Make even the smallest home seem spacious with neutral colours and clutter-busting storage, as Julie Wishart has
For Julie Wishart, moving to this cosy cottage in the heart of Cambridge was a fresh new start. “When I first viewed it, I thought the house had a lovely feel. Although it’s small, I knew I’d be able to make it a home and my daughters and I would be very happy living here,” she says. Julie decided to move into the centre of Cambridge, with youngest daughter Erma, now 17, when she
separated from her husband four years ago. Having lived in a large barn conversion in a village, she finds city life a refreshing change. “I love it here,” says Julie. “Everything is so close. I’m two minutes from work, so I don’t have to drive. And although it’s right in the centre of town, the street I live in is surprisingly quiet.”
Julie was renting a house over the road when this cottage came on the market. “I was out walking the dog with Emma, when we saw the For Sale board go up. It was after 5pm, but we phoned the estate agent straightaway to request a viewing. The house had been a rental property and the tenants had just moved out, so we spent a lot of time squinting through the letter box that evening,” she says.
One of the main things that appealed to Julie was the south-facing courtyard garden. “It really matters to me that I can pop back at lunchtime and sit outside in the sunshine,” says Julie, who once she’d bought the house also created a little sun terrace on the kitchen roof, too. “It’s a huge treat in summer,” she says. “I come home after work and can sit up there with a glass of wine and a good book and watch the sun go down.”
Being an interior designer, with her own business, Orchard Street Interiors, it wasn’t the redecoration of the cottage that daunted Julie – it was the prospect of off-loading all her large pieces of furniture. “Id been renting for 18 months by the time I bought the house and I still had so much in storage,” she says. “When it was delivered, the furniture simply overwhelmed the cottage. I started selling pieces, putting some on eBay, and ended up giving my friends lots of things. In return, they came round to help me decorate.”
Julie realised she had to be ruthless about what stayed in the cottage. “Everything on display here has a use,” she says. “My music is all on my iPod and the only photos are the ones that are really precious. It broke my heart to get rid of lots of my books, but I kept the special ones. My magazine collection had to go, too, but again, I kept the ones I really need for reference and inspiration.”
Keeping just the special things has given Julie’s home personality, but without the clutter. She still has her grandmother’s set of blue china on display in the kitchen and has framed some of her favourite letters and Mother’s Day cards from her girls. “On the whole though, I’m one of life’s thrower-outers, rather than a collector. I’m not keen on knick-knacks and can’t give house room to anything that I don’t absolutely love,” says Julie. “In the end, I suppose downsizing has been quite a liberating experience!”
When it came to choosing colour schemes, Julie knew the best bet for a small house was to keep the décor coherent throughout, restricting the palette to sophisticated neutral shades that wouldn’t assault the eye at every turn. “To me, the most important thing for any house, traditional or modern, is that its interior needs to be comfortable and effortlessly stylish,” says Julie. “I used to work as a colour consultant for Fired Earth, so I’m a bit of a colour geek. I love muted neutral tones and I already knew exactly which colours I wanted to use before I’d even moved in. In the living room and the kitchen, for example, I’ve used Fired Earth’s China Clay, and in the bathroom, Ultramarine Ashes. In the bedrooms I used Oak Apple and Farrow & Ball’s Light Blue.”
This subtle scheme provides the perfect backdrop for the flashes of vibrant raspberry red and pink that appear throughout the house, especially in Julie’s mixed-and-matched fabrics, be it gingham with florals, ticking stripes with classic checks, or embroidery with plain velvets or woven cotton.
The house might be small but Julie has been quick to employ some fail-safe design techniques to make her rooms seem larger. She’s hung mirrors in every room to maximise light, kept to neutral base colours, gone for lots of built-in cupboards and chosen dual-purpose furniture that contains hidden storage, such as her divan bed with its essential built-in linen drawers. Ever mindful of her need for extra storage space, Julie investigated the loft, only to discover the roof cavity was completely open, right along the street. “I had to get a builder in to make some simple breeze-block walls for better security,” she says. “I also had the loft boarded over and insulated, so now it’s an essential storage space.”
Julie’s style success, however, is down to her luxurious finishing touches, which fool you into
thinking this house is larger than it actually is. By using exotic orchids, plush velvet bedspreads and baroque-style mirror frames, she’s created an opulent country-house feel – but on a smaller scale. And with her eye for detail complemented by her unsentimental attitude to downsizing, it’s no surprise that Julie has proven that size isn’t always everything.
• This feature originally appeared in Ideal Home magazine, with photography by Colin Poole.