Hill View Cottage, Somerset

Cap to come

Cap to come - Credit: Archant

Vintage finds, family heirlooms and a unique talent for putting them all together helped Cathy and Michael Hay transform their simple cottage

A pair of antique French mirrors lends an air of opulence to this delightful sitting room, whilst a

A pair of antique French mirrors lends an air of opulence to this delightful sitting room, whilst a faded vintage bedcover thrown over the sofa keeps the look relaxed. The cushions are mostly embroidered by Cathy herself who is skilled at needlepoint and always has a project on the go. - Credit: Archant

With scented roses tumbling about the front door and fragrant sweet peas clambering up the white washed walls, Cathy and Michael Hay’s idyllic 18th century quarryman’s cottage in Somerset really is the epitome of English rural life. But it wasn’t always so picturesque. When work compelled the Hays to move out of London 40 years ago, they didn’t really have an ideal house in mind. As a young couple embarking on married life, the mere thought of owning their first home was excitement enough and their driving force was simply to find four walls and a roof they could call their own.

Whilst Michael settled into his new job as a surveyor in nearby Wells, Cathy, then just 25, embarked on a house search.

“I only saw two houses and this was the second one” she admits with a grin.

The cottage, then just a basic two up two down, had a corrugated iron roof, concrete floors and a pokey downstairs bathroom. But its elevated position, perched high above a village, meant far reaching views across rolling pasture and woodland, and Cathy knew at once it had to be theirs.

Brightly coloured ceramics from Cathys travels jostle for space with Le Creusets signature orange ca

Brightly coloured ceramics from Cathys travels jostle for space with Le Creusets signature orange cast iron cookware. - Credit: Archant

“It was a very difficult market back then,” recalls Michael. “The 1970s was the decade in which ‘gazumping’ became commonplace. You had to be prepared to pay high and move fast to get what you wanted. We definitely paid over the odds, scraping together funds borrowed from parents. But we have never looked back.”

Cathy continues: “We had completely fallen head over heels in love with the location and almost didn’t care what the house itself looked like.”

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The couple lived in the diminutive cottage for nearly two years without changing a thing. “It wasn’t terribly comfortable to start with,” Cathy grimaces.

“Our hot water came from an ancient rickety Ascot heater and trickled out so interminably slowly that by the time you had filled the bath, it was stone cold!”

Finally they raised enough money to build another two bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs. “We did have a bit of a fight with the planners over the position of the new bathroom windows, which overlooked a neighbour’s field” says Michael.

“We didn’t think the cows would mind, but the authorities had other ideas!”

Eventually the planners relented and the build went ahead, transforming the humble dwelling into a family home. Cathy could at last start decorating.

Although she doesn’t consider herself a collector, her home is a testament to her eye for beautiful objects and a talent for arranging them artfully.

Mis-matched armchairs and sofas inherited from various family members are draped with vintage patchwork quilts, sourced over the years from local antique shops and flea markets. Fine antique mirrors adorn every wall in the house, lending a faded grandeur to this humble cottage. Most come from Melvin and Sandra Edwards in Wells who specialise in the restoration of French and European mirrors.

“It’s my guilty pleasure,” admits Cathy. “I call Sandra and tell her I think I’ve found a space for a new mirror and she always unearths something amazing that fits the spot perfectly.”

Also dotted liberally around the cottage are her collection of vintage French crystal candelabras and chandeliers, adding sparkle and movement as the sunlight catches the facets and casts beams of light around the rooms.

It took another 15 years before a new kitchen came along, complete with Cathy’s beloved red Aga.

Then, their most recent project, just two years ago, was the creation of a new double height extension to the kitchen, which would never have been possible had they not finally been able to buy the plot of land that bordered their property to the east.

For years they had tried to negotiate with the old farmer, who, despite being on the friendliest of terms with the couple, was determined not to sell to anyone.

Michael continues: “Finally, when the old boy passed away, we were able to buy the land allowing us to totally transform our kitchen as well as creating a fabulous terrace from which to enjoy the morning sun. It only took 38 years, but was the most exciting moment in our lives after having the children!”

Opening their home to paying guests helped fund the renovations over the years and Cathy found she adored having the house filled with people. She still runs a thriving bed and breakfast business today and visitors return year after year to enjoy her friendly hospitality and to marvel at her timeless, eclectic taste.

A popular piece with her overseas guests in particular is the Welsh dresser in the kitchen, crammed with china, paintings and fresh flowers.

“We rescued it from a neighbour who was throwing it out,” says Cathy.

“Can you believe it?”

At first glance, the objects adorning the cluttered shelves appear quintessentially English, but closer inspection reveals Cathy’s passion for Italian and Portuguese ceramics, placed cheek by jowl with family heirlooms. Fine pieces of Meissen and Limoges sit next to rustic Porches pottery and early hand-painted Emma Bridgewater. It shouldn’t work, but Cathy’s clever eye for mixing colours and patterns, ensures the result is a harmonious, totally uncontrived ensemble.

“Guests are always asking me how I put it all together and could I possibly teach them; but I don’t know how it happens,” says Cathy with a shrug. “It just happens!” n