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Real homes, real people...a Northumbrian cottage

Welcome to the second post in my series about homes that are cherished and loved by the special people who created them. Real homes, that are full of life and memories, and which may not be as perfect as some of the content we see in other parts of the digital world.

This house belongs to my Mum. We created the story while under various stages of lockdown, thousands of miles apart.


This life

This two storey cottage is home to Gill and Clive, who are both retired. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a large open plan living area. The garden enjoys a south-facing aspect on the edge of a village in the county of Northumberland, England

The southern façade of Denton Little House

Richard Ford, the American novelist, wrote ‘it's interesting to leave a place…Leaving reminds us of what we can part with and what we can't, then offers us something new to look forward to, to dream about.’

For Gill, the transition from her previous home—a Northumbrian farmhouse with a large garden, crowning the top of a hill—to what she calls her retirement home, was not an easy one.

Northumbrian landscape near Gill's cottage

‘Sandhoe was a very special place for me. Leaving it was an enormous wrench. Finding the right place to downsize to was a big challenge. It took 18 months, much longer than we anticipated.’

Not wanting to move far from their treasured rural home, she and her husband, Clive, made a sensible list of requirements and searched throughout the Tyne Valley.

The area is famed for Hadrian’s Wall, begun on the orders of the eponymous Roman Emperor in AD 122, and which borders the northern side of the Tyne Valley. The area is also known for the Abbey town of Hexham, which straddles the River Tyne that runs through the heart of the valley. The sparsely populated Hexhamshire district to the south of the river rolls into the moorland of County Durham.

Having looked at virtually all the properties they considered suitable—and even those they thought unsuitable—their final choice of Denton Little House rather surprised them as it didn’t tick many of their boxes, other than the one for a village location with bus and train connections on the doorstep.

‘Denton Little was very small and had recently been refurbished in an efficient but unattractive style. However, it felt endearing from the outside and upon entering I knew it had the right feel. I saw how I could enhance the property to suit us,’ Gill reflects. ‘We were drawn to the life of the village: the pub, the cricket club, the church, village hall and the activities therein. Without too much debate or procrastination we said an eager yes, which has proved to be the best of decisions.’

A bedroom door, hand painted by Gill

Their ‘final’ home is rather like a pretty doll’s house, akin to a cottage that Beatrix Potter might have painted to accommodate one of her well-dressed mice. The house nestles against a hillside, stitched into place by a late nineteenth century terrace and a sixteenth century barn conversion. These homes shelter Gill’s cottage from the noise and busyness of the village; her views lie south across her pretty garden and adjacent farmland.

‘Once I made the commitment to the house, I was full of enthusiasm and did lots of drawings to work out how to enlarge the living areas without detracting from the charm of the original building,’ notes Gill. ‘We had a limited budget to work with, so I was also a little anxious because it was my last chance to create something special.’

‘When Denton Little was built in l920 it was a very ‘on trend’ building with interesting art nouveau windows, but basically it was a two up, two down property with a small kitchen to the rear and a very small bathroom upstairs,’ Gill observes.

From the summer room, towards the garden

While the cottage’s footprint was not radically altered during the update, the living space required an infusion of light to give it an additional sparkle. Gill added a sympathetic extension to the front of the property, knocking through to the kitchen and opening the dining and sitting rooms into a ‘u’ shape with a central staircase. This created a long kitchen, dining and summer room and formed a study/sitting area with a cosy winter sitting room. Gill also added a new laundry cum boot room and the essential guest loo.

The summer room is always full of plants and flowers

The garden, which lies to the front of the house, is south facing and the summer room’s large French doors make you feel as if you are in the garden.

The winter sitting room has a lovely white painted pine French fireplace and Gill’s much-loved Lewis and Wood’s Adam’s Eden wallpaper has been used here and in the dining area.

The winter sitting room with its Adam's Eden wallpaper

Gill sourced the fireplace during the renovation

‘The new design is all about the flow,’ says Gill. ‘The connection between each of the rooms and the garden is very important. The beauty of this design is that I can be in the kitchen while guests relax with drinks in the living area; I can keep an eye on them but they’re not crowding my preparation space.’

Skylights ensure the kitchen is always bright

‘I love to have family or a good mix of close friends around the dinner table, lingering over coffee with debates on varying topics, current or otherwise. It is one of my happiest occupations!’

Denton Little, ready for Christmas

The pandemic has tested everyone’s commitment to their domestic spaces, asking more of them than ever before. The cottage and garden have been a safe sanctuary for Gill and Clive, who, restrictions and weather allowing, were able to host friends on the terrace during some of the more difficult months.

‘I love this house,’ Gill reflects. ‘Since I married and left home at the age of 19 I’ve lived in 14 different houses, but I’ve never felt as protected as I do here. This is my forever home.’

The back door is off a gated courtyard.
The cottage is a playful mix of old and new
Gill's study nook is part of the kitchen


1. What do you want this house to say about you?

Most of all, I hope Denton Little is interesting and attractive, with a feeling of comfort and happiness.

2. Which is your favourite room in this house and why?

The little bedroom is my special place, because it’s very small and cosy. I use it as my ironing and dressing room, as well as a place to read and watch my iPad. My lino-cut pineapple tree pattern on the walls and my home-made headboard make me happy.

The little bedroom overlooks the garden
Gill made the headboard in the main bedroom

3. What has inspired a particular decorating or design approach in this house?

The winter sitting room is an eclectic combination of my most precious heirlooms and my favourite wallpaper. I’ve always wanted to use Lewis and Wood’s Adam’s Eden, and this room was the perfect place.

Gill inherited the clock and the bureau

The paper embraced my grandfather’s watercolours and the mahogany bureau I inherited from dear family friends, Alice and Ethel.

My most treasured possession in this room is the clock that my father, George, left me. It belonged to my father’s parents, Della and William. It sat in their first-floor drawing room in an elegant, terraced house off Westgate Road in Newcastle upon Tyne. As a child I was allowed to pull the string at the side and watch the animals turn within the glass case as it played a little tune.

William Milne’s watercolours are also my loved treasures and fit so well in this small but very ‘safe’ sitting room.

William Milne's watercolours above the sofa

During the pandemic the reproduction Santos dolls that my daughter sent me from Australia [Tiger & Moth] have become very special to me. True to their original purpose they have an almost spiritual quality that I find deeply comforting.

4. Which domestic luxury can’t you bear to be without?

Flowers. I do buy them every week—just from the supermarket when I’m doing my grocery shopping. I like lots of plants and greenery in the house. If I had endless amounts of money, I’d have flowers delivered every week.

Also, it’s a family joke that my life would not be worth living without chocolate, and kitchen roll to support my cleaning addiction.

View from the kitchen into the dining area

5. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?

I’d like houses in Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand, so I could spend long stretches of time living close to my family, all of whom are overseas.

Failing that, I’d choose Edinburgh. We went there every year when I was a child. Some of my mother’s family lived in Morningside and we would go there from our cottage in Coldstream, on the Scottish border, every summer.

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