There's something about a mullioned window that says country — with a bit of Miss Marple thrown in. So it is with Wayout Lodge, a pocket-size mansion with beautifully diamond-patterned walls, a gingerbread-tilted brick course and sharply pitched tile roof, set in a lawned quarter-acre bound by a beech hedge. But this house, in Cobham, Surrey, is only 20 minutes by train from London.
Designed by James Buxton in 1830 as servants' quarters for the big house up the road, when amateur interior designer James Gostelow, 31, bought it with his partner, Andrew Morgan, 42, who works in advertising, it wasn't anything like as cute as it is today.
Gostelow — last seen on BBC2's Great Interior Design Challenge — an asset manager for a property investment company by day, was living in a rented Barbican flat in 2011 when he met Morgan, who had a flat in Barnes. When they decided to live together they put in an offer on a bigger flat but a cash buyer swept it from under their noses at the last minute.
WAYOUT LODGE: HOW THEY DID IT
The house was damp and cold with rotting floor joists under a nasty tile floor downstairs and woodworm in the roof — but the couple made an offer, secured the place for £345,000 and proceeded to get the builders in and upgrade everything. Within weeks the rotten floor was taken up to replace the joists and the walls were stripped back and ready for replastering. On the outside, plastic rainwater goods went in the bin and a hoppered lead downpipe went on instead. The lovely bricks were re-pointed with lime where needed, and the arched windows were replaced by Crittall — "surprisingly cheaply" — though they took 10 weeks to make.
Inside, fresh plaster went up and stained oak parquet went down. Next, the couple started on the interiors: bearing in mind that the house, at less than 800sq ft, is the size of an average two-bedroom flat, they have made every nook and cranny count.
Downstairs, the sitting room got a bespoke limestone fireplace and sweeping check curtains that add a swoosh of Balmoral. The little kitchen now has a horseshoe of country-style cabinets to use every fragment of storage space, and useful space-saving tips include a four-burner Aga, a Miele 12-bottle wine cooler, and a slimline Miele dishwasher. In the still-empty wall-space above the Aga, Gostelow claims he wants to put some mounted antlers, to enhance the home's hunting-lodge aspect.
A cupboard by the stairs has been turned so ingeniously into a lardercum-scullery with bespoke carpentry that even the clothes airer has its own made-to-measure alcove.
Upstairs, there was a poky, mildewed bathroom under the eaves, with a bath "so small that no one under 5ft 7in could get in", says Gostelow. So they moved a partition wall to make the room a bit bigger. This is where they spent the most money. On a walk round Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, they saw a white marble hand-basin. "I had to have it," Gostelow says with a glint, "then I designed the whole bathroom round it." In place of the tiny bath he put a grand, super-high shower enclosure, which was made to order. Ceramic floor tiles, and Edwardian-style wall tiles complete a look that is modern but also suits the house. Having moved the wall, the master bedroom lost space for a wardrobe, but this also turned out well, for in an alcove off the spare room they fitted a complete, miniature walk-in wardrobe with a glazed door across it, so you can admire it from outside. This useful addition adds huge charm to a scarce square metre of floor space.
Gostelow's final touch, to sort out both damp and cold, was to install some seriously massive cast-iron radiators, embellished with a sort of fin-de-siècle floral motif, that belt out heat and add another layer of cosy grandeur to this little château in the forest.
JAMES GOSTELOW'S MAKEOVER TIPS
Buy quality: it looks better, lasts longer, and the fitting costs the same Budget wisely: budget everything, but sometimes you will buy one expensive item and design around it, like my £1,700 bathroom sink. It really can make sense.
Keep open eyes and an open mind: when going to weddings and parties, I always say: "Andrew stop the car!" and check out local antiques shops and salvage.
HOW MUCH IT COST
House bought last year: £345,000 reduced from £460,000
Total spend on renovations (no structural work): £60,000
GET THE LOOK
Find James: Jamesgostelow.com
New metal mullioned windows: by crittall-windows co.uk
Limestone fireplace: bespoke from thefirehouse.co.uk
Modern crystal chandelier at top of stairs designed by Lee Broom: leebroom.com
Extra-tall shower enclosure: bespoke, by burgessglass.co.uk
Marble hand basin from Ann Sacks: annsacks.com
Stripe-edge cushions in sitting room: designersguild.com
Cast-iron Piccadilly radiators: palladianradiators.com
WHAT YOU CAN DO