Home   Homes and Gardens   Article

Real Homes: Step inside Insta-famous My Cambridge Fairytale

Paola Salvaire has turned her newbuild Cambridge home into the epitome of “cosy, Granny, cottage style” - and accrued more than 140,000 Instagram followers in the process. As she tells Alice Ryan, she’s living her Cambridge fairytale

My Cambridge Fairytale
My Cambridge Fairytale

For those new to My Cambridge Fairytale, please tell us about the house: where is it, how old is it, what type of property is it. . .
The house is a new building, a modern cottage in the north of Cambridge. As I could have no control on the exterior, I dedicated myself to transforming the interiors as much as possible to make it more homely.

How and when did you choose to make the house your home? How much work did you have to do on it?
We knew that this was probably going to be our forever home; we downsized - children having fled the nest and all - but had the luck of finding a city plot with a garden that would allow us to enjoy the outdoor life during the warmer months. During the building months, when we were also in lockdown, we carefully planned the many tweaks that we were going to do on the house as soon as we had the keys.
We closed doors, opened arches, changed windows, panelled walls, removed the wall cabinets in the kitchen and re-painted the existing ones, also changing the very modern handles, swapped the door handles for more cottage-style knobs, changed the windows at the back. . . Alas we are not allowed to change the front elevation, and I literally hate the front door, as it looks like the door to an elevator!

My Cambridge Fairytale
My Cambridge Fairytale

How and when did you start documenting the house - both your work on it and the life you live in it - on Instagram?
I started taking pictures of my home a few years back, during the first years in Cambridge. The first house where we lived in was also a new building, and I felt the need to make it cosier and more homely, so I started browsing Instagram, and I have learned so much from that amazing community during these years.

How would you describe your interiors style?
I would say it's a cosy, Granny, cottage style, with hints of French country.

My Cambridge Fairytale
My Cambridge Fairytale

Are there any particular pieces of furniture or furnishings that have a story to tell? We're wondering about your copperware collection, your bed (and bedding). . .
Many of my copperware collection comes from my Mum's house, some of them dating back to my Grandma's, so I am very fond of them.
The bed is from a few years ago, from Loaf, and I love it as it's the same design as the one my parents had in my childhood home. Almost all my linen beddings are from Piglet in Bed, as I am very picky about my sheets and theirs are the softest - not an ad, I am a very happy paying customer of theirs!
There is a Howard armchair that I am currently in the process of reupholstering that was in my childhood home and I am so lucky that this is now with me, after having travelled all the way from Rome. It has never been pictured on Instagram but it will be soon!
Another beloved possession are the tiny Italia candle holders at the sides of my bed, and that - again - were in my parents' bedroom in my childhood home.

Your My Cambridge Fairytale account now has a colossal following: 141K and counting! What's the secret to its appeal, do you think?
This is something that I definitely cannot grasp and that awes me; from the messages that I receive I can imagine it's probably partially due to the feeling of comfort that some of my images and texts under my posts give to my followers. The fact that my home is also a very small and normal home, and therefore very relatable to many, is probably another reason.

My Cambridge Fairytale
My Cambridge Fairytale

We love the cosy, calm atmosphere of your posts - our favourites being the ones starring your magnificent cat! Please can you introduce us?
Aslan is a Ragdoll cat that joined our family in 2017, when our pet dog Lampo crossed the rainbow bridge. He is a sweetheart that loves smelling flowers and pacifically watching birds and squirrels in the garden for hours. He is a very large boy (over 7 kgs), constantly hungry, and constantly on a diet - exactly like his human mother!

Could you tell us a bit about your Italian childhood home?
I was born and raised in Rome; when I was about 10 years old, my parents decided to leave the city for a more tranquil life in a nearby village in the countryside.
My Dad bought a large piece of land and built a house on top of a hill, surrounded with hundreds of olive trees and many fruit trees.
The following years were possibly the most beautiful of my life: I have memories of entire afternoons spent reading perched on a tree that was producing both apricots and plums, and eating the fruits that I just detached from the branches; we had chickens, ducks, rabbits, a pond…
The house was beautiful, there were large porches all around under which we had lunches and dinners, and we practically lived outside from May to October - the neverending Italian summers.

Were you always interested in interiors? What sparked that interest?
My Mum had impeccable taste in interiors, and she had a huge collection of interior magazines that I spent hours browsing; I believe this is what first introduced me to interiors, and in a way I believe I am always trying to recreate that feeling of countryside and happiness of my childhood years.

My Cambridge Fairytale
My Cambridge Fairytale

We know your home is compact: do you have any interior design tips or tricks to help other people make the most of small-space living?
I would say choose lean, small-scale furniture, invest in multitasking pieces - an ottoman can be used as a coffee table, a stool as a side table, or a bedside table - and to divide the space into different zones. Small can be beautiful and cosy, and loving what you have is the secret for happiness!

What do you do when you're not working on My Cambridge Fairytale?
I have a full time job at the Cambridge University Press, and in my free time I love swimming and walking through the many beautiful green areas in and around Cambridge.

What's the reward of sharing your home and life with other people?
The account started as a sort of digital diary, and I surely was not expecting to reach these numbers! I receive lots of lovely messages from people all around the world, I have made friends for life, and I consider myself extremely lucky for being gifted beautiful things just to showcase them in my feed.

If we want to bring a little of the fairytale magic into our homes, where should we start?
Search for the joy that is hidden in the little things, there is a lot to discover!

For more information and inspiration, follow @mycambridgefairytale

Read more

More by this author