Little Court is the new baby in the family of holiday cottages impeccably transformed by Alison Hall and her sister Lorna Armstrong. But while this North Berwick haven shares the discerning style of its older siblings, it has a charm all of its own.
Located behind the terraces of Victoria Road, there would have been nothing to the rear of the single-storey fisherman’s cottage when it was built (before the middle of the 19th century). The villas on nearby Melbourne Road appeared later, beyond the courtyard that grants the cottage its sense of privacy.
“We were really struck by how hidden it feels,” says Alison, describing the door off Victoria Road that leads, via a pathway flanked by stone walls, to the courtyard oasis.
She suspects the cottage originally comprised either one or two fisherman’s cottages, but it has existed as a single dwelling since around 1850. The cottage was bought in March of this year, and within three months the industrious sisters and their trusty joiner and decorator had turned the two-bedroom property into a beguiling bolthole.
Thankfully the building was structurally sound, so it mainly needed a decorative facelift. Artex was weighing down walls and ceilings, and had to be removed before the internal surfaces were re-plastered. Sash-and-case windows have been restored, and the internal doors stripped of old paintwork before being repainted a subtle blue/grey. Ageing laminate that floored most of the cottage was lifted and replaced in the bedrooms and the large sitting room with pitch pine sourced from Hargreaves Flooring in Falkirk, who specialise in reclaimed wood. “This timber came from The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh,” says Alison, who relishes the history inherent in the solid boards; “Apparently they were quite difficult to sand as the wood is so hard. The boards smell wonderful too.”
Given that the accommodation is on one level, continuity in floor coverings was maintained, avoiding too “bitty” a finish. Old quarry tiles were sourced for the bathroom to match the tiles retained in the galley kitchen.
Another transformation took place in the sitting room, where there was already a stove within the Victorian cast iron fireplace, which had been covered in layers of paint. It has been stripped and burnished back to its original dark, dramatic finish, the look complemented by the antique mirror above.
Decoratively, Alison and Lorna had fun with this space and enjoyed a visit from Lynsey Jean Henderson, an Edinburgh textile artist whose hand-printed wallpaper looks a treat in the double bedroom. This wallpaper, with its swooping swallows, is perfect for the cottage, since these birds fly up and down Victoria Road in summertime.
“The paper is called “Sailors Souls”, since swallows are said to carry the souls of lost sailors to heaven,” says Alison. The story made the design all the more fitting for this coastal setting. A leftover piece of wallpaper was used to make the bedside lights, a commission fulfilled by family firm Dorval Lighting in Edinburgh.
The coastal vibe continues in this room with the deck-chair fabric used to upholster the Arts & Crafts chair that belonged to the sisters’ grandfather. The wardrobe was bought at East Linton Country Pine, while the chest of drawers and bedside table were picked up at Interiors of Castle Douglas and the traditional style cast iron bed was a new buy from Feather & Black. Wooden twin beds found at Old Pine & Pieces of Fenton Barns in East Lothian were painted for the other bedroom, a simple but warming space.
In fact, the look throughout the cottage is tastefully restrained, yet cosy. The backdrop has been kept simple; in the sitting room the white walls and muted shades of the sofas and rug are punctuated by interesting pattern and colour. The curtain fabric – “Bird Garden” by Mark Hearld – was sourced via the St Jude’s Gallery website, while homemade cushions look great alongside a bright “granny square throw” on the back of one of the sofas. Custom-made bookshelves bring additional warmth to the fireplace wall, while a framed map above the dining table had been in Alison’s possession since a trip to Russia years ago. The folding leaf table and chairs are by Ercol and were snapped up on eBay.
It’s an easy trip to the dining table from the kitchen, where the units have been rejuvenated with a coat of paint.
“They were in good condition, but the worktop was badly damaged,” Alison says. Keen to avoid waste, they used recycled timber to create a new wooden worktop for this space, while the existing range cooker was given a rigorous clean. A new sink, shelving and wall-mounted wooden dish rack make fresh finishing touches.
Meanwhile, the bathroom was gutted. The joiner got to work with handy built-in shelves, and a tongue-and-groove side panel for the new bath. The wash hand basin was spotted at Holyrood Architectural Salvage Yard in Edinburgh, and yellow mosaic wall tiles brighten the room. Alison loves the nautical feel of the pendant lights in both the bathroom and hallway, sourced online from Trinity Marine and Davey Lighting.
The attention to detail devoted to the interior has also been lavished on the outdoors, making the sheltered courtyard an extension of the living space. Two existing box beds have been replanted and a third added to the paved courtyard, which is south facing.
With some very pretty apple trees and painted outdoor furniture, this is as tranquil a spot as it’s possible to imagine in a bustling town. As for the backdrop to a relaxed glass of wine out here, it’s the sound of the sea, and perhaps the rush of wings courtesy of a swoop by the odd swallow.
For details of stays at Little Court, (18A Victoria Road, North Berwick) tel: 01620 890284 or visit www.gonetothebeach.co.uk; a week in January starts from £420.