Design & DIY

Tips for updating your cottage on a tight budget

Colin and Justin

Spending last summer lost to the country, we discovered a few challenges while working our cottage, including the “Quadruple C” (Cottage-Country Currency Conversion) factor. Blimey—things cost more out in the wilds. What with fewer stores, not to mention delivery costs, it wasn’t long before we began to get jumpy. Aye, it’s official—our sporrans are almost empty.  

Never ones to squander cash, we found several ways to tighten budgets without sacrificing quality. Using the three Rs—refuse, rehome, and restore—as a mantra, we set to work. First up: refuse. Rather than congest our cottage with unnecessary stuff, we dumped anything that was broken or at the end of its life. In the spirit of rehoming, we donated bedding to an animal sanctuary and gave the old kitchen to our neighbour, who’s revamping his own cute wee cottage. Job done! 

It’s easy to rehome items that are desired by someone else. But what of those items that are harder to place? An old dock, for example? Ours needed to go, but a local company quoted
us more than a grand to haul it away. Come on! We’re Scottish, and therefore canny with our cash. So we got to thinking. One quick digi-snap later, and the outgoing dock was positively glowing on the pages of Kijiji, with an $800 price tag. Takers? Yup, loads! We had so many responses, in fact, that we could have sold it several times over. Okay, so it needed a little DIY TLC, but that dock proved irresistible to another cottaging couple, who got themselves a bargain. We, on the other hand, got ourselves a free removal service. And a pocketful of cash.

But with the final R, restore, we really come into our own, especially in cottage country. We consider ourselves masters of DIY. Our motto? If you think you can do it yourself, you should at least try. Come on; don’t be afraid! From a lick of paint that jooshed up an old blanket box, to a TV table transformed into a sink vanity, we waved our wands at every opportunity as the reno endured and our cabin pressure lid prepared to pop. 

Artwork by us

Colin and Justin's living room
Photo by Angus Rowe MacPherson

A 20-buck canvas, a tester pot of paint, and a Sharpie. That’s all it took to create our own bespoke cottage artwork. First, we painted the canvas using yellow latex—no expensive oils for us—and, when it was thoroughly dry, we used a pencil to sketch the naive outline of a stag’s head. Bear in mind that mistakes can be painted out, so don’t stress it. When our lines were good, we brandished our Sharpie to provide visual punch. Hey, presto—simple and effective, the piece adds a burst of colour and a nod to local wildlife.

Rustic rope lamps 

Rope lamp
Photo by Angus Rowe MacPherson

This DIY is less about skill and much more about imagination. We found  these glass-jar table lamps for $60 each and added a touch of Restoration Hardware chic. Being that the cork bases of the lighting mechanisms pop out, we were able to fill each jar with rough, toffee–coloured rope. Perhaps the easiest upscaling project we’ve ever tackled but, come on—fabulous result, n’est-ce pas

Oil stove update 

Our oil-burning stove may be simple, but it sure keeps our cottage toasty. So, rather than dump it, we improved it. Losing the dated brick hearth and the brick-faced wall behind the stove were easy decisions. These jobs tackled, we lavished the wall and the floor with granite, replaced the chimney pipe, and then smartened up the appliance using black stove paint. Et voilà! Our trusty old favourite has a stylish new look.

Turn the table

We inherited a solid-pine TV stand as part of our cottage chattels but quickly decreed it surplus to our requirements. So we hauled its sorry ass to the bathroom—its height and shape made it an ideal vanity in our exciting new scheme. 

The ideal height for a bathroom vanity unit, in most applications, is around 36″ (depth can vary according to the room size). In general, flat-fronted rectilinear shapes such as this work best, offering attractive symmetry and a handy perimeter surface for accessories. If you can find a cabinet with drawers or doors, even better; while ours is open-fronted, we added storage via boxes and open shelving.  

Colin and Justin
Photo by Angus Rowe MacPherson

Find the right sink
We were immediately drawn to this rectangular model: Its straight lines beautifully complement the toilet cistern’s right angles. Using the template that came with the drop-in sink, we marked out the hole and then cut it using a cordless jig saw. 

Smooth things out
Starting with coarse and then medium-grade paper, we carefully sanded the piece. The coarse paper loosened and ultimately removed the varnish, while the medium paper smoothed the wood surface in preparation for painting. 

Prep for paint
Before recolouring our emerging bathroom beauty, we dusted it off, vac-uumed all surfaces thoroughly, and then washed it down with a weak solution of TSP. When fully dry, it was ready for the next stage.

Wield your brush
The deep-grey paint we chose works well as a bridge between the wood floor and the white sink. We advise using satin or gloss—both of these finishes boast better waterproofing qualities. And remember: When painting furniture, always build up several light layers, rather than applying one heavy coat; this practice helps promote a smooth, brushstroke-free finish, especially when applying gloss. 

Gussy it up
At last, our finishing touch: We added a $5 chrome knob. Then, we called in the pros (cutting stone is not yet in our DIY arsenal). Our contractor installed a precut Caesarstone top, dropped in the sink, put in the taps, and connected the plumbing. The results, we think, are well worth our invested effort.