Cottage industry: successfully combining traditional with modern

The secret to a happy home, for the owners of this house, lay in combining the comfortable good looks of a traditional cottage with all the technological advantages of a brand-new structure

There is something of the Richard Curtis movie in the story of how Lorraine Elkins and Pat Renson met. Lorraine was an interiors addict, living in Auchterarder and working as a project manager while dream­ing about decoration. When a new shop opened in the village, selling exactly her kind of smart colonial pieces, her credit card immediately started twitching. At the same time, another of her passions – staying in boutique hotels and holiday cottages – was fired up when she spotted a particularly peachy little place in Lunan Bay, near Montrose. She liked it so much that she emailed the owner with a few questions.
Then the phone rang. On the other end was Pat, explain­ing that she ran Lorraine’s favourite local shop, was the owner of Foreman’s Cottage, the holiday rental in Lunan Bay, and, in case that was not enough of a coincidence already, also one of her neighbours.
Lorraine and her husband Stewart, a former naval officer, headed north-east to Montrose for a weekend. Foreman’s Cottage was love at first sight. “You just want to be there,” recalls Lorraine. “Stewart said, ‘How come I feel I can put things down here and I won’t get a row and they won’t look out of place?’ And it was true – it was all tidy and perfect but totally relaxing.”
With Stewart and Lorraine both ready to do something different with their lives, it was time for a move. But while they knew they wanted a change, they didn’t know precisely what that might be.
“Ideally we wanted to downsize, but we would actually have gone up in size for the right property,” says Lorraine. “The house we were leaving, which was 12 years old, was a bit of a box. The rooms were big but they lacked soul. I thought we would have to go for an older property to find the character and the special feeling we were looking for.”
It was a compromise, but Lorraine was ready to give up the wireless connectivity and multiple bathrooms of the new-build in return for the charm and atmosphere she craved. And then she spotted a terraced cottage in Comrie, built by architect Jimmy Denholm who also lives in the village. “I love his other houses – they all have a slight New England look. But they are big boys; this was a wee terraced house.”
With fingers crossed and hopes high, the couple went to see the house, which is tucked behind the main road. It had Lorraine from first glance. The location, the scale, the 21st-century accoutrements that come with a recently built property were all ticking Lorraine’s boxes. “Jimmy has done some clever things to make it look like a wee character cottage despite it being a new place with all the modern-day advantages.” And, best of all, it was crying out for the Pat Renson treatment. “I knew she could give it a bit of a cosy cottage look and get that Foreman’s feel as well.”
Pat’s remit was to make the cottage calm and cosy, with “a bit of a sexy edge”. Structurally, the property was fine. In fact, a new owner, one whose library was not made up of the Hip Hotels series and the Mr and Mrs Smith guidebooks, might have been perfectly happy to live with what the previous inhabitants had left behind. For Lorraine, though, only the wooden flooring downstairs and the carpet on the stairs and upper floor were deemed acceptable. The kitchen, downstairs bathroom and all the internal walls required the full Renson. And there is more to come: the next phase will involve replacing the upstairs bathroom and further improvements to the garden.
For Pat, bringing a flavour of Foreman’s Cottage to Comrie was not exactly a stretch. “This is my style of property,” she says, looking very much at home with a mug of coffee at the kitchen table. “I would happily move in here myself. With a lot of my clients, it can take as long to identify exactly what they’re looking for as it does to get it all ordered and manufactured. It’s not about imposing what I want, it’s about finding out what’s right for the house, for them and for their lifestyle, and then formulating a plan of action around whatever bits and pieces they already have.”
With the Elkins, this process was on fast-forward. Lorraine loved Foreman’s Cottage; Pat had renovated, then decorated, Foreman’s Cottage to her own taste. Getting the right look for Lorraine’s own cottage was not exactly going to be difficult. “It’s very natural and I don’t have a formulaic style – I like to mix old and new, pull things in from lots of different sources, fabrics from here, wallpapers from there. I love to mix and match.”
Some people, Pat adds, see her style as ‘masculine’. “I lived in London for many years and I’ve got quite a London edge to what I do,” she says. “It’s certainly not pretty. And I don’t do florals.”
Lorraine concurs. “That’s where the edge come from.”

“I find it hard to live with something that’s trend-led, knowing it’s going to date six months down the line. I hate to go into a home and know immediately that it was done in 2010. What I do is very long-lasting”

Another thing Pat does not do is design interiors that might as well have the date stamped across the curtains. “I don’t follow the latest trends or always use this season’s fabric. I use fabrics that might have been around for 20 years. And I like a lot of neutrals. I don’t mind splashes of colour but I find it hard to live with something that’s trend-led, knowing it’s going to date six months down the line. I hate to go into a home and know immediately that it was done in 2010. What I do is very long-lasting.”
Much as Lorraine admires Pat’s style, she could not give her an empty house and a limitless budget. The bedroom suite, several armchairs and an Andrew Martin desk were all earmarked to make the move from Auchterarder.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 186-196, issue 90.

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Words Anna Burnside
Photography Neale Smith
Other contacts Pat Renson Interiors, 01764 660 700