I came across this next house in a very unusual way. Last year I did an Airbnb round up where I spent days of my life moving centimetres around the map of England trying to come up with a list of the most beautiful houses in the UK on Airbnb - how else are you going to spend your thirties? Polly's house, Carnacalla Cottage, obviously made it onto that list! It ain't hard to see why. Bright white, blue shutters, a garden that transports you to the Mediterranean & interiors that are expertly executed. So I thought I'd have a pop and see if Polly was willing to let us in on how one finds a house like this, let alone what it takes to breathe life back into it!
We bought Carnacalla Cottage Sennen, thanks to Lady Luck. We were driving past, and there was a man in a suit standing outside, so we stopped and asked him if we could look around. The appointment that he was waiting for had stood him up. Lucky us.
We'd lived in Cornwall part-time for almost 10 years. We used to rent a fisherman's cottage further up the coast, looking to buy, but it became too expensive for us and really busy. Ben and I both love the sea, we swim and surf. This led us to explore Cornwall's North Coast.
Sennen is the most westerly village in the UK. It's the toe of England: like an island with a vast reflective body of water that shines light all around it. It's also up quite high, so it feels like another world of sky, sea and sunsets. You can probably tell that I'm enchanted by the place.
Carnacalla is a traditional Cornish cottage, built in the 1800's, and was formerly owned by the National Trust. Once a doctor's surgery, once a tearoom, it was a tip when we bought it and we no idea how much work it needed. Sometimes being naive is a blessing.
(photographs of the cottage before Ben & Polly worked their magic)
There are two reception rooms, one for movie watching – painted dark like a cinema – and a big L-shaped sofa for lounging. Then there's a grown-up's lounge that's TV-free, full of books on art, design, photography and surfing, along with a mid-century chessboard. It has a calm feel, ready to indulge your mind with ideas. There is also a rustic workbench there for work and study.
Both myself and Ben did a lot of the demolition work to save on costs, and there was a sea of red swirly carpet to get rid of. We joined the kitchen and dining room to have a big open space in the centre of the house, which makes it great for parties and socialising: something I really miss. We've had some wonderful times here with cherished friends, imminent births and Seedlip cocktails.
We had to spend a large part of our budget on boring things like a steel to hold up the roof, damp proofing, insulating the floor. This meant that we had to dress the house on a small budget. I've worked around it by using eBay, car boot sales, charity shops, beachcombing for sculptural things, architectural salvage, re-upholstering headboards myself and using simple curtains and carpet.
I looked at a lot of Shaker interiors – the pegs being a feature in nearly every room – and we wanted to nurture the atmosphere of the building so we brought back as many of the original features as we could. The Delabole slate floor was a wonderful discovery in the white sitting room, we also discovered a ship's mast used as the central beam, so we left the ceiling exposed in that room. We've left the plaster walls raw, waxed with beeswax. Since the house had lots of tongue and groove, we've kept that throughout the house. It feels in keeping with a cottage too.
In the bathrooms we used a classic Moroccan tile and beautiful Italian brass handmade tap and shower hardware. The tiles and taps were a big expense. I saved on the granite and marble used in the kitchen, as both were lucky eBay finds. Getting them here wasn't so easy... there was a tense moment with a transit in a muddy field.
In the master bedroom, there's a beautiful 19th-century bath, this gives a feeling of luxury that feels like a special treat. If anyone lived here full time they'd have to remove it and put wardrobes in its place.
The garden is a particular passion of mine. Since the house is white with bright blue windows and a granite shingle front garden it's like a reverse of Derek Jarman's house and garden in Dungeness. I took a lot of inspiration from his shingle garden and looked at Mediterranean plants, things that survive in harsh climates. The echium is my absolute favourite, it's like a giant tropical sage flower, 1-6 meters tall, the foliage is beautiful and it rises up out of the ground in defiance.
By no means is this house finished. There is still much to be done. But for now, it's comfortable, calm and great for multigenerational enjoyment and it's on such a wonderful part of the Cornish Coast. People say it's like Big Sur, the Caribbean, Sicily, Mallorca, the West coast of Ireland, the Highlands, the moors in Yorkshire. There really is a beautifully diverse landscape in a very small area. I hope everyone gets a chance to visit here one day.