By Iain Aitch
Where do I start on a cottage renovation?
The cottage home is a dream for many of us, whether as a first place to call our own, marital home or a place for our retirement. Roses around the door, sunflowers in the front garden or a chimney emanating wood smoke may all be must-haves for anyone who wants a cottage, whether rural or urban. But what do we really need to know when we find that cottage for renovation, or simply want to upgrade the one we already live in?
What do I do about these low ceilings?
Many older cottages have low ceilings, uneven floors and inaccessible nooks and crannies. For many, this is part of the charm. But it can be inconvenient, especially if you are six-feet-tall and live in a cottage that was built when most people were six-inches shorter.
In most cottages, ceilings will be very much a part of the structure, so they are hard to adjust. But you can use imaginative methods to work with low ceilings, such as using low furniture, vertical stripes on the walls and contrasting ceiling paints. Alternatively, you can make the low ceilings a period feature, painting exposed beams in darker colours or stripping them back to the original wood.
Will I need to inform the planning department?
As always, the question as to whether to inform the planning department of your local council comes with a big ‘it depends’. But if you are in the UK then it is always best to check before you do any work beyond changing the lightbulbs, especially if you live in a period property.
Even if your cottage is not listed, then you may find that it is part of a conservation area. So, do inform your council or have your renovation team check for you. It’s better to be safe than sorry. More people may care about your cottage than you think, so the council may be informed of any changes you make by neighbours or local history buffs.
How can you square modern living with your period cottage?
More and more people are keeping the front of a cottage unchanged but adding a modern kitchen-diner or an open-plan extension to the rear. This can give you the best of both worlds and means that you won’t want for space.
“I live in a cottage, which has a Victorian façade and behind it is very modern,” says Tom Bentley, who is UK Operations Manager for Refresh Renovations. “Just be sure to think everything through and get pre-designs done before the drawing stage. You should try to be sympathetic to the property. But you can really make a break from that with a well-designed rear extension. You will have to be innovative with space and just not waste any.”
Are there secrets to lighting a cottage?
There is no hiding the fact that some cottages can be dark inside. It may be possible to combat this by adding new windows. This may not be as hard as you may think, but always make sure you get the relevant permissions.
If you can add skylights then you should be able to add a lot of extra light without impinging upon the character of the building or annoying local history enthusiasts. A cheaper solution may be to add up-lights in the floor, increasing the illumination in the room whilst also giving an illusion of higher ceilings.
Roses around the door or seaside-inspired garden?
A cottage is simply not a cottage without a garden, from the simplest of backyard herb gardens to a fully-landscaped rear garden with lawn. It sets the building off and provides flowers for the table, a place to sit and, often, a few vegetables for the dinner pot (cooked on the Aga).
Location and personal taste will inspire what you do with your garden, but you should think about a design that complements the period features of your home. Roses around the door may sound like a cliché, but they can look stunning on a white-walled cottage with dark woodwork.
If you want to go modern, then look to the likes of the late artist Derek Jarman for inspiration. His seaside cottage garden in Dungeness is famed around the world and its mix of pebbles and plants has been an inspiration to many gardeners.
Are thatched roofs still desirable?
If your cottage has a thatched roof, then you should almost certainly keep it, especially if it is part of the cottage’s history and any listing. Whilst it is true that thatching is very much a dying art, there are enough specialists and enthusiasts around keeping the art alive.
You will need to have the roof serviced every few years, but the roof as a whole will last as long as any slate or tile roof and be just as waterproof. If your cottage once had a thatched roof and you are considering restoration, then speak to experts and other owners, as they will have tips on the pitfalls and up-sides.
Read about this stunning contemporary makeover of a Victorian-era cottage.
Alternatively, get in touch with Refresh Renovations to discuss your ideas.