Colors, Climbing Walls, and IKEA Hacks Fill This Charming English Cottage

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By Iain Aitch
In a booming British beach town, longtime locals team with newcomer architects to salvage a 19th-century workers’ lodging.

Feeling lucky? Ollie Whitmarsh and Natasha Hart certainly were, after their Google search uncovered the ideal architecture firm, RL-a, to convert their cramped 19th-century cottage in southern England into a spacious family home. "My search was ‘architects, Margate,’" says Ollie, who works in insurance. "They seemed quite innovative, just from the website, and when we met we pretty much clicked straightaway." 

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As part of a nine-month renovation, the exterior of Natasha Hart and Oliver Whitmarsh’s cottage in Margate, England, was converted from pebble dash to insulated render. 

As part of a nine-month renovation, the exterior of Natasha Hart and Oliver Whitmarsh’s cottage in Margate, England, was converted from pebble dash to insulated render. 

The meeting was even more serendipitous than it may at first sound—
RL-a’s Tim Ratliff and Tam Landells had only recently relocated their practice to a warehouse studio in the couple’s coastal town, joining hundreds of young artists, designers, and bearded baristas on their exodus from London, 75 miles away. Margate has become a celebrated destination for those priced out of the capital, with the blue-collar resort now a vision of what might happen if you were to drop Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg onto Coney Island. 

The window frames, side gate, and front door were brightened with custom shades from Johnstone’s Paint—a playful blue-yellow-orange color scheme that is carried throughout the house.

The window frames, side gate, and front door were brightened with custom shades from Johnstone’s Paint—a playful blue-yellow-orange color scheme that is carried throughout the house.

RL-a’s office is just a mile east of the new art gallery Turner Contemporary, named for onetime resident J.M.W. Turner, and the Dreamland theme park, which boasts a 1920s wooden roller-coaster inspired by an early Coney Island ride. Ollie and Natasha’s cottage sits about a mile southwest of the gallery, within easy reach of town, countryside, and beach.

Architects Tim Ratliff and Tam Landells tripled the footprint of the four-room house and increased the square footage to almost 2,000. Blue doors that were part of the original rear wall connect the "snug," or sitting room, to the new space. The chair was Natasha’s step-granddad’s; the 1960s pendant was found on eBay. 

Architects Tim Ratliff and Tam Landells tripled the footprint of the four-room house and increased the square footage to almost 2,000. Blue doors that were part of the original rear wall connect the "snug," or sitting room, to the new space. The chair was Natasha’s step-granddad’s; the 1960s pendant was found on eBay. 

Eager to build on their young practice, Ratliff and Landells fully embraced the challenges the project presented, including the couple’s desire to keep costs down, and didn’t let ego get in the way of input. "They understood that our budget wasn’t huge," says Natasha, "and that we weren’t picky about materials. They weren’t telling us what to do. If we said we weren’t happy, they didn’t grumble—they looked harder."

Shop the Look
IKEA YPPERLIG Armchair
IKEA YPPERLIG Armchair
Inspired by the classic café chair in bentwood that was common in 19th century Vienna. Molded in one piece ‒ so no screws. It’s also UV-light treated and approved for public use outdoors and indoors.
Habitat Aerial Ceiling Light
Habitat Aerial Ceiling Light
An exclusive Habitat design, this retro style Aerial blue metal ceiling light is made from spun aluminum with a high gloss finish.
IKEA RANARP 15" Pendant Lamp
IKEA RANARP 15" Pendant Lamp
RANARP lamps are reminiscent of the past, crafted with details like the steel joints and striped textile cord. The floor and work lamps are heavy and very stable, yet fully adjustable.
The roofline of the addition has a double pitch; a tall, slim window punctuates the side. High sand content in the mortar gives it a yellowish tint that contrasts with the bricks.

The roofline of the addition has a double pitch; a tall, slim window punctuates the side. High sand content in the mortar gives it a yellowish tint that contrasts with the bricks.

The architects, for their part, were happy to tap into the energy of the place. "There’s an excitement about the changes happening in Margate," says Tim Ratliff, "and Tash and Ollie were excited about having something quite contemporary and architecturally challenging."

The back of the cottage was once a hodgepodge of windows and volumes.

The back of the cottage was once a hodgepodge of windows and volumes.

The back is now a clean expanse of steel and glass, with folding doors by Trade Glaze giving wide access to the outdoors. The table by SCAB Design and IKEA chairs were found, like most of the furnishings, via closing sales and secondhand websites.

The back is now a clean expanse of steel and glass, with folding doors by Trade Glaze giving wide access to the outdoors. The table by SCAB Design and IKEA chairs were found, like most of the furnishings, via closing sales and secondhand websites.

The front of the house only hints at a modern makeover, with its four orange-framed windows and yellow door looking like something the couple’s seven-year-old son, Stan, or three-year-old daughter, Mabel, might render in Crayola. (A third child, Nora, was born this winter.) But inside, RL-a has joined a whole new steel, glass, and block building to the back of the old.

Stan’s bedroom includes a vintage Habitat Skipper bed by Loïck Peyron and a climbing wall designed by Natasha. 

Stan’s bedroom includes a vintage Habitat Skipper bed by Loïck Peyron and a climbing wall designed by Natasha. 

Exposed brickwork shows the building’s heritage (it reportedly once housed workers from the ironmonger’s forge next door), while an open-plan living space lets the light flood through. A wood bridge joins the two old and two new bedrooms upstairs, allowing for a partial double-height ceiling.

The wall and floors are tongue-and-groove plywood.

The wall and floors are tongue-and-groove plywood.

"We knew we needed loads more space, as the house was so unsociable before," says Natasha. "We both have massive families. Ollie’s one of six, and my family has a strong Italian influence, and as such, we’re very close. When we get together there are at least twenty of us." 

A staircase leads to a bridge linking the upper wings.

A staircase leads to a bridge linking the upper wings.

Bargain hunting was key to furnishing the addition. At the center of the new space sits a large table that they acquired from the college where Natasha leads a student-support team. Strategically placed serving dishes cover the occasional student-carved expletive. But the couple aren’t complaining, since the asking price was a small charitable donation.

"We didn’t want to be precious about anything, so there are no materials that we worry about the kids damaging. They’ve already had a really good go at the floor." Natasha Hart, resident 

The bridge allows light to flow down to the space linking the old and new sections on the first floor.

The bridge allows light to flow down to the space linking the old and new sections on the first floor.

IKEA sale items are dotted around, including the kitchen worktop, which was flipped to expose its turquoise underside, matching the blue of Ratliff/Landells’s color scheme. It completes the 1960s Hygena formica kitchen, an eBay find that required two excursions to the countryside to pick up, after Ollie left a door behind on the first run.

The kitchen was previously housed in a lean-to off the back of the cottage.  

The kitchen was previously housed in a lean-to off the back of the cottage.  

It is now part of the large open living space. The 1960s Hygena formica cabinets in Polyester Pumpkin were a vintage find. The white pendants are from IKEA and the blue is from Habitat.

It is now part of the large open living space. The 1960s Hygena formica cabinets in Polyester Pumpkin were a vintage find. The white pendants are from IKEA and the blue is from Habitat.

Natasha and Ollie were both born in Margate, but they’re enjoying the changes that the artistic community has brought with it, as well as the inevitable street-food vendors and coffee shops. Stan and Mabel are simply content to have a place where they can zoom around on bikes or stage battles with light sabers. 

In the master bedroom, a half wall allows Ollie and Natasha to circulate air through a floor-to-ceiling door.

In the master bedroom, a half wall allows Ollie and Natasha to circulate air through a floor-to-ceiling door.

The semi-rural setting next to a bridle path also affords them a great view of passing horses. "The combine harvester goes by in the field behind," says Natasha. "Stan stands up on the slide and shouts ‘Look!’ It’s so quiet the rest of the time." 

The family shares a single large bathroom.

The family shares a single large bathroom.

When Ollie and Natasha first moved in, a surveyor told them the land was worth as much with the cottage torn down as it was with it standing. But they fell in love with the historic building. A touch of architectural inspiration and a lot of collaboration have given it a new lease on life. A little like the couple’s own hometown.

The kitchen table was purchased for a charitable donation at the school where Natasha works.

The kitchen table was purchased for a charitable donation at the school where Natasha works.

The exterior was originally made of pebble dash.

The exterior was originally made of pebble dash.

Two small rooms, including the kitchen, had been added in the back by a previous owner. They were demolished in the renovation.

Two small rooms, including the kitchen, had been added in the back by a previous owner. They were demolished in the renovation.

The large backyard allowed the couple to do a significant expansion at the rear of the house.

The large backyard allowed the couple to do a significant expansion at the rear of the house.


Colors, Climbing Walls, and IKEA Hacks Fill This Charming English Cottage - Photo 19 of 19 -