Next door to our 200-year-old house, a wild, rambling place tucked into a bowl in the south Shropshire hills, is a one-up, one-down stone cottage that we occasionally use for guests.

It once housed animals – our neighbours still remember it being used as a milking parlour – before it was converted in the Eighties and later used as a holiday let. Despite its pretty location and a beautiful blousy lilac tree outside the front door, it had become tired, and I felt that it had unfulfilled potential.

I had a romantic idea that it would make a lovely writing retreat, a place where a guest could come to work on a book. I also saw the cottage as a potential extra income stream for us, which could bring in £400-600 per week, depending on the season – something we are lucky to have as the cost of living seems to keep going up. 

To let it out, it was clear that we needed to redecorate, and I wanted it to have both comfort and character. The approach to holiday-let decoration has changed completely in recent years; whereas rentals were once kitted out blandly with decoration that offended and appealed to nobody, things are now very different. There are destinations where pattern and colour reign supreme, and such places are joyful, considered and far from bland. 

With this in mind, I wrote a couple of paragraphs explaining how I wanted our cottage to feel – basically a cosy retreat, influenced by the landscape – and sent it to Cassandra Ellis, of Atelier Ellis, who handmakes paint in the UK.

There was a particular colour in her paint collection, Tea & Toast, a mid-brown, that I had obsessed over; Ellis told me it would be both “a nice background if you want to bring in seasonal flowers” but also somewhere “people could bring in really ugly walking gear and it won’t look bad in there”. She sent a few colour schemes to consider, and I chose the one that I liked the most.

When the colour went on, the atmosphere entirely changed. As I’d thought it would be, the Tea & Toast colour, which is now on the ceiling as well as the walls, is totally enveloping. Even in midwinter, it feels warm. The cottage has a prominent staircase and changing the colour of the woodwork from white to a dark chocolate was also transformative. The bedroom is now a soft pink with a chocolate brown door. It reminds me of a box of rose creams.

When it came to choosing furniture, I looked to projects close to home for inspiration and guidance. Octavia Dickinson, the interior designer, decorated The Bear Inn at Hodnet in north Shropshire, cleverly mixing antiques, interesting artwork and layers of pattern. It feels residential – her approach was to design “a home away from home where you feel a little bit more looked after and luxurious”, but she has also considered practicalities, such as places to put clothes away, long mirrors and luggage racks or benches for bags. She suggested having fabrics on headboards and upholstered benches treated for longevity and protection, and advised looking for antiques that look the part but don’t cost too much money, a fine balance. 

I found a pretty Edwardian oval table for the living area and a desk for the bedroom, both from an antiques centre in Leominster. I also found a Seventies lamp with a pleated yellow shade in a local antiques shop. Side tables were sourced from charity shops. One of my best finds was a £40 rocking chair, in our local charity furniture shop – I spotted it through the window when the shop was closed and immediately called them the next morning to reserve it.

As we had chosen not to use wallpaper, I used fabric to add pattern. I am a hoarder of textiles so I raided my own baskets first. A vintage Laura Ashley print was perfect for the kitchen blind, and I made cushions from scraps of seersucker, and sewed a giant ruffled bolster cushion for the bed. For the blinds in the living room, I used a Mews fabric I had been eyeing up for months. As a cost-saving measure, I invited my mum over for a fun few days of sewing. We picked apart the old blinds, preserving the lining and fittings and replacing the fabrics – it was fiddly work but saved a fortune. I am also proud of the bedroom curtain transformation. The existing curtain was lovely heavy linen, so I simply cut it in half and added a decorative braid, attached with fusible bonding web, one of the quickest and most satisfying jobs of the whole project. 

For the finishing touches, I looked to another local holiday let I love, Charlotte’s Folly, a pink gingerbread-esque cottage on the Bradford Estates, decorated by Emma Ainscough. She suggested looking for beautiful objects and table lamps, making sure there is a nice candle or diffuser in the bedroom, and choosing books that are relevant to the area, or “something that is going to add to the experience and the feel of the house”.

I found walking guides for the bookshelves and an incredible painted fan in a charity shop. I chose plates for the kitchen wall from a wonderful vintage shop, La Vie, in Shrewsbury. Falcon enamelware now lifts the colour in the bedroom and kitchen and I trawled through a stack of embroidered kantha quilts at Wilstone, another local business, until I found one that matched the colours of the bedroom perfectly. I’d initially wanted a Welsh blanket for the bed but they were out of budget, as were vintage patchwork quilts.

I kitted the desk out to make it feel as enticing as possible, with writing paper, fresh flowers and a fluted jar filled with sweets. A lot of the budget, which came to around £4,000 in total, was spent on decorators, as I didn’t have the time to paint it myself. But the rest of the project was done inexpensively.

We left the bathroom as it was – it is perfectly serviceable and has a nice claw-foot tub. The kitchen got a glow-up, with tongue-and-groove panelling behind the sink, new chequerboard tiles from Claybrook Studio in russet and cream, and new (vintage) knobs.

And just like that, it is ready. Waiting for a writer, or perhaps a walker or two. 

Tips for making a holiday home

There are multiple practicalities to consider if you would like to rent out an annexe or a holiday let. Ben Edgar-Spier, the head of regulation and policy at Sykes Holiday Cottages, has the following pieces of advice (please note, this cannot be taken, or relied upon, as legal, planning or tax advice):

  • As well as providing your guests with all the furniture they would expect from self-catering accommodation, you’ll also need to ensure your annexe complies with health and safety checks, including fire risk assessment and gas safety assessment. You’ll also need to obtain suitable insurance cover.
  • If you’re able to get your annexe declared as a Furnished Holiday Letting, you could be eligible for tax benefits (note that during the Spring Budget, the Government announced the Furnished Holiday Letting tax regime will no longer be in place from April 1 2025, though as no legislation has yet been brought to do so, it isn’t confirmed).
  • You’ll need to look into whether you need to obtain planning permission, as even if your annexe is already attached to your home, turning it into a holiday home may be seen as changing the purpose of its structure.
  • You may need to seek permission from your mortgage provider in order to let out part of your property for holiday use.
  • If you let your annexe out as a holiday home it will be classed as a separate dwelling – or “self-contained unit” – to your property, meaning you’ll either receive a separate council tax bill or a business rates bill.
  • Probably in early 2025, new government rules for holiday lets in England will be introduced in order to provide more accurate data on the short-term-let sector. This will include a new, mandatory registration scheme for holiday homes – including annexes – across England. The Government has said this will be online, low-cost and simple to fill in, but the details are yet to be confirmed.

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