Couple transform teeny tiny cottage into a boutique holiday home
- Credit: Haarkon
A young family who spent two years staying in holiday accommodation in north Norfolk while renovating their house have created their own 'boutique-style' holiday home.
Ana Perez and her family didn’t intend to move to Norfolk – at least not permanently.
She and her husband, Alan Flett, had no connection to the county, nor an intention of moving permanently when they looked at properties five years ago. All they wanted was somewhere to escape to.
At the time the pair lived with their daughter, Isla, in north London, and wanted their new holiday home to be "commutable", so they got out a map and looked at where they could get to within three hours.
One weekend, the family ended up looking for a property in Cley. It was the first time they had been but it looked like a good place for their new venture, Ana says. They looked at other properties in the surrounding areas, and it didn't take long to find the one they would buy. “We came here and spent a few weekends looking at properties and then found this, the house we are in.”
She says the setting – a tiny hamlet just outside Holt – was beautiful, but the property itself needed a lot of work. “It was a house that hadn’t been touched for 50 years,” she explains. “It was in a very poor state and had a little cottage in the grounds. It looked fabulous, so we decided to buy it.”
The intention was for the property to become the family’s holiday home, but once they started on their renovations, things changed.
“We started the journey of pulling the house apart,” Ana says. “We ended up with just the outside walls and basically rebuilding something new in the footprint, with the constraints of an old house. In that time, we had been kind of camping in the house, because everything was taking so long and we were just coming at the weekends.
“We had a mattress on the floor and a barbecue outside, because there was no working kitchen then, but we really fell in love, properly, with north Norfolk.”
Visiting at weekends, to see progress on the build, meant that the family were able to see more of north Norfolk. “We kind of came to the realisation that, having a young child, life in Norfolk would be a lot nicer than in London for her, so that made us decide ‘okay, well we work in IT, we can work from home – let’s just move!’
“Having a child of that age, I felt that that she could be a child longer here than in the city. It’s prolonging that childhood and giving her a bit of the freedom of being in the countryside.”
The property essentially offered the family two homes in one: the main house, which would become their home, and the tiny, one-bedroom cottage which would become Spinks Nest, their boutique holiday let. They decided to renovate the cottage first.
“With that, we wanted to build the holiday home that would be the kind of place where we would stay,” Ana says. “We wanted it to be somewhere special but that was right for where we were.”
The result is a teeny tiny cottage, partly brick, partly flint, which inside is full of wood panelling and heritage-style interiors. It’s “finch-sized”, Ana says, just big enough for two.
Looking around, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ana or her husband have a background in interior design. Everything, from the cosy, timber-clad kitchen to the greenhouse-style bathroom, complete with its sunken bath and shower, has been beautifully finished.
“A lot of people always ask ‘has this always been your style?’ Well actually, no,” says Ana. “I lived in a kind of warehouse, a white apartment that looked like an art gallery when I was in London, because that’s what suited that place. We came here and we wanted to make something that was really suitable, connected with the environment, so we started to do the renovation.”
As part of the project, the couple enlisted the help of local tradespeople, including a heritage builder who specialised in working with the building’s original materials, limestone and flint. “Everything was done in a very traditional way,” Ana says. Despite its size, it took around 18 months to complete, with long waits between one coat of lime mortar and the next. “It was a very slow build”, Ana says.
They have also tried to use and reuse local materials. “The pamments are handmade in Norfolk by a mother and daughter team,” Ana says. “It’s all reclaimed bricks and reclaimed stuff from the reclamation yards around here.
“We wanted a cottage. Although we’ve basically rebuilt everything, we didn’t want it to feel like we had just done that. We wanted to have that homely, lived feeling, which comes from the green, from using vintage items and reclaimed materials.”
The fusion of traditional building techniques and reused materials certainly looks and feels authentic – so much so that guests are often trying to suss it out. “People come and they always ask me ‘is it new?’” Ana says. “They kind of try to figure out what’s new because we’ve really tried to not make it look like we’ve just finished doing something.”
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Spinks Nest has been ‘open’ since 2019, and Ana says the feedback, so far, has taken them by surprise. “We’ve had such fantastic feedback,” she says. “We thought it would be somewhere we rented at the weekends and have friends come and stay during the week, but in fact it hasn’t been empty since we started renting it.”
She describes Spinks Nest as a “boutique-type holiday home”, different to the ‘traditional’ coastal homes one might think of. “People tend to come for two or three days, typically, because they have a special occasion,” Ana explains. So far, this has included birthdays, honeymoons, weddings and anniversaries, which fits well with its small size.
Its eye-catching interiors have also given it wide-ranging appeal. Ana’s Instagram account, @spinks.nest, has amassed over 11,000 followers, and the cottage has also featured in glossy interiors magazines, too. Some photographers even rent it out as a ‘location house’, using it as a backdrop for product photography and portraits.
“I think we’ve tried making something really special,” Ana says. “All the people come because the area is really nice, but I think they also come to the cottage and they would have come to the cottage if it was somewhere else as well – it’s just a bonus that it happens to be in such a great location.”
The location seems to be working well for the family too, particularly now that their own home, next door, is nearing completion. Ana describes it as “a slightly bigger sister of Spinks Nest” but admits that it hasn’t always been an easy journey.
“We’ve had a lot of setbacks,” says Ana. “We decided to come here as the renovation started, but we couldn’t live here – it’s too small because there’s three of us, so we had to rent somewhere.
“We believed the builder when he said it was going to take six to nine months. It was over the winter, so we managed to find a holiday home that was going to be rented to us through that time. Of course, it never took that time... Then our builder ran away, so the whole thing stalled. In the end we probably spent almost two years between holiday homes.”
That, Ana says, is the part of the story the family want to forget – but in the long run, the move has been good. Her daughter, Isla, has “come out of her shell”, her husband, Alan, works from home and Ana herself is able to combine remote working with an occasional commute into London.
“I like seeing people so for me it’s the right balance of being in the city a couple of days, every couple of weeks, seeing all the people and then getting on with my work remotely,” she says. “That’s kind of a good balance. My office is just outside Liverpool Street, so I go on the train. I leave in the morning, I get to the office in good time, I can have a couple of days working and be back and I’m not away for that long.”
With the build of their own home almost complete, and a steady flow of guests checking in to Spinks Nest, Ana says the family are now looking ahead to their new life in Norfolk. “Right now, we just want to enjoy what we have done.”
Follow @spinks.nest on Instagram or visit spinksnest.com
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