Through the Keyhole - Cottage Charm
PUBLISHED: 11:00 05 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013
Peter Booton runs the polishing cloth over a 200 year old cottage, once part of a petrol station and now the home to an aroma-therapist and a former butcher/restaurateur.
Less than 20 years ago the owners of Talbot Cottage in the quaint, stone-built village of Mere, at the foot of the south Wiltshire Downs, were selling petrol to passing motorists on the old A303. Its enterprising owners at that time were the Chalke family who ran the local garage and used a room in the cottage as their office.Now that the busy route to and from the West Country bypasses Mere to the north, the village has regained its unhurried and tranquil air. Talbot Cottage, too, is enjoying a new and quieter lease of life in the present ownership of Mike and Sheridan Thompson who moved north from Poole in Dorset two years ago in search of an idyllic and rural cottage home.
Although the previous owners had carried out a considerable amount of renovation work on the old cottage, the Thompsons were keen to improve the existing facilities still further and give it more of a 'country cottage' style, beginning with the kitchen. Having decided to retain the Belfast sink and modern fitted units with their Iroko worktops, the first item to go was a split level oven and hob which was inconveniently sited near the kitchen door. This was replaced by a glass fronted feature cupboard for the chinaware and a capacious American style fridge-freezer. Sheridan favoured a dual-fuel range cooker and the obvious place for this was the original inglenook fireplace which offered sufficient space and good extraction facilities. However, there was no gas supply to the cottage and so the two-foot thick outer wall of the kitchen had to be drilled through! Sheridan also wanted an easy to clean tiled surround to match the cream coloured cooker and chose a style from the Craven, Dunhill and Jackfield range which also gave her the opportunity to include a row of feature tiles.
The original planked wooden floors upstairs had been restored and polished, but on the ground floor the previous owners had put in laminates throughout. Mike and Sheridan decided to replace these with fitted carpets in the lounge and ceramic tiles with the appearance of stone in the kitchen, which they felt would not only be more practical and hard wearing, but also dog friendly for their two Springer spaniels Bracken and Beth.
After spending almost a year transforming the kitchen, the Thompsons turned their attention to the lounge where they re-tiled the inglenook fireplace with black limestone from Simali Stone and installed a multi-fuel stove for burning mainly logs. The walls were then re-decorated with a 'glitter' paint, the result of which is an almost magical sparkling effect when lit by rays of multi-coloured light glancing off Sheridan's strings of dangling crystals. Sheridan, a trained aroma-therapist, also loves lots of candles around her home and admits that she is a very spiritual person. In fact, she confides, that on first entering the cottage she just knew it would make a wonderful, friendly home as it had the right feel.
The end room of the cottage which had once served as the garage's office had been used by the previous owners as a study, but the Thompsons felt it would be more useful as a formal dining room. Having owned and run two successful restaurants in the past, it is hardly surprising that Mike, a butcher by trade, and Sheridan are very fond of cooking and entertaining. One of the delights of living in south Wiltshire, they have found, is that fresh local produce, and especially game, is plentiful in their area. Salisbury open-air market on a Tuesday or Saturday is a particular favourite.
When they first moved into the cottage, Sheridan recalls that the interior seemed a little dark and so she decided to paint the walls in paler shades and replace the existing dark coloured curtains with lighter, more cottagey fabrics. Although she had a pretty good idea of what she wanted, Sheridan enlisted the help of Sandy Jones from Delight in Shaftesbury, just over the border in Dorset, who specializes in beautifully hand-finished soft furnishings. Initially, Sandy discussed Sheridan's requirements and showed her various samples of material. Then, using traditional techniques, she made up interlined Roman blinds and curtains for the windows which would help to retain heat in the cottage. Also, for one of the guest bedrooms, Sandy used a stripey Spanish cotton fabric to make a delightful pair of headboard cushions which she then suspended from a wooden curtain pole by ribbons delicately tied in bows.
The master bedroom is remarkably spacious for a former workers' cottage and was probably two rooms originally. It displays a number of notably old features, including a wealth of exposed beams and a pair of the cottage's original 'A' frame timbers as well as the stone chimneybreast for the lounge inglenook below. Conceivably, Talbot Cottage is around 200 years old.