A warm Cornish welcome awaits guests at Rose Cottage in St Mawgan
Words by Alice Westgate, photographs by Cornish Gems
“Rose Cottage is dressed to impress at Christmas,” says Fiona Southern. “The house is at its absolute best when the mantelpiece is draped with fresh greenery and there is holly on top of every picture. Guests are greeted with an open fire, and everything is set for a beautiful Cornish Christmas.”
Cob-built Rose Cottage, which dates from the mid-1800s, sits in the picture-postcard village of St Mawgan and is every bit as rural and romantic as its name suggests. “The village ticked all the boxes for us,” says Fiona’s husband Simon. “It is located in a pretty wooded valley and has a beautiful church, a village green, river and ford, an excellent post office, general store and tearoom, and a wonderful pub – all a mile-and-a-half from the beautiful North Cornwall coast.”
Fiona and Simon bought the house ten years ago, when it was a drab rental property that was “a mess of orange pine” inside. It had three bedrooms, one bathroom and a grade two listing; this meant that its historic fabric had to remain unchanged. “We had to keep the same number of bedrooms, but we gained valuable space downstairs by converting some former outhouses into a much-needed shower and utility room,” says Simon.
The couple also carried out re-wiring and re-plumbing, replaced the kitchen, revamped the garden and added a summerhouse on the site of an old greenhouse. “This sat within the planning laws,” adds Simon, “but it was a complicated build as all the materials had to be barrowed in. And, in order to fulfill the listing requirements, the shower room needed to be roofed with Delabole slates. These had to be attached with wooden pegs and bedded into a lime mix supplied by a specific quarry on Bodmin Moor. It was a labour of love, with no expense spared.”
The work took nine months and involved some complex discussions with English Heritage. Happier moments came when they found two original inglenook fireplaces behind some later Victorian additions: one of these can be found in the dining room and has been fitted with a wood-burning stove that’s perfect for festive entertaining; the other, in the sitting room, remains as a old-fashioned open fire to warm the cockles after a bracing beach walk. Beams throughout the ground floor have been left exposed, while slate flooring and cushioned window-seats continue the sense of tradition.
Once the structural work was completed, Fiona and Simon painted the walls in a selection of pale coastal colours and filled the rooms with a mix of shabby chic pieces and lovely timeworn antiques. “We were able to pursue our passion of dressing the property with antiques sourced from local auction houses,” says Simon. “These include a beautiful Welsh dresser, Regency washstand, Mason desk, wig stand, display cabinet and a commode that comes complete with pot and lid. It would have made a useful standby prior to the new downstairs loo being built!”
These pieces suit the house perfectly, as does the dining furniture, which was commissioned from a local carpenter and made to fit the space. Fiona recently revived the table and chairs with a coat of Annie Sloan’s chalk paint, which she bought from Sweetpea & Betty in Falmouth. “If you haven’t discovered the joys of chalk paint yet, you haven’t lived,” she laughs.
All this careful thought means that the cottage still has plenty of character and masses of integrity despite the renovations. “There is not a straight wall in the house,” says Fiona. “Every surface is delightfully wiggly and wonky, but that just makes us love it all the more.”
The only snag is that, with five daughters between them, it wasn’t long before Rose Cottage was bursting at the seams on family visits. So the Southerns moved to a large farmhouse nearby and decided to rent out Rose Cottage as a holiday let. “Everything remains just how it was when we lived here – antiques and all,” says Fiona. “It’s not a typical rental property as it feels very much like walking into somebody’s house. It feels so welcoming that guests often call it a home from home.
Simon and Fiona plan to move back in the fullness of time, knowing that it is the perfect place in which to enjoy their later years. “It’s a dear little house that is incredibly special to us,” says Fiona. “Whatever the weather throws at you here in Cornwall, we somehow feel that the sun always shines on Rose Cottage.”
Rose Cottage sleeps six and costs from around £563 for two nights and from £751 per week in 2015. For more details, call 01872 241241 or visit www.cornishgems.com