, which can be used for dining or sunbathing. There are two low tables, wide and deep, so they can be used as tables or sunbathing areas, as needed.

Studio Osborn & Osborn Interiors — 020–8673 6483

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