Lake District Interiors - Woodman’s Cottage, Haverthwaite

PUBLISHED: 09:17 29 August 2013 | UPDATED: 09:17 29 August 2013

Neil and Liz Watson

Neil and Liz Watson


Neil Watson is never quite sure what he will find when he comes home - his wife Liz is so passionate about interiors, writes Ellie Hargreaves

Photography: Kirsty Thompson

To describe Liz Watson as passionate about interior design would be something of an understatement. She and husband Neil have been in their Haverthwaite home a quarter of a century and in that time it’s changed more times than either can remember.

‘Pictures go up and pictures come down. Walls change colour. Furniture moves. Every time I come home I think I’m in a different house,’ says Neil.

Indeed, when Liz welcomes Lancashire Life into the four-bedroomed Woodman’s Cottage, which is a short walk from the steam railway museum and only five miles outside Grizedale Forest, she has so many tales to tell about achieving its immaculate New England style that she clean forgets about re-roofing the place and bringing in a new water main.

‘Those were small jobs really,’ she says with a twinkle in her eye. ‘Let me show you this antique frame I rescued from a skip instead.’

Filled with antiques and re-worked pieces of furniture, and with low ceilings and exposed beams, it’s hard to believe the immaculate property has only been in its current state since the 1970s. Before then it was a simple two-up-two-down with a barn attached.

When the Watsons moved in after building and refurbishing a number of properties across the south Lakes, the cottage had a wrought iron staircase and glass doors throughout. They were among the first things to go.

‘It felt very Spanish,’ says Liz. ‘And even though we haven’t done a huge amount to the structure of the building, the place is quite unrecognisable.’

As well as replacing the main, which the couple were forced into after the water turned increasingly dramatic shades of red, a sunroom was built at the rear around 12 years ago. More recently, underfloor heating and solar panels were installed – the latter, which cost £11,000, have already proved to be a ‘great investment’ according to Neil, who can’t deny being bitten by the interiors bug, too.

As well as working as a maintenance man alongside Liz’s day job managing a portfolio of eight four and five star holiday homes in Windermere, Neil has done much of the work on Woodman’s Cottage himself and is in the middle of an intensive two-days-a-week upholstery course in Kendal.

This new-found skill has led to a sideline in classic car interior upholstery and Neil has begun refurbishing and selling some of the antique chairs and bedheads the couple have picked up at sales over the years.

When Neil and Liz aren’t busy in the house, they can be found all over the country looking for things to fill it. They travel to fairs and auctions as far afield as Norfolk in ‘Jane’, their 1965 TR4A.

‘We’ve found some amazing bargains and treasures on our travels and we’ve a cupboard full of designer fabrics that would have cost a fortune at full price,’ says Liz, who admits to spending a number of their longer journeys in the passenger seat with a paint chart on her lap.

‘I can’t help myself,’ she laughs. ‘I can go out for a meal and afterwards I couldn’t tell you what I’d eaten – but I could tell you what the curtains were like, or about the colour scheme. Neil says I soak it up like a sponge and I love finding pieces with a bit of history.’

While the French shutters in the master bedroom and the bathroom mirror (a re-worked sash window) came from an antique fair in Nottingham, and Liz’s favourite chair was spotted at Tennants auction house in Leyburn, she happened upon two of her greatest finds while out riding her bike.

The first, was an ‘amazing’ cast iron bath which Liz bought to replace the ‘Germolene pink’ plastic bathroom suite they’d inherited.

‘I was riding along when I saw two farmers carrying it out into a field for their cows to drink from. It had beautiful cast feet and I couldn’t believe my eyes so I asked if the cows would object to pink plastic. After much persuasion they agreed to a swap! We had it re-glazed and painted it bottle green but after a while realised it was far too big for our bathroom so she was relegated to the shed where she sits waiting for her next move.’

The second discovery was a pine kitchen cupboard which Liz paid £10 for after happening upon a garage sale in the Rusland Valley which was taking place to raise money for the owners’ dream to sail around the world.

‘I loved the sound of their plans and it made me want the cupboard even more. We had to knock a huge hole in the wall to house it though, as our walls are so uneven and sloping that it wouldn’t sit flush,’ says Liz.

Throughout the cottage, which has a wetroom in addition to the house bathroom, the rooms flow with a colour scheme that doesn’t stray far from the neutral palette and favourite shades include ‘Clay’ by Little Greene and Farrow & Ball’s ‘Elephant’s Breath’. Sumptuous fabrics, scatterings of cushions and vases of fresh flowers add interest and a delicate chandelier brings a dose of eye-catching elegance.

The secret to the Watson’s style is seeing potential in almost anything they find and a seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm.

For instance, a window seat in the living room was created out of an old church pew by Neil; an old Chesterfield sofa was given a new lease of life with a trendy tweed covering and in the lounge a collection of 19th Century tapestries make a feature wall. With the exception of a pair of John Lewis buffalo-hide armchairs and various lamps from homeware shop The Range, pretty much every item has been unearthed from a fair or modified, colour-washed or reupholstered to make it truly unique.

As the couple say there is ‘obviously a lot still to do’, it’s perhaps fortunate that they’re kept so busy in their jobs. Between her interview with Lancashire Life and photographer Kirsty visiting to take the pictures three weeks later, a number of changes had already taken place, including a new roof on the sunroom. If Neil’s claims that he wakes each morning to discover new changes are true, who knows what magic Liz has worked since the magazine went to print?

Liz’s trade secrets

Keep your eyes and ears open. Liz monitors local newspapers for details of sales and auctions and regularly checks out second hand shops for unusual bargains. When the owners of Holker Hall decided to stop opening the house to the public each Christmas, Liz and Neil heard about it and managed to buy a bulk of the exquisite decorations.

With every house they’ve renovated and sold (including a bungalow built from scratch and a six bedroom home they turned into a B&B), Liz has invested in a new piece of furniture, such as the dresser in the sunroom, which she subsequently stripped back.

Don’t underestimate how a room can be transformed just by moving objects around or by giving something a lick of paint. Some of the best improvements can happen as quickly as overnight. Liz uses Annie Sloan paint to give furniture a new lease of life. ‘Neil has joked that she could be sited in a divorce!’ she laughs.

Liz’s style can be enjoyed by holiday guests visiting one of the eight luxury properties she manages. Visit for more information.

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