We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

When a Paris-based couple acquired a pretty cottage in the sought-after seaside village of Orford in Suffolk, England, they were playing the long game. Because of the home’s heritage status, nothing could be structurally altered, so they’d inevitably have to make do with the tiny three-bed, 732-square-foot home’s quirks, including a lack of central heating and incredibly restrictive staircase.

Knowing this, the owners, who have four adult children, had low expectations for their holiday retreat. “Initially the brief was: ‘Can you help us find a few bits of furniture? We understand that there’s not really anything that you can do because it’s so tiny,’” recalls interior designer Laura Parkinson of Palmer & Stone. Despite the run-down cottage’s petite proportions and smoke-stained walls, she was charmed. “I could see that with some careful organization, we could make it really usable so that all the kids could come and stay and everyone would feel comfortable,” she says. Here, Parkinson explains just how she transformed this neglected house into a welcoming destination.

Think Flexibly

The kitchen, before.

When it’s just the couple at the house, the small bistro table suffices. But when their kids join, they can flip down a longer surface off the wall in the kitchen. Even more amazing? The table isn’t actually a table, it’s a reclaimed door that Parkinson covered with a batten on one side so they can secure it to the wall.

Parkinson was inspired by the defunct bread oven on the adjacent wall when devising this creation. “I felt that it was almost like an art installation, and that a beautiful old piece of wood could have the same effect,” she says. The benches are just as clever, with lids that lift up and provide storage for table linens.

Save With Freestanding Pieces

The only thing going for the kitchen was the AGA range. With zero countertop space and only a pair of oversize utility sinks (the cottage previously belonged to artists), the space desperately needed an overhaul. Parkinson landed on an off-the-shelf freestanding kitchen unit from Scumble Goosie (around $1,615) and splurged on a handsome fluted sink. “I got the taps and hardware from DeVol, so it elevates it, but overall it was a really cost-effective way to get in what they needed,” she says. Under-floor heating cozies up the space, while a run of wood wall pegs above the zellige tile backsplash provides more hanging storage.

Disguise Appliances With Adorable Curtains

The 200-year-old cottage boasts the original walk-in pantry, which proved an obvious spot for an under-counter refrigerator and freezer. However, in a space this tight, it’s impossible to integrate appliances or cover them with doors. Parkinson’s solution was to whip up some inexpensive curtains in her favorite cotton ticking stripe.

In a Tight Spot? Order Items That Require Assembly 

The stairs, before.

While there’s something charming about the staircase (which shrinks down to 25 inches wide at its narrowest part), it made designing the second floor all the more challenging. Any major pieces of furniture had to be custom-made and delivered in pieces so that they could be carried up. This included the divan-style bed bases, one of which is disguised like a sofa during the daytime thanks to a twin mattress and a set of bolster cushions. Parkinson even had some of the chest of drawers built in the rooms. 

The existing cabinet underneath the steps is a game changer for storing beach gear. The designer painted it in Farrow & Ball’s Wall White to complement the natural stair treads and stained-glass window detailing.   

Squeeze in as Much of a Shower as Possible

The bathroom, before.
The bathroom, before.

Clinical and covered in cold white tile, the bathroom was the cottage’s least enticing room of all. Parkinson did away with the minute tub and put in a luxurious full-width shower clad in playful checkered tiles, while keeping the chunky ceramic sink and brass radiator intact. Unlacquered brass faucets will patina and darken over time in the same way as the towel rail, “so eventually it’ll feel like they were always meant to be together,” says Parkinson.