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27 Feb Soft grays with spots of bright color create a relaxed mood in this Cornish clifftop home with stunning ocean views

Seeing pictures of this relaxed cottage in Cornwall, England, it may be difficult to imagine the work that went into getting it to this stage. Interior designer Rebecca Leivars was brought in alongside TFQ Architects to turn what had been a dilapidated clifftop cottage, untouched since the 1930s, into a comfortable, light and, most important, dry retreat on the Cornish coast. 

When interior designers take on a new project, they almost certainly don’t imagine themselves locked in the property taking shelter from a ferocious storm, with waves crashing against the village church just a few hundred feet away. The difficulties were numerous, with carpets having to be replaced after floods and Leivars having to ensure that all the materials used would stand the test of the elements. “I spent a lot of time dealing with boatyards and specialists in marine quality,” she says. “I learned so much. It was a real lesson in renovating a coastal property.”

Artwork at a Glance

Location: Cornwall, England

Size: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

The front door opens into a small hallway, with two bedrooms (one with an en suite) off to the left and right. A flight of stairs leads up to the kitchen, and a long corridor and small flight take you up to another bathroom. Another flight takes you up to the living room, and a final two steps take you up to the third bedroom, at the top of the house.

In the first bedroom, on the ground floor, Leivars went for more of a country feel, to echo the views of the rugged coastal terrain through the window. “It felt appropriate to do this room in these tones,” the designer says. “You can actually see hay bales from the window.”

To give the main bedroom, also on the ground floor, a little more interest, Leivars brought pale blue and red into the soft furnishings. An electric log burner to the left of the bed creates a lovely, cozy atmosphere. This room has an en suite bathroom.

The kitchen opens to a terraced area, with some steps leading up to a raised garden of driftwood, grasses and pebbles. “We wanted to give sea views from the garden, and also views out to the beautiful countryside and rooftops of the village behind,” Leivars says. 

Rather than going for anything too contemporary in the kitchen, Leivars opted for a country cottage style but in a modern gray. “We wanted a nice, cohesive feel with the rest of the house,” she says. The gray provides a neutral backdrop to allow the colors of any accents, such as flowers during the summer, to stand out. “It looks fresh in the sunshine and not too cold in the winter,” she says, “and you can see how nicely the daffodils stand out against it.”

The kitchen is housed in an extension that the architects built onto the back of the property. The large skylight is perfect for stargazing. “The Cornish sky is phenomenally black at night,” Leivars says. “The stars are amazing.”

The door seen here leads into the living room, and the two stairs up to the left lead to the top bedroom. The staircase is what you’d expect in a cottage: small, narrow and traditional. With all of the sand coming in from the beach, Leivars wanted flooring that would be easy to clean and maintain. The carpet she chose is 100 percent wool, so it stands up to water and general wear and tear; it’s from a local supplier. The feel of the stairway is simple, soft and clean, with little quirks, such as the “first class waiting room” sign, to entice people upstairs. 

For the living room’s decorating scheme, Leivars wanted to give a subtle nod to the cottage’s location without going too coastal. “I wanted an emphasis on lazy, rainy days — sitting there with a hot chocolate or a nice glass of wine in hand while the wind’s howling outside,” she says. She went for calming gray tones with injections of acid yellow — which contrasts beautifully with the sea, just 30 feet away — to lift the room on gloomy days. 

“It was lovely to work with the pitched ceiling,” Leivars says. “I wanted to ground it and bring it down a bit further, so we tried to emphasize the railway sleeper beams.” There’s a railway nearby, and gentle nods to the surroundings like these beams give the cottage its homey feel.

To balance out the high, pitched ceiling, Leivars clad the alcoves in wooden paneling and painted it a warm gray to fit the rest of the room. The grays and raw woods keep the look very neutral and natural, while the pillow seen here adds just that touch of coastal mood to give the room a beach-hut feel.

Leivars wanted to give each bedroom its own individual feel while keeping a level of continuity throughout the cottage. This bedroom has a slight seaside feel, with the striped blind fabric and wood paneling echoing the choices in the living room without feeling too contrived.

The two bathrooms are quite small but have everything one might need. Leivars kept them traditional, with a white tub and chrome fixtures, and neutral tiles from a local tile company.

Directly in front of the house, where a garage formerly stood, is one of the gems of the property — a chill-out area with a sheer 12-foot drop down to the beach. The retreat consists of a simple room, which seats six, with full-height doors that open to a little balcony, paved with local stone and fitted with a glass balustrade. It’s the perfect place to sit and relax, have a barbecue, play some board games and even stargaze — a retreat within a retreat, if you like. With wheels, the barbecue can easily be taken outside before it’s lit.

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