When Anna Jacobsen wanted an escape from the city, she and her partner Tom started looking for a hideaway in rural Norfolk. Their search led them to a Victorian workers' cottage that they “fell in love with immediately”. For financial reasons, the couple knew they'd need to rent it out when they're not around. Here, the photographer and interior stylist tells us how she created a cosy home away from home that works for her, and her guests.
Anna and Tom's checklist when house-hunting: something small, with heaps of character. The cottage has it nailed. It has a living room (complete with log burner) and kitchen downstairs, and a bedroom, office and bathroom upstairs. And out the back, there's a lush green garden bordered by trees.
The plan was always to let the cottage out to guests. And Anna loves hosting. Sitting on a chair by the window, she says, “I enjoy making spaces look nice – getting the flowers and table ready, and making sure people have a drink when they come in. Just making everyone feel at home.” But it's taken time to adjust to sharing such a personal space. “I was a bit worried,” she admits. “I thought that maybe when I came back and there had been people here, that the energy would feel different – but it really doesn't. And now I feel happy that if we're not around, someone else is enjoying it, and it's not just an empty house.”
So what's the secret to being a five-star host, and creating the ultimate home away from home?
As a former Londoner, Anna appreciates the peace and quiet that the countryside has to offer. And so do her guests. “Living there for a long time makes your head spin a bit – it's very busy. When I got to Norfolk I was like, 'oh my goodness, it's completely quiet.' You can have a good night's sleep without sirens waking you up. I think people come here to relax and enjoy that sense of calm.”
Making her guests feel comfy is Anna's top priority. And it might not be as hard as you think. “What you need in your day-to-day life to be comfortable, I think, is just a really cosy bed and a well-equipped kitchen so you can make nice food. And a bath. Having a bath with bubbles is such a pleasure in life. Nothing fussy. Just simple things.”
At Anna's, cosy nights in are always on the menu, and that means having a kitchen that's well stocked for visitors. “We don't just have one cutting board and a pan from the 70s. We have some good knives and pans, and nice dinnerware. Simple things, but things that you need. You can also find local, seasonal produce really cheaply here.”
Anna believes that small touches make a big difference. “We always leave a little card out – it's an illustration of the house that Tom's mum drew – and write a welcome message. If we know that it's someone’s birthday or something, we'll personalise [the message] to suit the occasion. We also pick fresh flowers from the garden, make homemade granola and leave a bottle of wine.”
How to avoid a dinner party faux pas? Make a memorable intro. “When you have guests who don't know each other, introduce them in a way that's particular to that person – like how you met or something fun,” she suggests. “If people haven't been introduced and feel awkward or shy, they won't really interact. It's all about making everyone feel at home.”
The key to being a top host? Know who you're catering for. “I think it's good that [the cottage] is set up for a specific type of person – it attracts couples who just want to read and sleep, go for walks and do some cooking. Which is basically Tom and me! It's not for everyone. But it doesn't have to be.”
The ultimate way to make your guests feel zen? Ditch the tech, and stock up on books. “People really like the fact that we don't have a television. All of my books and interiors magazines are left at the cottage for guests to borrow. Sitting on the armchair with candles burning, a book, and the fire on: that epitomises the feeling of this cottage for me.”
Anna's a pro when it comes to creating an atmospheric ambience. Her top tip? Get the light right. “It's funny – some people don't think about lighting, or aren't bothered about it, but I think it's really important. Candles are always good, especially at this time of year. I even burn them in the middle of the afternoon if it's a grey day. It creates a mood, doesn't it?”
So, how do you get those hygge vibes Anna has perfected? We're glad you asked. “Layer lots of textiles. Rugs add colour and personality, but they're also functional. We have wooden floors here, so it's nice to have some coverage and warmth. And just having lots of blankets – on your bed, on your sofa, on the chairs.”
Have a constant rotation of friends and family staying over? Anna believes it's possible to be sensible without compromising on your personal style. “In terms of taste, I just did it the way I wanted. But I did have to think about practical things – like consider if stuff will chip easily, and buy bits like mattress and pillow protectors.”
There are a lot of things about the cottage that make it unique, from the floating staircase to the log burner. But the leafy garden – complete with a snug seating area and firepit – is definitely a highlight. “We love spending time in the garden, and the firepit enables us to extend those warm summer evenings well into autumn. Blanket and hot drink optional, but they certainly add to the cosiness.”
“When you're hosting, do it with love, and like you actually care for the people who are staying. That’s the main thing, because I think that people can sense that energy. It sounds like a cliché, but guests feeling like it's a home away from home – that's the best compliment, I think.”
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Article written by: Emily Rogers
Photography by: Liz Seabrook | Art direction by: Laura Cumming