Helen Pexton moved to Lancashire from her beloved Cheshire for love. If that love and subsequent marriage meant leaving the county she had always lived in behind, so be it. And she gave it a good go, too, but in 2020, husband Andrew agreed to leave their beautiful converted schoolhouse set high on a hill and transfer to a new home in Cheshire. They just had to decide where said new home would be.

‘I was desperate to be back in Cheshire,’ Helen, who works for Manchester Camerata, says. ‘I wanted to be back near my family and my friends. To me it made no sense me being over there. Andrew had no family where we lived and I was travelling here all the time to go out with friends. I missed the lifestyle, I missed the shops, I missed the people.

Great British Life: It took 12 months to get Helen's new Wilmslow home the way she wanted itIt took 12 months to get Helen's new Wilmslow home the way she wanted it (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘Andrew works in Manchester, so it’s actually easier for him to commute, so the decision was made, we just needed to decide where to buy. We looked in Knutsford, and in Lymm, but Wilmslow was somewhere neither of us had lived before, and there was a wider choice of period properties within our budget. I had to have a period property, a Victorian home – I wanted the high ceilings, the solidity, the classic features, everything.

‘We looked at five or six different houses, but they either needed too much work to get it to where I wanted it, or it just wasn’t ever going to be possible, then we found this one. As we left, and I said it was the one, Andrew asked if I was sure, as it would need a lot of work. I said yes, and he responded, “I’m trusting you.”’

‘Luckily, it all went to plan, and he loves it.’

The house, a semi-detached cottage in a good-sized plot, had potential, but needed changes if Helen was to achieve her Wilmslow dream.

Great British Life: Careful accessorising ensures the house feels homely, without an overwhelm of clutterCareful accessorising ensures the house feels homely, without an overwhelm of clutter (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘We moved in in 2021, found an architect and a builder, and started work in 2022. It took 12 months, and we lived in it the whole time. I thought, why rent somewhere when I could spend that money on a new bathroom?

‘It was hard. There was one point when the whole of the front of the house was just boarded up, and the side of the house was just plastic sheeting. I wanted to be here, though. I wasn’t working at that time, so was able to be a very hands-on project manager, tweaking as we went along, moving things as I felt they needed to change. I couldn’t have done that at a distance.’

Helen’s vision for her new home included extending the house to the side, into the driveway, which ran down the side of the house, through the garage and into the garden.

‘The garage had double doors at each end. Apparently, the previous owner would have parties and everybody could just drive straight down the driveway and park all the way into the garden.

Great British Life: The spacious kitchen includes a cosy sitting areaThe spacious kitchen includes a cosy sitting area (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘We demolished the garage and used the space to the side of the house to create a sitting room, a boot room cum utility, and a dining space off the kitchen. Previously, when entering the house you walked directly into the sitting room, so by going out sideways I was able to create a hallway, which leads down to the kitchen, with a separate lounge.

Helen’s hope of original features was almost realised when the builder tapped on the ceiling of the original lounge and announced it was a suspended ceiling.

‘He pulled it down and the original ceiling and all the coving was above,’ she says. ‘Sadly, while some parts were still in perfect condition, lots was missing or decayed. Because we were actually moving the sitting room sideways, I decided to find someone who could recreate the original design for me, rather than have it restored, so it’s not original, but it looks exactly as it would have.’

The kitchen is the last room Helen tackled, wanting to wait until the rest of the house was complete before adding her finishing flourish.

Great British Life: The kitchen had already been extended, but Helen stripped and repainted the ceiling beamsThe kitchen had already been extended, but Helen stripped and repainted the ceiling beams (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘The kitchen had already been extended before we bought,’ she says. ‘The open ceilings and the beam were already in place, but I hated the beam. It was yellow pine and I just couldn’t live with the colour. I had it sandblasted, then repainted.’

Helen has chosen a soft, muted colour palette for each of her rooms, creating an easy, relaxing sense of calm.

‘I love natural, calm colours and that continous flow, from room to room,’ she explains. ‘I always say that if you stick to what you love, and don’t follow fashions, you won’t need to keep changing everything.’

What Helen loves resonates with quite a lot of people. More than 85,000 in fact. Her Instagram account, @myconvertedcottage, has gained 85,800 followers since she made her first post in October 2019.

Great British Life: Helen has more than 85,000 Instagram followersHelen has more than 85,000 Instagram followers (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘I set it up when I was living at the converted schoolhouse in Lancashire,’ Helen says. ‘I used to look at posts of homes and interiors and think, my home is beautiful too, I could do that. My children showed me how to set up the account, and I just started posting pictures of my home.

‘I got ten followers, then 1,000, then 10,000, and it just kept growing. I only ever intended it to be a hobby. I have always loved interiors. I studied interior design at college, and ran my own kitchen table curtain-making business for a while. I certainly didn’t set out to do what I have done.

‘When I set up the account, I called it @myconvertedschoolhouse, but when I moved to Wilmslow I needed to rename it, but wanted it to stay similar, so my followers wouldn’t think I had disappeared, hence @myconvertedcottage.’

With the number of followers Helen’s account has comes attention from brands who want to put their goods and services in front of the people drawn to the style and lifestyle advocated by that account. Helen has had interest from countless brands, seeking for exposure to her followers, but she maintains a very firm stance on collaborations.

Great British Life: Simple lines and soothing tones bring sophistication to every spaceSimple lines and soothing tones bring sophistication to every space (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘I only work with brands I really like and believe in,’ she says. ‘I always say to my followers; if you see something in my Stories or on my grid, you know I truly believe in it and am happy to recommend it. I have worked with some really lovely brands, such as Bridgman, in Wilmslow, Laura Ashley, Debenhams and Country Abodes.’

The world of social media, of putting yourself (or in Helen’s case her home) out there where anybody can tell you exactly what they think, can be daunting, but not, it seems, in interiors.

‘It’s just engaging with people,’ she says. ‘It’s really sociable. I have met some really lovely people and made great friends. There’s never been any unpleasantness. People interact with you all the time. I do a ‘good morning’ photo on my Stories every day, and if I miss one people message to ask if everything is okay. I went to one girl’s wedding I met through the account, and another who was living in Australia when we first made contact and who moved back to Cheshire at the same time as I did, and she’s now one of my best friends.

‘I only ever wanted to do it as a hobby, it’s never been about monetising it, and I can’t see why I would ever stop doing it.’