Wooden lighthouses, seagulls on sticks and blue and white stripes. These seem to be the fallback decor for holiday cottages in Cornwall and when we moved into Middle Colenso Farm it was no different. Carter's Croft had what looked like a mast holding up the living room ceiling and bedroom storage designed to look a ship's cabin. Chris has spent most of his life at sea; he didn't want to return home to something that resembled below decks on a clapped-out old boat.
Six years on, we've ditched the seagulls but the transition from seaside cliches to mid-century rustic has taken time, with the cottages evolving slowly since we moved in. When we arrived in early 2013 our first priority was to make them available for that year's holiday season. That meant making the most of what was already there - painting and refreshing the walls and woodwork, updating the furniture and getting rid of anything vaguely nautical.
Carter's Croft, which was damp and uninhabitable, was beyond cosmetic improvements and had to be completely renovated. We ripped out everything and started again. With exposed its exposed granite walls and lime plaster, the cottage was the perfect blank canvas. The question was how did we furnish it?
Over the last few years I'd begun to develop an interest in mid-century modern design. It started with a trio of Danish teak candlesticks and rapidly escalated. I started buying bigger pieces - chairs by Hans Wegner, lamps by Poul Henningsen. I was drawn to the combination of form and function, particularly in the work of the great Danish designer, Borge Mogensen. Today our own house is full of mid-century furniture. I've deliberately chosen chunky, more rustic pieces. The leather and wood sit perfectly within the walls of our old farmhouse and I wanted to create a similar look in the cottages.
But good design is expensive and rightly so. Most of our furniture is from the 50s and 60s and, if anything, it gets better as the years pass, but I wasn't ready to trust our guests, careful as most of them are, with a £3,000 chair. I had to think of other ways to achieve the look.
One of my biggest discoveries was Ercol which had its heyday in the post-war years and is still producing furniture today. I was looking for a dining table that wouldn't take up too much space in Carter's Croft when I found the perfect solution on eBay - a vintage Ercol dining set. Older Ercol pieces have become increasingly expensive since then but it's still an affordable option and it looks fantastic. All three cottages now have Ercol dining suites and both The Old Granary and Smuggler's Lane have beautiful Love Seats.
I knew from experience just how much wear and tear there can be on sofas in a holiday rental so I opted for basic, comfortable models from John Lewis and Ikea which are either leather or have removable covers. With these in place I was free to add a mid-century accent with occasional chairs - rocking chairs by Lena Larsson, a Borge Mogensen Windsor chair, Tapiovaara's classic Mademoiselle chair. All of them have been sourced from eBay and because they're wood they're much more resilient to knocks and spillages.
Because I prefer the patina and history of vintage pieces I've managed to pick up a few bargains. It's taken a bit of effort, not to mention a trip to Portsmouth to pick up one load, but it's been well worth it. There's a large teak sideboard in Smugglers Lane which was found on Gumtree, a coffee table in Carter's which we bought from a junk shop in Falmouth. The beautiful Poul Henningsen pendant that hangs over the dining table in The Old Granary was an Etsy purchase. They've all needed a little attention - a clean, a new coat of varnish - but that's part of the fun.
My own personal favourite is the Penguin Donkey in Smugglers Lane. The bookcase, which was designed by Ernest Race specifically to house Penguin paperbacks, started life in our own house but my collection of vintage Penguins rapidly outgrew it and it now resides in the cottage.
Textiles and pictures have also proved to be an easy way to add a mid-century feel to the cottages. There's a Lucienne Day cushion in Smugglers and a pair of Josef Frank cushions in The Old Granary. The picture above the Love Seat is actually a wallpaper sample I framed.
We live in a throwaway society and are quick to discard items that we no longer like or don't suit our lifestyles but, as the furniture we've chosen for the cottages shows, they often have many more years of service left in them. Most of the pieces we've bought for the cottages are over 50 years old and they're still going strong. The designs are timeless and they're made so well that they'll probably last for another 50.