for People with a Passion for Period Property
Period Property of the Month - May 2012
With inspiration taken form both sides of the Atlantic, Clare's country cottage in Derbyshire is oozing with rustic charm.
Pastures new
Clare has furnished her home with treasures picked up at auctions, antique shops and markets.

From derelict shell to 18th century haven - that's the story of Clare 12 week transformation of her weekend cottage in the Derbyshire hills.Clare admits, "I'm an instant person." She has no patience for lingering over decisions. So the full force of her decorating vision was unleashed on the Derbyshire weekend home she bought with her husband Ron. Six weeks later, what had once been a derelict shell had all the colour and comfort of a cosy country cottage.

When Clare first found the house in May 1994, the interior looked very different. Though it is a listed building - an 18th century weaver's cottage - it had no ceilings, no floors and had been repossessed while the previous owner was in the middle of renovations. "He'd obviously been advised to do the roof repairs first which was lucky for us," says Clare, "but then he ran out of money."

The advertisement had said, "Accompanied viewing only," but Clare explains that "when we came to view it, the estate agent wouldn't accompany us. She would only come one step inside the door because there were electric wires hanging everywhere, no floorboards and no stair rail. I discovered later, that one of the wires was live, so she probably had more sense than we did!"

The cottage had been badly knocked about but Clare decided it needed to be cared for. In its favour, it was in a beautiful country area and overlooked the Sett Valley Trail which would be wonderful for country walks. She made an offer on the spot and being an 'instant' person, did her own conveyancing. "I like to be able to get things done quickly and solicitors don't always appreciate the speed I wish to go," she says.

This black brass bed in the main bedroom was shipped over from America along with the black and white bed cover. It took six weeks from Clare's offer to completion, then another six weeks to lay floors, renew doors, do rewiring, re-plastering and re-plumbing. During that time, Clare was hunting for furniture and she relished the thought of creating a casual rustic look, totally different from her city home, a Georgian house furnished in Regency style just five miles from the centre of Manchester.

For a cottage, the house is surprisingly spacious. The ground floor kitchen is one huge room opening onto a small paved yard at the back. On the first floor is the sitting room, with terracotta washed walls and a stripped timber floor, plus a guest room and toilet. The main bedroom and largest guest room are on the top floor next to the bathroom - an attic area which once would have been used for weaving by the 18th century family who lived here.

Clare wanted to keep a slightly austere working-class look to the house. "The feel I like is simple and unpretentious," she says. "I like 18th century furniture because it gives me the feeling that I know the person who made it. I can see the marks where the wood has been cut. Plus, to be honest, it's cheaper than modern furniture though that is something I don't think everyone realises." She points to a 200-year-old gateleg table in oak in the kitchen which cost her 40. "You can't go to Habitat and get a table for that," Clare says. "I gave it a lot of polish, and it's still got a wobbly leg, but that doesn't bother me. I like to adopt furniture that nobody else wants."

The wooden panels and black and white tiling in the bathroom add the rustic charm that runs throughout Clare's house. Apparently tracking down what she wants is never a problem. "But then I'm not a perfectionist," she says. "It took me an afternoon to find that settle. And when I told a friend I was going to London to buy a wig stand, she looked at me as if I was mad. But I came back with one."

The one quality Clare declares a useful asset is that she is not proud. "When I wanted a kilim rug to cover a stool, I went round the expensive London antique shops asking if they'd anything that was too damaged to sell - I got one for 20," Clare says with pride.

Whether something comes from an auction, a car boot sale or a skip doesn't bother Clare, as long as it's a bargain. So it's not difficult to understand how she got carried away at an auction in the States and bid $10 for an old brass bed. "I was praying that someone would outbid me, but they didn't," she recalls. So, having given herself the problem of freighting it home, she bought another bed, a wash stand and two quilts to make her freight load worthwhile. "The freight costs were 200 which I thought was an amazing deal," she said, "especially as the Hoover flight didn't cost me anything."

When Clare was in the States she stayed with a Quaker family and they swopped tips about making rag rugs. So when Clare was snowed in for two weeks she managed to finish the rag rug that now graces her kitchen floor, from old clothes found in her host's attic.

The pale terracotta paint wash on the walls gives a warm and friendly feel to the sitting room.Glancing round her kitchen, it's hard to tell where the American Colonial look stops and French country style starts. The blue check curtains and the splashes of vivid colour have a definite European feel about them, with the copper accessories and stone flooring finishing off the look beautifully.

Clare has a particular love of old oak furniture, but it can look very cold against the plain white walls that many English people choose as a backdrop. She wanted her sitting room to look warm and rustic, so decided to experiment with colour. She used a Jocasta Innes paint wash in pale terracotta on the walls. "It's my sort of thing because it's quick and unskilled and I don't have a lot of patience," she explains.

Window seats in the cottage create the perfect corner retreat to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea.The upstairs bedrooms are furnished with her American beds. A single bobbin turned bed has been made into twin bedheads for the guest room. The black brass bed and its black and white American bedcover dictated a scheme of black and white for Clare and Ron's bedroom. An 18th century wainscot chair at 250 was one of their most expensive purchases - but it is a magnificent piece. Clare hasn't spent a lot in renovating the cottage, so can afford the occasional indulgence like this. All the curtain fabrics are discontinued lines, the bathroom door came from a skip and all the tiles were seconds. Her friend Derek Eardley inspired her with lots of ideas for using paint and colour. "To be honest, if I won the lottery and had lots of cash to spend on the house it wouldn't be as much fun as trying to achieve this look on very little money," Clare says.

Sometimes, Clare lets out her cottage to family and friends, but never worries about accidents or damage. "The beauty about 18th century furniture is that it's sturdy and strong, so you don't worry about it getting chipped," Clare says. "I figure if its lasted 200 years, it will survive a bit longer."