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When Ana Perez set out to decorate the tiny cottage situated in the backyard of her family’s Norfolk, England, home, she came up with a novel idea (literally). Rather than simply plucking out random items she liked, she imagined it belonged to a gardener. That explains the open shelves in the kitchen—reminiscent of a potting shed—the palette of terracotta browns and forest greens, the zinc-clad countertop, and the framed butterflies. “I tried to stay within that story to make it have that consistent feel,” says Perez, who, as an executive for an IT company by trade, is worlds removed from the property’s fictional resident. 

Now dubbed the Spinks Nest (spink is a local word for a finch), the cottage was destined to be a holiday rental, but at just 500 square feet, Perez had to get creative with space if they were going to welcome guests. In an act of pure cleverness, she raised the mattress in the bedroom to be higher than normal to provide deep drawers for storage, and to keep the bed central (there is nothing worse than sleeping trapped against a wall), she carved out two passageways leading to the adjacent lounge, offering privacy with thick curtains. A ledge above the raised headboard pulls double duty as a makeshift nightstand. “I felt I could be a little more theatrical, because you can let go of the practicalities of a place you’re not actually living in,” she says.

Despite its size, the remodel took 18 months (!) rather than the estimated five, as the builder used traditional and painstaking methods, such as laying the bricks with lime instead of cement. But the drawn-out timeline gave Perez more time to scour local reclamation yards for salvaged pieces, like the church pew that was cut to fit in the dining alcove alongside the former school table (complete with graffiti). These preloved treasures add to the feeling that the cottage has been lived in for decades rather than freshly renovated. 

While the fireplace is another feature that appears to have been around for centuries, it was in fact a radical new design (the oversize form is crafted out of old bricks, so it looks original to the structure). Anything that wasn’t reclaimed was made locally, such as the tiled flooring, which was handmade by a mother-and-daughter team. Most of the fabrics are vintage finds, and the plants keep on coming.

Perez did enlist a little professional help midway. After discovering a local designer, Elle Kemp of Ridge and Furrow, she tasked her with designing the kitchen and consulting on the cottage’s color scheme. Don’t let the small run of brown cupboards fool you: They pack a practical punch, housing a dishwasher and microwave. Opposite them is a recessed pantry with a breakfast station, and the fridge is concealed in the off-white tongue-and-groove wall. “You [have to] think carefully about every corner of the space,” says Perez of the proportions. 

In the bathroom, the throne toilet seat, crafted out of iroko wood tops from a school science laboratory, is quirky but traditional. Yet the sunken, micro-cemented bath is totally unexpected. Perez toyed endlessly with the configuration, and when there was talk of digging down into the ground, she embraced it to create a spalike shower-tub that is big enough for two. “We were inspired by our travels to Morocco, where the bathrooms are made out of tadelakt,” she explains, “and it reminds me of the baths you see in Japan.” She lucked out, as her builder was keen to master the application of micro-cement, so he practiced first, and as Perez points out: “It means we didn’t need tiles or grouting, and it’s not slippery, so it works really well.” 

Unsurprisingly, the cottage has garnered positive feedback from guests lucky enough to call it home for a night. Perez welcomes them with a sound system and scent cones “so there’s a sensory experience, too—it’s not just looking at things.” Move over, cottagecore, we’re on to potting shed–chic.

The Goods

Go-to vintage shop: Holt Antiques & Interiors.

Favorite local home store: John Derian for classic designs and botanical and natural inspiration.

Biggest splurge: The floor tiles by Pamments, which are handmade in Norfolk by a mother-and-daughter team using locally sourced clay; we loved visiting the factory and seeing how the tiles were made.

Best save: The bathroom door that we sourced on eBay for £10. It is slightly smaller than a normal door, but luckily we bought it before the doorway was made. Its size and chipped paint adds to the cottage’s charm.

Who to Know

I loved working with: Elle and Martin from Ridge and Furrow, who helped us translate what was in our head into reality.

The nicest contractor I’ve ever met: George Lacey was meticulous.