Small miracle: a worker’s cottage with character

Ana Perez and Alan Flett now consider themselves pretty good at small-scale living. Until recently they lived in Spinks Nest, a one-storey building that measures 480 square feet (for comparison, a double garage is around 200 square feet). That said, none of the rooms (it has a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom) feel cramped because every square inch is well used. Furniture is either built-in or secondhand and chosen for its small proportions, while unobtrusive storage has been worked into every corner.

As for its style, Perez and Flett don’t believe in pared-back all-white minimalism. Instead, they went for rich, earthy tones, nostalgic florals and paintwork as glossy as a 1970s pub snug.

“From the outside, it looks tiny, but once you’re inside it doesn’t feel cramped because everything is cohesive and comfortable,” says Perez.

The couple, who both work in IT and have a daughter, Isla, aged 10, bought a more “normal-sized” house in north Norfolk with this smaller building in its front garden. But as the main house needed a lot of work, their plan was to convert this smaller dwelling first and live in it until the bigger house was ready.

It had been used by farm workers since the 19th century, but the last time any work had been done on it was back in the 1960s. “It was a single room with a tiny kitchenette, a shower in the corner of the living room and a WC behind a cupboard door,” Flett says. The couple wanted to renovate it, but also got planning permission to extend the lean-to portion by 1.5m. “It doesn’t sound like much, but that extra space made the kitchen workable and meant we could put in a decent bathroom,” Flett says.

The front door now opens into the kitchen, where handmade cabinets in reclaimed timber by Ridge & Furrow fit the space exactly and conceal several slimline appliances: a hob, a dishwasher and a combined oven with microwave. Crockery and glasses are stacked on open shelving, alongside plenty of plants and weathered pots that Perez has picked up here and there. “The shelves are functional, but also make a decorative display,” she adds.

Food is stored in a shallow pantry, which also acts as a divider between the working part of the kitchen and a small table. Here, a built-in bench (with storage underneath) and a secondhand table and chairs fit the space perfectly. Wall panelling, shelving and cabinets, again, all in salvaged timber, are painted in a dark glossy brown and a lighter tobacco shade for a lived-in feel.

Vintage fabrics and furniture work alongside traditional building materials that were either discovered or added in during the build. “We were keen to keep a connection to the cottage’s old identity,” Perez says. Chunks of concrete were chipped away to reveal original flint walls, while others were rebuilt with lime mortar and reclaimed bricks. Norfolk pamments, pink clay tiles still made locally, were laid on the floors.

Reclaimed beadboarding is also used on the half wall between the living room and the bedroom. Vintage curtains in a William Morris fabric hang on either side of the partition and, on the top, lush plants grow up towards the pitched roof. On the sleeping side, wall lights and a recessed bookshelf are set into the wall as another way to save space and the bed has storage built into its base.

In the bathroom, the basin and loo (both reconditioned) are set into handmade cabinetry, while a micro-cemented shower is deep enough to double as a bathtub. A glossy green paint (Jewel Beetle by Little Greene) brings this space to life, linking with foliage throughout the rest of the cottage.

Many of the decorative pieces dotted around this home were found in Norfolk’s reclamation yards, vintage shops and barn sales. “I built up quite a collection of old plates, cups and bottles while the work was being done and it was lovely to stack them on the shelves,” Perez says. “In a larger space, these details might barely register at all, but here you notice everything, so it has to feel just right.”

When work on their main house took longer than they had anticipated, the couple had to swap this scaled-back living for a larger new-build rental nearby. “Sadly, the crunch came when we sold our old flat and we didn’t have space for things like the hifi and all our books. And Isla sleeping on a fold-out bed in the living room wasn’t going to work for ever,” Perez explains. Their stopgap house, she says, was spacious but bland. “We immediately missed the character and cosiness of this place.”

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