The secret to a cosy, homely interior? Never buying new

·10-min read
Christiane Bellsted Myers, the queen of make-do-and-mend
Christiane Bellsted Myers, the queen of make-do-and-mend

When author Christiane Bellstedt Myers moved from Canada to the UK just over 30 years ago, she brought with her an innate passion for good old-fashioned country-style homemaking, a gift passed down through the generations with a “make do and mend” tag attached.

Her first home with her husband, Neil, was a rather incongruous Victorian basement flat in north London, a far cry from rural Canada. “The flat was small but perfectly formed and I was surprised how much I loved it,” she says. “It had but one built-in cupboard, which was quickly converted into a sewing space where I would make things to my heart’s content. That little cupboard allowed me to start my journey into ­creating a new home.” Old floral sheets brought with her from Canada were sewn into cushions, quilts and curtains. Their small garden was lovingly tended to provide seasonal stems to be used for decoration, a key ingredient in Christ­iane’s recipe for creating a comforting, homespun, country-style interior. The flat was also transformed with paint, a medium she firmly believes can “offer an instant feeling of renewal”.

A year later, the couple had their first son, and it was during her many walks with him that Christiane discovered a surprising number of unwanted but perfectly salvageable items left on roadsides and dumped in skips, which she rescued and upcycled. “I can’t stand waste and I see the potential in almost all objects and materials,” she says. “Many of the items I found were resurrected by myself and Neil and are still cherished today in our current home. I’ve found that asking nicely generally gets one permission to ‘skip-dive’.”

After the birth of their second son in 2000, the couple made the move out of London to an Edwardian four-bedroom, three-storey home in Buckinghamshire, which they named the Warren, and which subtly changed Christiane’s approach to decorating. “I initially liked to have all of my familiar things around me to create a feeling of security,” she says. “But with more space here, we’re able to store some things away and bring them out for certain seasons and celebrations.” Changing her home to suit the seasons has become a large part of Christiane’s style. “It’s important not to treat objects like museum pieces; everything gets its turn to be used and admired. Over the years, I’ve found that switching things up is a great way to keep old things feeling fresh.”

When skips aren’t offering up treasure, she sticks by her belief that old is better than new, and sources for both the house and the garden at antique, vintage and salvage fairs, as well as at antique centres and second-hand shops. With the concept of “fast interiors” ­rapidly catching up with that of fast fashion, and both creating untold damage to the planet, choosing old over new – from textiles through to painted furn­iture – must surely be the better option.

'My whole being is tuned into homemaking and all the joyful pottering about that goes with it. As we evolve, why shouldn’t our home?'
'My whole being is tuned into homemaking and all the joyful pottering about that goes with it. As we evolve, why shouldn’t our home?'

“Even as a child, I didn’t like anything new or plastic and would always gravitate towards the timeworn and storied,” says Christiane. “I am loathe to waste anything and mending was a habit taught to me by my very eco-conscious mother. When old cotton shirts are beyond mending, they become cleaning rags, while offcuts of wood make perfectly good picture frames.” Neil has become something of a make-do-and-mend veteran too, and can often be found at the end of the garden in a shed he made using a tin roof from an Anderson shelter. Filled with salvaged wood, nails and all manner of gathered materials that others have deemed worthless, it is here that he fixes up tired furniture and fashions functional homewares.

Twenty-two years of living in the Warren have seen Christiane and Neil give the interior, the exterior and the garden a huge amount of attention, from knocking rooms together and repainting, to creating a stunning cottage-style garden bursting with blooms. The largest project was creating an extension fronted by a porch, reminiscent of those in Canada. “The porch is a social-focal point of Canadian homes, and it was important to me to replicate this,” explains Christiane. “To sit here and engage with passers-by is one of life’s great joys.” The couple were also tasked with painting three floors’ worth of original floorboards, creating extra living space in the attic and turning a bedroom into a statement bathroom. Asked whether the task of homemaking ever ends, Christiane says: “For me, no. My whole being is tuned into homemaking and all the joyful pottering about that goes with it. As we evolve, why shouldn’t our home?”

'To be cosy is to be ­content and happy, and to feel utterly comfortable with my surroundings'
'To be cosy is to be ­content and happy, and to feel utterly comfortable with my surroundings'

All that is good about Christiane and Neil’s abode, with its salvaged furnishings, carefully curated objects and natural touches, has been penned down in Christiane’s recently released book, The Natural Cozy Cottage, a room-by-room guide featuring styling ideas for the home, from making a seasonal wreath to getting the lighting just right. For Christiane, the concept of cosiness is not one that is confined to the colder months. “For me, to be cosy is to be ­content and happy, and to feel utterly comfortable with my surroundings,” she says. “It embodies all that I love, from nature and making things to spending time with family and friends.” Whether drinking a cup of tea under the shade of a tree in the summer or sewing by the fire on a cold winter’s evening, the feeling of “cosy” Christiane gets is essentially the same. Perhaps taking a leaf out of her book could help us all feel more at home in our surroundings.

Christiane Bellstedt Myers’ latest book, ‘The Natural Cozy Cottage: 100 styling ideas to create a warm and welcoming home’, is published by CICO Books, £20     

Christiane's DIY Ideas to try

Whether you’re on a shoestring budget, or just trying to live in an eco-friendly way, it’s easy to make your home a cosy haven.

Glazed cupboard with curtain

Upcycle a second-hand cupboard with paint and a pretty curtain.

Got an old cupboard going spare? Give it a new lease of life
Got an old cupboard going spare? Give it a new lease of life

Materials

Old cupboard with glazed doors

Masking tape

Sandpaper

Cloth

Paint

Paintbrush

Ruler

Fabric scissors

Cotton fabric

Needle and thread

Curtain wire

2 sets of hooks and eyes

Method

  1. Place masking tape along the edges of the glass.

  2. Lightly sand the cupboard, then wipe it down.

  3. Lightly paint the cupboard and let it dry, then repeat for the second coat.

  4. If you want a worn look, sand the areas that would naturally receive wear and tear from everyday use.

  5. Cut the fabric 1½ times the width of your glazed area and 3 inches longer than the height of the cupboard. Hem on all sides so that the frayed edges are ­completely hidden.

  6. Fold the top and bottom of the hemmed fabric so that it fits the glazed area exactly. Making sure that you have left room to insert the curtain wire, sew along the edge to create a channel for the wire.

  7. Insert the wire at the top and bottom of the curtain, making sure that the wire is approximately ½ to 1 inch short of the eyes.

  8. Add eyes to the ends of both pieces of wire.

  9. Inside the cupboard door, attach hooks at the four corners of the glazed area, and then hang up the curtain.

Wallpapered stair risers

Add pattern to your staircase with wallpaper, as an alternative to stair carpet.

Applying wallpaper to stairs is a subtle way to add patterns or colour
Applying wallpaper to stairs is a subtle way to add patterns or colour

Materials

Ruler

Paper scissors

Wallpaper remnants

PVA glue

Damp sponge

Method

  1. Measure the risers of your staircase and cut the wallpaper to the right size. If you only have several smaller pieces, put them together and try to match up the pattern as best you can.

  2. Apply the glue to the risers, then affix the wallpaper to them.

  3. Use a damp sponge to smooth out the wallpaper and leave to dry.

Under-counter curtain

A simple way to disguise an appliance is to make a curtain for it. The fabric must be robust – like an old grain sack.

Unsightly appliances? There's an easy way to cover them
Unsightly appliances? There's an easy way to cover them

Materials

Fabric of your choice

Curtain wire

2 pairs of hooks and eyes

Method

  1. Select your fabric and measure the width and height of the appliance.

  2. Cut the fabric so that the width is one-and-a-half times the width of the appliance. Hem the length to slightly longer than the height needed.

  3. Fold over the top of the fabric and sew across to make a pocket for the curtain wire to pass through.

  4. Cut the curtain wire to the right length.

  5. Attach the hooks to the appliance’s enclosure and the eyes to the ends of the curtain wire. Pass the wire through the pocket of the curtain.

  6. Hang the curtain. The ­fabric should have a rustic, ­gathered appearance.

How to create a welcoming and feel-good home   

  • Look at everything you have and only keep things that make you happy. Anything you discard and give to charity may be treasured by someone else

  • Try decorating for the seasons and store unseasonal items in trunks or baskets under beds. A simple spring branch or a pumpkin sitting beside the door will remind visitors of the beauty of each season

  • In the kitchen, only keep items that you use regularly. Make room for a big bunch of flowers or a lovely picture

  • Colour is important. I like to keep all my soft furnishings to the same palette so that the room is restful. All my main living areas are quite neutral, but I have fun with wallpaper here and there

  • Scent is vital to me; I like natural aromas, nothing too overwhelming. A single candle burning on the mantelpiece brings instant warmth to a room

  • I like to decorate the outside of my home as well. Say, a basket of flowers or a bundle of glass, chandelier crystal drops tied up with a lovely piece of ribbon

  • Keep your hallway as uncluttered as possible and have a hook or two available for visitors to hang their things up – let your home give them (and you) a warm feeling on arrival

  • Depending upon the season, having quilts and blankets at the ready to snuggle into immediately encourages anyone to feel at home

  • A home that is not too perfect can be more appealing. “Things” are lovely, but it is the people who make a house a home and if all are assured that a breakage isn’t the end of the world, they will feel more relaxed

  • In my opinion, a home is for living in, not a showpiece. Create depth and narrative with personal objects and have the things you love the most on display and in use

Christiane’s sourcebook

UK fairs

Arthur Swallow Fairs asfairs.com

Fabulous Places fabulousplaces.co.uk

The Country Brocante thecountrybrocante.co.uk

The Reclaimed Fair @thereclaimedhomefair

The Dorset Brocante thedorsetbrocante.co.uk

Online stores

antiquetextilescompany.co.uk

carolinezoob.co.uk

cucumberwoodcandles.com

fabulousvintagefinds.co.uk

hoofbrocante.com