The Little House of Happiness

5th July 2019

Sandra and Simon Fowle live in a charming cottage with idyllic views. They love to while away time on their patio, watching the fishing boats and yachts go out to sea…

The Property:
a two-bedroom former fisherman’s cottage in Queenborough Harbour,
Kent, built in 1900.

Who Lives Here Now:
Simon Fowle, a retired structural engineer, and his wife, Sandra, a crafter, homemaker, interiors blogger and Instagrammer (littlehousehappiness.co.uk), plus their two Lakeland terriers, collectively known as the Bears.

words: natalie flaum | photography: darren chung

When Simon Fowle took early retirement, he and his wife Sandra decided to downsize and move to their weekend retreat – the house where Simon’s grandparents had lived. Affectionately named by Sandra as the ‘little house of happiness,’ the two-bedroom fisherman’s cottage is located in picturesque Queenborough harbour in North Kent and has been in Simon’s family since the 1930s.

“My grandad, Nobby, lived here with my nan, Lillian, who reached the grand age of 101. Grandad converted Thames barges into house boats and worked in the boat shed here. My mother actually went into labour with me in the back bedroom, which is now our bathroom,” says Simon. “After my grandmother passed away, the house lay empty for ten years, until we bought it from family six years ago to use as a holiday home.”

Four years ago, Simon and Sandra planned a major renovation involving demolishing the existing conservatory and downstairs bathroom to create a bright open-plan extension with renewed joists, skylight windows and bi-fold doors opening onto the harbour side terrace. Simon’s grandad’s old boat shed has been converted into a garage with an integrated utility and downstairs loo.

Upstairs, they transformed the third bedroom into a bathroom and the second bedroom into Sandra’s craft room. “I have a passion for interiors and crafting and I’m proud to call myself a homemaker,” says Sandra. “I’m a magazine junkie and keep scrapbooks. I also follow interiors blogs and scroll through Instagram for ideas.” As Simon worked in the building industry, he had the skillset required to design plans to gain planning permission in a conservation area and they used checkatrade.com to locate a builder. “Our builder was great and managed everything from plumbing to electrics, carpentry and decorating,” she adds.

In the kitchen, in keeping with her coastal surroundings, Sandra selected blue gloss units from Wren Kitchens, which is where she also found the quartz worktops, spray tap, sink and all the appliances. Sandra’s favourite part of the kitchen is her Aga, lovingly named Betty Blue, relocated from her previous home in Surrey. “I absolutely love our Betty Blue, which took three days to move, reassemble and install here,” says Sandra. “If I want to bake something last minute, I just leave the butter on top to soften up. We have roasting, simmering and baking ovens – the temperatures are different for all three and always stay the same. Betty bakes the best and most seriously moist cakes. We have instant heat all winter long and I miss it when we turn her off in the summer. I belong to an ‘I love my Aga’ Facebook group – it’s packed full of useful tips and I’ve seen people on the group having theirs re-enamelled. Agas really do last forever.”

Sandra was also keen to include a walk-in larder in a disused corner of the kitchen. “Six years ago, when I suggested a larder to our builder instead of overhead kitchen units, he thought I was incredibly old-fashioned but since then, larders have been making a comeback!”

Sandra has created cosy nooks inspired by everything she loves including a coffee corner and her ‘terrier corner’, full of terrier inspired ornaments and art, her favourite of which is the watercolour of her dogs in front of the blue Aga by illustrator Sally Belinda. She’s added her own stamp to a wire cupboard packed full of black, chalk-labelled jars containing baking ingredients, illuminated by fairy lights. “My beloved KitchenAid mixer takes pride of place in my kitchen and I bake almost every day for our community centre, whether that’s fairy cakes for our Mother’s Day tea or iced lemon cake for the bereavement café. My mother collected old vintage cookery pamphlets that I’ve put in a vintage crate to flick through – I love the fact that in there isn’t much you can’t make with Nestlé condensed milk!”

In the open-plan sitting-dining room the couple replaced the old gas fire with a toasty log burner and a wood store with decorative logs near the dining table.

The most recent makeover took place in the master bedroom when Sandra painted a deep-ink colour feature wall. “I painted over my beautiful Cath Kidston wallpaper and had to give it three coats,’ she says. ‘It’s out of my comfort zone but I’m pleased I took the plunge with a dark shade – it’s very soothing to live with and feels more calm than it did before.”

Sandra’s craft room features modern birch plywood peg boards designed with utensil racks shelves and pegs and another special heirloom.

‘The vintage mahogany cabinet used to belong to my parents… I painted it in chalk paint and lined it with Cath Kidston wallpaper to store my fabrics and wools,’ she adds. “I kept a Project Life scrapbook of the house renovations, which is lovely to flick through.”

The bathroom had a makeover too. “The previous shower was so small that if Simon dropped the soap he couldn’t bend down to pick it up! I had always held onto a vintage Cath Kidston wallpaper with this room in mind and then we sourced all the fittings online.”

The welcoming, relaxed, coastal scheme is a far cry from the dated, much-loved home the couple invested in six years ago. “Nan would have loved the changes we’ve made – her copper kettle has a pride of place here – she was always painting or moving things around and was a ‘faffer,’ just like Sandra!” admits Simon. ‘I’ve grown up with boats all my life, so I’m hoping to buy my own soon.’

“Since moving here, I do miss my friends but I’ve made new ones on Instagram and from becoming a trustee at the local community centre,’ says Sandra. ‘The locals are incredibly fond of this house – I recently overheard someone saying that ‘the Woods’ (Simon’s grandparents) used to live here, and I was thinking to myself – in a way, they still do!”

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