Take a peek into this chic Kentish cottage
PUBLISHED: 11:30 19 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:49 19 May 2016
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Gary and Alison Ranns prove that small is no obstacle to being beautiful at their perfectly formed cottage in Dovecote Court
The creative couple (he’s a commercial designer, currently working for Virgin Atlantic on global airport lounges, she’s an account manager at a local advertising agency) had moved from London to Canterbury but had never lived anywhere rural, so moving to Chilham was quite a big step for them to consider.
But it’s remarkably well connected, with its own rail station and frequent trains to Ashford International and all its high-speed connections, including the capital. And there’s an interesting mix of people of all ages and backgrounds in the village, which has welcomed the Ranns with open arms since they arrived six years ago.
“When we moved to this small rural community which was new to us we decided we wanted to get involved with the local community as much as possible,” says Alison. “There are lots of different age groups, many people commute to London and it’s a really vibrant little community. We can hop on the hi-speed from Ashford and be in London in an hour, so as well as catching the train into Canterbury to see local theatre at the Marlowe, for example, we can still easily get up to town to see plays in the West End.”
Gary very quickly became Chairman of the Chilham Village Hall Committee, Alison was a parish councillor for three years and is now a Director of Chilham’s Future Delivery board and helping to raise money to restore the picturesque village square to becoming a much more flexible space rather than the car park it is now.
They get on with all their neighbours too, which is handy as they are one of a dozen charming properties converted from old barns in the 1990s and clustered around a generous grassed courtyard with a dovecote in the centre that has given the development its name.
“Despite its small size, our cottage is actually the biggest – there are flats and one-bed places here too, so it’s very versatile and has led to a real mix of people and ages from 30s to 70s,” says Alison.
“Back in the 1700s, our own side of the court would have housed pigs and livestock. The beams and curved windows are originals.”
Gary adds: “We didn’t have to do a great deal when we moved in as the conversion was only 10-12 years old, although inevitably the boiler and all the white goods broke down as soon as we moved in!
“The wardrobes were dark pine and there was too much wood generally, so we had them painted, and we also got rid of an ugly gas fire with a brick surround on the wall behind one of the sofas which took up a lot of wall space.
“We also changed all the lighting, as it was very old-fashioned and it’s made a real difference as lighting is so important. We didn’t want the chintzy, county cottage look – that’s not us at all.
“Other than that, we really put our own stamp on the place with our art and furniture and we think our mix of old with contemporary pieces really works well here.”
With Gary’s design background and Alison’s keen eye they do indeed have an impressive collection of both, although all is not always as it seems. Take their two comfortable Chesterfields in the sitting room, for example; they look pure antique, but are actually from DFS.
“Our coffee table would cost as much as both sofas combined,” admits Gary. “It’s an olive-press stone set into metal, it takes four people to lift it (our long-suffering removal firm really love us!).”
This glass-topped coffee table was a showpiece in the London showrooms of Paultons Designs and the couple not only fell in love with it but also commissioned a stunning dining room table in a similar style to go with it – fortunately the company had the chairs already.
“We entertain a lot and just moving those chairs is an effort, they’re really heavy, so we encourage guests to pop up to the bathroom before they sit down!” laughs Alison.
And there is plenty for their guests to admire from those magnificent seats, including an “unbelievably heavy” statue of the Three Graces, and an acrylic sculpture of Gary’s head in profile.
The tiny kitchen is right by the dining room but Gary and Alison’s shared love of being super-tidy comes into its own and, with lots of advance prep work, you can guarantee there won’t be a pot or pan out of place when you sit down for dinner.
What there will be is a lovely soft glow from all their many candles that get lit every single night. “It’s a bit of a ritual,” admits Gary. “If I come home and they’re not on, I ask ‘are we not doing ambience tonight?!’”
When they’re not entertaining, the couple love to eat at the Wild Goose at the Goods Shed Market in Canterbury, or pop down to JoJo’s in Tankerton for the tapas and sea views.
Upstairs is similarly delightful, with a bathroom (yet to have the design touch) and two delightful bedrooms.
The couple solved the problem of where to put their books collection by grouping them all into one large bookcase in their main bedroom, which has given the room another dimension. With a pretty Bergère chair and a cosy throw to snuggle up in, it’s the perfect spot to curl up for a quiet read.
The second bedroom is equally appealing, with white orchids in front of the feature window (uncurtained, like the sitting room) and paintings from their regular annual trips to the Royal Academy resting in (Ikea) easels.
It’s a beautiful place, peaceful, surrounded by trees and with a really welcoming feel. And, as Alison is keen to stress: “It’s not a show house. Our friends say they feel comfortable in our home, they can kick off their shoes and put their feet up; we just choose to keep it tidy.”
Gary’s top tips
Even if you only have a small space, put something huge into it; it immediately makes the space look bigger
Always buy the size up, especially lighting. That thing you think is going to be too big for your room won’t be; if you think it’s the perfect size, it isn’t – buy the next size up. Go big or go home!
Group ornaments together (see how I’ve displayed my collection of paperweights) rather than dot them around the house, which can look rather fussy
Get the look
- Dining table and chairs: Paultons Designs, 301 New Kings Road London SW6, www.paultons.com
- Wall lights: John Lewis, www.johnlewis.com
- 1930’s Serpentine drinks cabinet: Brighton Lanes Antiques Centre www.brightonlanesantiques.co.uk
- 1930’s-style mirror: Habitat
- Original 1930’s drinks tray: The Old Cinema, Chiswick High Road, London W4 www.theoldcinema.co.uk
- Curtains: Jim Thompson silk, www.jimthompsonfabrics.com
- Large bowl on dining table: ‘Fresh Fat’ by Tom Dixon, www.tomdixon.net
- Original Barcelona chairs: Knoll International (designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe), Aram Designs, www.aram.co.uk
- Eileen Gray side table: Aram Designs, www.aram.co.uk
- Olive stone glass coffee table: Paultons Designs, 301 New Kings Road London SW6 www.paultons.com
- Mirrored tray on coffee table: Anthropologie www.anthropologie.com
- Wall land picture lights: John Lewis, www.johnlewis.com
- Original Arco floor lamp by Flos (designed by Achille Castigioni): Aram Designs, www.aram.co.uk
- Table lamps by Natuzzi: Lenleys, Canterbury www.lenleys.co.uk
- Hurricane lamps: Woodcocks, Tenterden, www.woodcocksinteriors.co.uk
- Original art by Neo Heny, Sophie Knight and Lucy Willis
- Mirrored console table bought at auction (originally a window dressing piece for Waring & Gillow)
- Original 1950’s butcher’s scales: Chiswick Auctions, London W4, www.chiswickauctions.co.uk
- Chesterfield leather sofas: Oskar by DFS, www.dfs.co.uk
- Green and gold cushions: John Lewis, as above
- Rug ‘Artichoke’ by Morris and Co: John Lewis, as above
- Curtains, blinds and soft furnishings throughout: made by Curtain Call in Canterbury, www.curtaincallcanterbury.co.uk (window seat and blind in second bedroom fabric is Willow Tree by Prestigious Textiles, www.prestigious.co.uk, all others are Jim Thompson silk)
- Bespoke headboard: The White Company, www.thewhitecompany.com
- Bed linen: Yves Delorme, www.yvesdelorme.com
- Occasional chair: John Lewis (upholstered in Jim Thompson silk), www.johnlewis.com
- Bergère chair upholstered in Jim Thompson silk, throw from the Avoca Mill, Ireland, www.avoca.com
- Original art purchased at the Summer Exhibition, The Royal Academy
- Shelving unit: Habitat, www.habitat.co.uk
- Lighting: BHS, www.bhs.co.uk
- Occasional chair: John Lewis (upholstered in Jim Thompson silk), www.johnlewis.com
- Woollen throw from the Avoca Mill (as before)
- Bed linen: The White Company, www.thewhitecompany.com
- Ceiling light: The Sofa and Chair Company, www.thesofaandchair.co.uk
- Bedside lamps: Chiswick Auctions (as before)
- 1930’s chrome and glass table lamp: The Old Cinema (as above)