THE NATURAL HOME - Harp Cottage, Powys, Wales
Life slows down at Harp Cottage, the gentle neutral colour palettes and carefully crafted use of natural materials work to create a detailed minimalist look - a phrase coined by the partner of the cottages owner and interior designer, Justine Cook. Harp cottage is designed as a tranquil holiday retreat with a stylish yet welcoming atmosphere, offset by the rolling Welsh hills and sprawling black mountain range on the horizon. Cedar caught up with Justine to discuss the design of the space and how they approached the restoration, inspired by the Welsh landscape.
Describe Harp cottage and it’s location.
Harp Cottage is a 17th Century cottage in Old Radnor on the Welsh borders. Located next to the 14th Century Harp Inn and St. Stephen’s church that was built on an existing 7th Century Pagan site on Old Radnor hill, overlooking the Radnor Forest and Walton Basin that has the largest woodhenge site known so far.
What’s been the biggest challenge in restoring the cottage?
The most exciting part of the renovations was finding the two inglenook fireplaces and the bread and salt cupboard in the sitting room. The biggest challenge was understanding how a stone cottage works and getting rid of all drafts - there were a lot!
There’s an honesty in your design to the history of the property as well as a nod to contemporary comforts. How did you combine the two harmoniously when restoring the cottage?
We didn't try to make the cottage something it isn’t. When we had the shutters made for the windows, for example, we didn't want curtains to keep the interior lines clean and contemporary, we chose reclaimed Georgian doors (contemporary to when the two cottages were knocked into one) to make tongue and groove shutters rather than typical panelled Georgian shutters as they would have been too grand for a humble cottage. Also the colour palette was to reveal the bones of the building rather than imposing something on to it. We like to make a place breathe and be itself.
How did the local Welsh landscape influence your design?
We were used to coastal light previously and working in a Welsh stone cottage with small windows was a challenge. Welsh light is like the Welsh gold it's famous for as it has a rosy tint to it plus it also has a soupy quality to it that was new to us. Getting the correct atmosphere and making the light work in the right way for the building was the greatest challenge! Also the building materials were all local stone from the nearby quarries, the huge slate flagstone floors all had a huge impact on the dynamics of the cottage as well as on the building materials we used, such as lime hemp plaster.
"I DO FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO BE AWARE OF OUR CONNECTION TO NATURE AND BRINGING LOGS INTO LIGHT THE A FIRE AFTER A BEAUTIFUL WALK IN THE WELSH HILLS IS A GREAT WAY TO CONNECT!"
How much do you rely on colour palettes, light and texture in creating a calm space?
To me they are all hugely important. With my interiors company Curated Room we are striving to create calm considered homes and the main way to do that is through colour and texture, the element of touch and the materials used is so important in creating the overall effect. We have a very gentle neutral colour palette that we use which I feel is essential in creating a relaxed space. For example, whites help you to clear your mind and breathe.
How have you incorporated nature in the home?
I am a firm believer in using honest natural materials. All materials should be used to create the right setting. The sense of touch is so important in our homes and the quality of the materials reflects this. The more natural a material feels, the better it will perform. I do feel it is important to be aware of our connection to nature and bringing logs into light a fire after a beautiful walk in the Welsh hills is a great way to connect. And who doesn't enjoy snuggling down in front of a wood fire?
Tell us about ‘The Tin Lizzy’ or ‘The Curated Cupboard’?
The 'Tin Lizzy' is a piece that we brought with us from the very first house we bought as a couple. It was moved from its original space in the kitchen and instead lived in my studio and has since travelled with us to every house. I can't remember why it became named the Tin Lizzy apart from it’s made of tin but the name has always stuck but our guests know it as the Curated Cupboard. I had been sourcing for years mainly from France and someone suggested that they would like to buy some of these items whilst they were staying at Harp Cottage. So I set up the Curated Cupboard that is sometimes featured on our Harp Cottage Instagram feed, so if people aren't staying they don't miss out. However, we now have an online shop on our website www.harpcottage.co.uk making life a lot easier!
Considered curated design, each corner of Harp Cottage has been thought about without feeling filled and cluttered, how do you keep the simplicity?
By not living there! I think the key to living a clutter free life is storage and organisation. Harp Cottage is set up as a holiday home and great care is taken into creating a lived in feel that also allows the guests to feel the space is also theirs. Often guests buy their own flowers and have food delivered when they stay and I love that feeling of ownership that guests have that Harp Cottage is their home away from home.
Tell us about your design inspirations?
Ironically I adore Charleston Farmhouse, the country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in Sussex. Their approach to creating a home has had a huge influence on me. In the first room I ever decorated the walls were white - obviously - but the white was mixed with black and yellow to add some depth. I painted the skirting boards and doors a dark Indian red, like alizarin crimson. The alcove was a deep black red with thick slabs of white painted wood across it for books and objects. I rarely use such colours now but the Bloomsbury ethos and approach to interiors has stayed with me. The current director at Charleston recently stayed at the cottage and said it had a Bloomsbury feel and approach to it, which delighted me!
What are your plans for the garden and greenhouse?
When we lived at the cottage the garden in front of the greenhouse was all raised beds. Now it is just lawn. The herbaceous borders aren't practical (for a holiday home) so we plan to change them soon. The greenhouse was called the 'summerhouse' by the previous owners and we hope one day to restore it to a summerhouse that guests can use. Somewhere to sit and read and enjoy the views and a glass or two of wine. However, each year that we aim to restore it something massively expensive happens and we have to put our plans on the back burner again.
Before Harp cottage became a holiday home it was your home, do you think this has created the natural relaxed feel that allows daily rituals to flourish?
I think I create this type of environment wherever I work. I always approach each project as if I would be living in the space, so I can really imagine how the space will work. From everything practical to what it feels like to sit in a certain space, what I'm sitting on and what I'm looking at. The lighting is hugely important in creating the atmosphere and an area that too many people overlook. We spent a huge amount of time considering how to light the cottage.