Ginny Macdonald | AFTER // 1929 ENGLISH COTTAGE
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AFTER // 1929 ENGLISH COTTAGE

It’s crazy to think that I finished this project in December 2016, shot part of it with Tessa Neustadt in December 2017 and now 8 months later I’m only just revealing it. The delay was partly down to not being able to take time out of my day job (which at the time I was working full time at Emily Henderson Design) to shoot it and we also needed to finish up the master bedroom. When clients undergo renovations like we did on this project, they get so over spent at the end that the decor side can sometimes fall on the back burner. I get it, renovations cost the earth and as long as the space is habitable why would you put yourself even more out of pocket. That’s my practical brain talking but obviously the designer in me is like “are you sure you can’t find an extra pot of gold so we can finish this baby up?!?”  Luckily we did a really fun collab that helped us finish up the space which I’ll tell you about later. But for now let’s delve into the nitty gritty on how it all went down.

 

The Client:

Husband and wife couple, 4 yr old daughter, 1 dog and 1 cat called Kitty.

Cute, and by cute I mean the most beautiful couple on the planet. It’s actually rather sickening but they are all (including their 4 yr old daughter) TV commercial and print models so they are forgiven since it’s their job. Not only that but they are the most wonderful, kind and supportive human beings and a dream to work with. They approached me via Instagram as they’d seen me working for Emily Henderson and resonated with my aesthetic. This was essentially my first big project outside of working full time for EHD so I had to conduct it on the side so that it didn’t interfere with my day job. Luck had it that they wanted to project manage themselves and their contractor is a family member so they really only needed my design brain and CAD drawing skills. Talk about a dream 1st job!

 

The House:

3 bed 2 bath 1929 English Cottage… yes I was in a dream world but also freaking scared since it really was – unbeknownst to me at the time – my first step to branching out on my own. The house is a corner lot which meant extra outdoor space, more light and generally a bigger property. The inside was super tired and felt like it hadn’t been touched since it had been built. All the main reception rooms were separate which felt slightly claustrophobic and really blocked the light. The exterior (which I’m afraid I don’t have to show you, so you’ll need to use your imagination) was so charming with pitched rooflines and textured plaster walls. The interior had an original Batchelder fireplace which I fought to keep, as well as paned casement windows which I’m an absolute sucker for. Anything that feels super old world is a hit in my book. The walls throughout had old world plaster texture which isn’t to everyone’s taste but gives the space some charm.

 

The Reno:

Since the rooms were divided up we decided to maximise the space by opening up the kitchen, dining room and dining nook into one large space. Not super traditional for this type of house but the results created so much more light and openness it was worth breaking the mould. We also – and this is where it gets controversial – took over one of the bedrooms to create a walk in closet in the master. That also allowed for us to add a separate laundry and pantry off the kitchen. Nuts? No because we ended up converting the loft space into a playroom, bedroom and bathroom with a full sized staircase up to it. So not only did it remain a 3 bed but we added a bathroom and really an additional room with the playroom. This space was never really designed in terms of decor and now that I’m talking about it I’m slightly regretful that I didn’t photograph it all to show you, only the bathroom.

 

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The Kitchen:

The kitchen and master bathroom were the main focus to start off with. The clients had a pretty good idea of what they wanted but needed help honing their ideas with a designers eye and some practical suggestions. They wanted an all white kitchen so that it felt clean and bright but I managed to talk them into switching up the backsplash to be a slight tone of grey so that it didn’t feel too stark. They originally had planned on using Ikea cabinets with new fronts from one of the companies that specialises in elevating Ikea products. Note #1. Ginny is known to convince people to spend money. Not in a malicious way and not that I even get anything out of it myself but I’m much more of a quality vs quantity person. I also truly believe that if you can afford custom cabinets you should 100% put your money into that. There’s a special craftsmanship that you get from custom and flexibility with the design which means you can add bespoke details that you can’t from off the shelf. On the flip side I’m not against prefab, I’ve done them before, and you can get a beautiful kitchen going that route, it just gives you less options.

 

On one side of the galley we did butcher block for the counter top and balanced that out with bleached oak wood open shelves on the opposite window wall. To keep some consistency in the house and get our value out of the marble we did Calcutta counters throughout. That stuff is $$ but to-die-for-beautiful and worth every penny (that came from the client I promise!)

 

We added in a little mud room bench off the back door for them to hang purses, hats & the dog leash – this made a great use of the space that could have ended up being kinda awkward if you’d added kitchen cabinetry.

 

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The Dining Nook:

This corner had a lot of windows surrounding it and when we opened up the walls it splashed more light into the kitchen and dining room. There was an existing piece of mirror underneath the long window where we added the built-in bench. It had patinated over time which gave it a natural aged look. I thought this was a really charming feature so suggested they keep as since it’s original to the house and we worked the bench design around it. As we were remodelling the space we had to decipher which walls we might want to add wallpaper to which meant smoothing out the walls from their original old world plaster. You can wallpaper over that type of plaster but it can show through depending on what thickness of paper you use. The nook seems liked the perfect spot to highlight with a different finish. Since the house was built in the 20’s era we did a nod to that with the deco inspired wallpaper in a navy and black pattern. This helps to give the already bright kitchen a touch of moody.

 

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The Dining Room:

When opening up this space there was an existing recessed nook that was ideal for a built-in bar, so that’s exactly what we did! We had leftover Calcutta marble from the kitchen so used that for the counter and sourced some aged mirror to tie in with the dining nook for the backsplash. We also painted it F&B Stiffkey Blue to speak to the wallpaper – which kept the colour palette pursposefully limited in the overall kitchen/dining area.

 

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The Living Room:

This is the room that I didn’t do too much work on since they wanted to bring a lot of their existing furniture. I persuaded them to keep the original Batchelder fireplace tile since that’s so iconic and gives the space some history. We added new simple white drapery from Loom Decor and lighting from Circa.

 

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The Master Bedroom:

This was the last room to finish so we teamed up with Lulu & Georgia who helped us with some of the pieces. I’ve worked the the founder, Sara for years now. I helped design her first nursery and now I’m designing her new Spanish style house she just bought. We used Sara Sherman Samuels’ wallpaper which turned out so well. We had to be careful to find something that worked with the bathroom floor tile since you see both surfaces next to each other. I think since there is a lot of negative space on the walls it balances out the busyness of the bathroom floor. The wallpaper background errs on the warm tones rather than stark white so I took that as an opportunity to bring in some earthier accents with the bedding. They already had the tan leather bench which complimented everything perfectly. Of course I had to get some blue in there so the platform bed is upholstered in a navy linen, which also ties in with the bathroom floor tile. Oh and stripes, lots of stripes. The rug. The bed cover. The pillows. The throw. How many stripes is too many stripes? The room opens out onto their back yard via the french doors so the earthiness and warmth really does feel like sunny afternoon in LA.

 

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The Master Bathroom:

The clients had their hearts set on using the Cle Alhambra tile for their master bathroom floor to which I was super hesitant since I’d used the larger version Big Al on kitchen floor when I worked at EHD. After some back and forth I did end up giving in. It’s such a beautiful happy tile and I knew we could make it work with a different vibe to the kitchen that felt in-keeping with this house.  With that being our kicking off point I wanted to elevate it by using calacutta gold marble wall tiles in the shower with marble baseboard and chair rail to help give a more traditional vibe. We loved the idea of adding some warmth into the space so did the vanity in bleached white oak and paired that with black and chrome hardware and accessories.

 

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The challenges:

The windows. We wanted to have 2 sinks – as most master bathrooms do – but the window placement (two in total) made it tricky to have the mirrors centred above. The vanity wall was also off balance because the windows were positioned more to the left. In order to make this feel functional and balanced aesthetically, we added a full height linen cabinet on the right combining open and closed storage. But what did that mean for the mirror? Since we’re lovers of natural light we didn’t want to remove the windows so positioned the sinks below them and added a mirror between. Slightly unconventional since you tend to look at yourself whilst washing your hands but in this room we were’t afforded that option. One of the main benefits is that the client can put her makeup on with her products below her as opposed to on the side next to her. The client has since said how much she loves this and in this case function overruled aesthetics.

 

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The loft bathroom:

This is the little bathroom that was created out of nothing in the loft space. We couldn’t use too many heavy materials so we used a shower tray instead of tile but I think it worked out pretty well. I insisted on adding tile to the whole of the back wall and we even managed to squeeze in a window to let some natural light in.

 

And there you have it! We’re trying our hardest to get some other projects finished up and shot so it’s not a year and a half between finishing and revealing!!

A big thanks to Tessa Neustadt for photographing. Lulu & Georgia for sponsoring the master bedroom. MyDomaine for running the story. And my amazing clients who I love and adore. The next time I step foot in this house will be for a happy hour cocktail and I’m leaving my tape measure at home!

xXx

GINNY MACDONALD
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