The Cosiest of Cottages

9th November 2018

Kim and Graham Hallett have spent two years renovating their dream country home, tackling most of the DIY tasks themselves while adding their own unique touches…

words: natalie flaum | photography: colin poole

After 17 years in a suburban three bedroom 1980s semi in Chippenham, Kim and Graham Hallett experienced a dramatic lifestyle change when they moved to an 18th century cottage in deepest Wiltshire countryside.

“When the girls left for university we decided it was time move on and find our dream country home – little did we realise it would take three years to locate!” says Kim. “We knew we wanted a home brimming with character and waited for suitable homes to come on the market. We weren’t in a hurry; it was more important to find the right home.”

Having browsed several property websites, Kim and Graham spotted the cottage by chance in February 2015, when they arrived early to view a different property nearby.
“We parked outside and took a peek over the garden gate,” says Kim. “We rang the estate agents there and then and managed to get a viewing for an hour later. As soon as we walked around the cottage we knew it was the place for us, so we put in an offer that was accepted later that day.”

The cottage is located in the pretty hamlet of Sells Green, near the picturesque Kennet and Avon canal in the parish of Seend in Wiltshire. The original building dates back to 1773 with two later additions, in keeping with the cottage.

“Within a day of moving in, we realised that the luxury of having hot water on demand was over… filling the bath took 45 minutes and it was lukewarm and only half full,” says Kim. “This wasn’t picked up on the full survey, so it wasn’t something we had budgeted to fix, but it ended up top of our to-do list. The problem was solved in two days with new pipework and a hot water tank installation, but we had to delay other plans for the cottage. On the plus side, the old water tank was immersion-heated and the wires had scorched the walls behind the timer. On removal we were told that it wouldn’t have been long before the timer would have caught fire!”

As the cottage isn’t listed, no permissions were required and all changes were internal. These involved converting a non-working shower cubicle into a new en suite. This process revealed a leak in the roof, which required re-plastering walls and replacing roof tiles. The couple also decided to relocate the family bathroom by dividing the largest guest bedroom into two rooms and turning the former bathroom into a bright airy dressing room.

“Our fabulous plumber was great – he fitted all three bathrooms, built a cupboard in the cloakroom to conceal the boiler and fitted radiators all over the house,” says Kim.
In the snug and sitting room, plaster had come away from the walls, which were suffering from damp and prone to mould. Kim and Graham hired a specialist who informed them there was dry rot and wet rot in the skirting boards and, if left untreated, would spread further.

“We didn’t hang about and hired a specialist to get both rooms taken back to the brick with several layers of treatment put on the walls before re-plastering,” says Kim. “It was a bit of a squeeze shuffling all the furniture around as both rooms were sealed off for six weeks. We camped out in the dining room and kitchen, where I could take a break from cooking on one of the sofas, which was very comfy!’

Kim and Graham relied on apps and a useful photo-editing program to help with sourcing colours to paint walls, doors and their inherited solid oak kitchen units.
“The kitchen doesn’t get a lot of natural light, so I felt the units were too dark,” says Kim. “As we had a mix of wood and laminate, we began sanding with medium grade sandpaper. Using a basic primer first, we took the doors and skirting off and painted outside. The laminate areas received one coat of primer and two coats of paint and we put three coats of paint on the wood, lightly sanding between coats.”

Kim also sanded the breakfast bar top, varnished it to lighten it up and painted the legs to match the units. “The kitchen looks so much lighter and brighter and more spacious,” she adds. “It took us four days to complete, costing less than £200.”

To give the kitchen more of a cottagey feel, Graham replaced a small cupboard next to the double oven with drawers, using upcycled pallets.

“I bought a stencil set and painted words on, using blackboard paint to make them look like vintage storage boxes,” says Kim. “They are our favourite feature of the kitchen and have inspired us to create other accessories using pallets, including little candle shelves and backings for photo frames.”

The most recent changes took place in the guest bedroom where Kim and Graham took on the task of sanding the floorboards. “We bought an electric hand sander for the job – it took about four hours to get rid of the stain and grime,” says Kim. “We did the job slowly without the worry of rental costs.”

Kim and Graham have also repaired the 1920s green fireplace hearth and installed a basin and washstand in the master bedroom, which is the oldest part of the cottage.

“The brick and flint wall in the master bedroom is in fantastic condition and is one of the only walls in the cottage that we haven’t had to repair,” says Kim. “We’ve stopped ourselves from putting any pictures on it as it’s such a lovely feature wall.”

While working on the two-year renovation the couple discovered all sorts of curiosities that sparked inspiration and creativity.

“When we moved in we found an old fruit box in the garage,” says Kim. “I attached recycled foam and made a seat pad – the total cost was just £10 and it’s great for storing away logs for the fire.”
At the end of this challenging and rewarding process, Graham and Kim have created an idyllic country retreat, inspired by nature and their surroundings.

“Our crab apple tree blossom and wisteria are beautiful and the garden smells glorious in the spring and summer,” says Kim. “I love putting garden cuttings in vases and dotting them around the cottage – honeysuckle is one of my favourites. We’ve slowly fallen in love with the cottage and I can’t see us ever wanting to move.”

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