A cottage for Christmas
PUBLISHED: 12:17 09 December 2014
For Swiss-born Christina Baxter, this is a magical time, especially in her renovated 16th century Bildeston home Words and pictures by Tony Hall
We think of the quintessential traditional Christmas property just as you find on Christmas cards – thatched country cottage, inside beams, roaring fire in the hearth and the festive sparkle.
Christina Baxter’s grade two 16th century cottage in Bildeston, is about as close to that image as you’ll ever find.
Christina lived in a nearby village for 11 years, in a Suffolk Long house which she refurbished, and was looking for a new challenge. She certainly found it in Bildeston.
“The cottage had been empty for 18 months,” she says, “and needed a little bit more than a face lift. Most urgent of all was the sole plate along the front of the building that needed replacing. Not much fun during the winter of 2010.
“It was bitterly cold and the cottage had no central heating, nor was there even a wood burner for warmth. Snow was certainly in abundance that year!
“As almost all my furniture was in storage, I lived mainly in the kitchen and a small adjoining morning room (one wall was demolished to create the present dining room). Every morning, beautiful ice flowers decorated the inside of the windows. Beautiful maybe, but chilly
too . . .
“The plumbing was ancient and quite frightening. The existing shower room >>
> was certainly not designed with comfort in mind. It is now the downstairs loo.”
The cottage also required completely re-wiring. A guest room with a beautiful en suite shower room was created on the ground floor, which is now an extremely popular and in-demand bed and breakfast destination.
The existing dining room was turned into a study, overlooking the garden and the new cart lodge. A wall of built-in storage cupboards were installed to house all those Christmas decorations, which need a home for 11 months. Christina feels storage is often overlooked when restoring a house. It is indeed very frustrating not to have enough.
The upstairs rooms all now have beautiful wide oak boards on the floors. Previously, they were covered by fitted carpets, which were hastily removed. Christina then spent many hours removing hundreds of nails. There followed the arduous removal of paint and more with Nitromors and steel wool.
After all that, the floors were polished with Danish oil. The staircase leading up to the main bedroom was also stripped and polished, and the landing was fitted with a range of built in wardrobes and a bath room, including a stunning cast iron claw foot bath, was created.
Downstairs, solid new oak boards were fitted. The delivery of these caused quite a traffic jam in the narrow street when the lorry arrived. Both the plumber and the kitchen fitter deserved a medal for the speed with which they emptied that load.
Outside, the garden needed to be re-designed, the drive re-routed and the cart lodge built from scratch. The old carport was turned into an outside >>
> covered eating area. A courtyard garden was created where there was previously a massive shed and a rather sad looking greenhouse. This area is now thoroughly enjoyed by the visiting bed and breakfast guests, as it is their very own secret garden.
Once the refurbishment was finally completed, there was the thatch to be addressed. It took eight months to complete using Suffolk straw, an arduous job, but well worth the effort with beautiful sympathetic detailing in evidence.
Christina is glad to have taken on one more refurbishment. There were times when the house was cold and dark, and as the challenges mounted up she doubted her sanity. But the end result makes it all worthwhile.
I first met Christina, who was born and raised in Basel, Switzerland, when I featured the beautiful hall she and her late husband Michael owned in Norfolk. She learned a lot from restoring that building. Her real passion is design, both interior and in the garden, and Christmas is a special time.
“I have always enjoyed Christmas, a much loved event. It’s that special light both outside and in. I like to start doing my decorations, which include some from childhood and others added over the years, on the first of December, to stretch out the pleasure of the season.
“Candle lights on the inside, fairy lights inside and in the garden, the sparkle of glass baubles and the ribbons and decorations in all the rooms make this dark part of the year festive and warm, which B&B guests also love, getting into the festive feel, as they can enjoy Swiss Christmas cookies and afternoon tea.
“As this is a proper village, I have made many friends since living here, plus many over the preceding years. So once the decorations are up I like to invite friends and family for drinks and nibbles on the Sunday lunch a couple of weeks before.
“On Christmas Day, I go to join my daughter and son and their families, and it’s just what a Christmas should be, with all the traditions.”
The paint effects Christina now teaches are in evidence everywhere in the cottage. Classes are small with a lot of attention for each participant. It is a fun day out with coffee and brownies, a relaxed lunch after a good morning’s work, followed by finishing off the pieces of furniture that have been transformed from ugly ducklings into treasures. Afternoon tea and cake end the day when new friends have been made.
The kitchen and dining room show off the paint effects that Christina teaches on the furniture, complemented by walls, which are colour washed grey over a white base. The effect that she has aimed for throughout the cottage is to have the room colours flow into each other but, by cleverly using different hues, Christina has avoided the end result becoming too uniform.
“It’s now the beautiful home I envisaged,” she says. “My favourite room, at night, has to be my bedroom. It is beamed and cosy, dominated by the bed, and a sanctuary of peace and calm. However, I like all the rooms for different reasons and at different times.
“My new life here in this part of Suffolk is a total delight.”
n For information on Christina Baxter’s paint effect workshops or her luxury B&B contact her on 01449 743123 or got to