Renovating a cottage that dates back 300 years is bound to throw up a few challenges, but for Louisa and Dan Blackmore it also revealed some treasures that give their home a real sense of character.
On the hunt for not just a home but a project that they could really stamp their personalities on, Louisa and Dan Blackmore came up trumps when they discovered a 17th Century cottage nestled in the picturesque village of Blunham, Bedfordshire.
Louisa saw the potential in the property immediately and couldn’t wait to unearth its history. “It used to have a thatched roof and beautiful old render, but it was modernised in the 1940s by putting a brick skin around the outside and a tiled roof - criminal really,” she comments.
With the cottage being in a poor state structurally, Louisa and Dan had a long road ahead of them in order to make the property liveable, let alone homely. But where others may have been tempted to save on the sweat and tears by starting again from scratch, the couple were determined to restore rather than replace. “We totally gutted the old part of the cottage and reinforced the entire structure with steel to keep it standing,” explains Louisa. “As it is not listed, builder after builder told us to knock it down and start again but we felt really strongly that we should restore it. The little cottage has stood there for well over 300 years so it would have been awful to knock it down.”
With Dan away serving in the Army much of the time, Louisa was left to face obstacles, juggle her day job and be mindful of sticking to the budget for the renovation. “The budget we had was £8,000, but we blew through that at a horrendous rate and the entire project cost around £28,000,” she admits. “But we hadn’t, and couldn’t have anticipated having to reinforce the entire house with steelwork. It was pretty devastating at the time especially as Dan was in Afghanistan and I was trying to renovate and run a business at the same time.”
But Louisa has a good support network around her, not least of which has come from the village community. “Most of the trades we used were recommended by locals,” she explains. “While we were deciding what to do, the builder who lives on our lane brought round about 15 acrow supports to keep the floor from caving in, which was a lovely preview of the amazing community spirit in the village.”
Fourteen months into the project and Louisa and Dan have been able to move out of Army barracks and into their new home, while the renovation continues in earnest. Despite blowing the budget early on, the couple have no regrets about their decision to restore the old cottage to its former glory, with Louisa finding much of her inspiration for the interior design from the quirkiness of the building itself. She says: “uncovering the beams in the reception rooms was an amazing find and I wanted to show those off as much as possible so we’ve kept the walls uncluttered and just have a few shelves for art work and photos in the sitting room”.
“The highlight of the whole project was finding the inglenook fireplace behind a gas fire attached to a fake wall. It was amazing – the oak beam mantle is just incredible and many hours were spent restoring it.”
Happily even the potential for disaster has been averted by the fact that the cottage is full of character. “The biggest disaster I had personally was not taking into account the steelwork when I measured up for the staircase,” Louisa recalls. “When they came to fit it, everyone was asking why I’d left a gap around the edge? Was it some quirky design idea? The truth was I just hadn’t noticed it. In the end though, it actually worked out for the best as we were able to build a bookshelf into the recess.”
While the couple still have plans to knock down the 1960s flat roof extension and put in a kitchen and another bedroom and bathroom upstairs, for the moment much of the structural is complete, leaving Louisa to inject her modern country living style on this centuries-old building. “I love mixing antique and vintage pieces with lots of textured materials and pops of colours,” she says.