Homeward Bound

11th January 2019

The Property:
Two-bedroom Grade II-listed cottage, built in the 15th century, in Redenhall, Norfolk
Who Owns It:
Laura Davenport, stay-at-home mum to two-year-old twins, Monty and Henry, and five-month-old Spencer, and host at Ivywood Cottage (ivywoodcottage.co.uk) and her husband James, a purchasing manager in the timber industry
What They Did: renewed electrics, renewed window frames, restored the original fireplace and installed a woodburner, fitted new kitchen appliances, decorated throughout

words: natalie flaum | photography: darren chung

Relocating from London, Laura Davenport struck it lucky when she spotted a Grade II-listed cottage and farmhouse for sale in a picturesque village overlooking stunning views of the Waveney Valley on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, not far from where her husband James grew up.

The two buildings originally formed part of the Gawdy Hall Estate and would have been the farmer’s dwelling, with the cattle sleeping downstairs. Situated next door to a 15th-century church with three acres of churchyard, this tranquil setting was the rural idyll that the couple had been dreaming about as disenchanted city-dwellers.

“We were desperate to leave the capital… I was pregnant at the time and fed up with my commute,” Laura says. “We both felt ready to embrace the peace and quiet of the countryside. And from the moment James and I stepped inside, we knew that this was our forever home.”

The previous owners had undertaken a two-year renovation programme, restoring original features, including the stone floors and turning the cottage into a holiday let, which suited the couple’s plans for a slower lifestyle. Offer accepted, the Davenports were handed the keys during a sweltering August heatwave – and not a moment too soon: their twins were born three weeks later.

“On moving day, I was aching from head to toe with heat and pregnancy exhaustion,” Laura recalls, “and as we don’t like to make things easy for ourselves, our first guests were arriving to stay in the cottage on the same day. I had to leave all the unpacking to James and our families. All I could do was sit and direct everyone to which rooms to put all the boxes in!”

Once moved in, the pair continued the restoration work, repairing leaks and the electrics, and sanding and renewing window frames. They also installed a cast iron radiator in the upstairs gallery room and fitted new kitchen appliances.

“As the cottage is Grade II-listed, we need to remain sympathetic, and any further works had to preserve the life of the building,” Laura explains. “We even built a flue-lined chimney using reclaimed materials and repaired the stack using traditional lime and mortar. The original fireplace has also been restored, painted and fitted with a new wood-burning stove.”

With the structural work complete, Laura threw herself into the decoration, bringing a pared-back, Scandi-inspired feel to the historic cottage, referencing her own past. “My interior design journey started years ago as a student for Ikea,” she explains. “Since then, my tastes have evolved dramatically. I’m a big Instagram fan – it’s excellent for generating and sharing ideas – and love whiling away an hour or two on the internet at Ferm Living’s Scandi-style products.”

Laura was also learning upholstery at Shoreditch Design Rooms before leaving London. “During my pregnancy, my health prevented me from completing the course but the lovely team there finished my project – an upholstered Fifties chair in midnight blue velvet – for me.” It has pride of place now in the cottage’s mid-century-style-meets-Scandi-chic vibe.

Happily, the Davenports have taken to country living like ducks to a village pond. “Our neighbours have been so welcoming and kind,” Laura says. “When Monty and Henry were born, one delivered a care package containing homemade jams. I’ve also been enjoying plenty of lovely walks here, often ten miles a day, rain or shine, pushing our boys along in the pram.”

When she’s not exploring her gorgeous surroundings, Laura loves to pick fruit in the orchard behind the cottage, host to damson, apple, pear and plum trees. “I love to think that so many of the trees that surround us have been here as long as the cottage has,” she says, “and I love enjoying a quiet moment sitting outside the cottage which is a real sun trap, where the scent of trailing jasmine takes me back to my childhood days visiting my grandparents in Cyprus.”

Laura spends her spare time in the inherited Victorian greenhouse where she grows flowers from seeds; she’s created a lavender bed at the entrance to the cottage and filled steel planters with cyclamen, and has additional plans for the outside space too. “Opposite the cottage front door, near the pond, we want to add seating and picnic benches for our guests with narrow flowerbeds full of foxgloves and climbing roses,” she explains. “There’s always so much to look at with so many wild flowers to observe. I’ve certainly increased my knowledge on wildlife and nature since moving here. I’d also like to turn the shed at the back into a playhouse with traditional croquet sets and fun games. The barn where we keep all the firewood is also listed, although James loves the idea of eventually transforming it into a games room for the boys.”

Wood is in James’ bones as his grandfather and father also worked in the timber industry. “James travels worldwide with work and through life circumstances, has ended up doing the same job as his father, who was a significant industry figure in his time,” adds Laura.

Laura and James have recently turned their attentions to renovating the farmhouse next door to the cottage, enlisting the help of local architects to plan an 18-month renovation programme, to include the repair of the water well that runs underneath the farmhouse and the water pump located outside the cottage door.

“We want to invest in the house as though we’re here forever so it’s important to get the core and the foundations right before making changes to the layout and interiors,” says Laura. “I grew up in an old farmhouse in Edinburgh with high ceilings, large windows and generous size rooms. I’ve moved around a lot and this is the 20th house I’ve lived in. One of the lessons I’ve learnt is to be patient and to live in a space first and get a feel for it, which is what we did here for the first six months.”

When blossom fills the trees and wild English bluebells, daffodils, tulips and crocuses come to life, Laura admits that spring has become her favourite time of year. “You can’t beat crispy, sunny days in Norfolk,” she admits. “I used to dread the temperature rising in smoggy, cramped London, but now I can’t wait. The cottage looks beautiful and brings a sign of hope that we’ve made it through the winter with the promise of spring and summer days ahead. In my mind’s eye, the boys are learning to ride bikes, playing in fields and fishing in the nearby Waveney Valley river. This move was the best thing we could have done for our family – we’re all so happy living here.’

Ivywood cottage is available to rent;
see ivywoodcottage.co.uk or @ivywood_cottage on Instagram.

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