Safe as houses
Amanda Hamilton and John Thornhill increased the space in their Victorian cottage to create a charming family home, paying careful attention to preserving its historic integrity
Interior designer Amanda Hamilton and her husband
John Thornhill turned a historic stonemason’s cottage into a practical family home
Amanda Hamilton and her husband John Thornhill prioritised the rich heritage of their historic stonemason’s cottage when they embarked on its creative remodelling. ‘John and I were mindful of enhancing rather than detracting from the character of our home,’ says Amanda. Back in 2007, mother-of-three Amanda was thrilled when she saw this cottage, right next to the River Ecclesbourne, in the pretty Derbyshire village of Duffield. ‘On my first viewing, I could see why other people had been put off,’ she recalls. ‘The three-storey cottage didn’t have a proper kitchen and the décor wasn’t to everyone’s taste.’ But interior designer Amanda realised this was a terrific opportunity to breathe new life into the property. ‘The cottage was very attractive, built of local limestone and in a great location in the heart of the village,’ she adds. ‘It was structurally sound and had a wealth of period features, including original quarry tiles, beams, a huge inglenook fireplace and a unique stone outhouse – the village lock-up where drunks would have been kept overnight.
The property had a lovely feel, and good bones.’
Once Amanda and her three daughters had moved in, she began lightening and brightening their dreary surroundings. ‘Scrubbing the Aga revealed its rich blue colour, while painting every wall white made a huge difference.’ She replaced all the carpets and the fittings in the en suite, and made curtains and blinds for every room.
‘Since very little of our furniture would fit up the spiral staircase, I had to bide my time and get bedroom furniture made,’ she says. ‘Initially, Charlotte and Emily slept on mattresses in their beamed bedroom, but they took it all in their stride and referred to it as their “tree house”. And despite the challenges and stresses, the project was an adventure and very rewarding.’
Amanda designed some Shaker-style cabinets for the kitchen units and the whole cottage began to feel much more homely. However, as the girls got older and Amanda met, and in 2010, married John, their characterful abode began to feel a little cramped. Reluctant to move, the couple instead drew up plans to extend. ‘We could see that turning a temporary garage into a dining and garden room would work well,’ says Amanda. ‘And having earmarked the lock-up as a family room, we reconfigured the rest of the downstairs layout to add a laundry and cloakroom.’
Although the cottage isn’t listed, it is in a Conservation Area and right beside a river, so getting planning permission took time. ‘We didn’t mind waiting: we wanted to do our lovely cottage justice,’ Amanda adds. ‘We went to great trouble to enhance its natural beauty.’
Permission was eventually granted and building work started in June 2014. The lock-up was carefully dismantled and the stones numbered before being transported to a local stonemason to be cut. They were then reused to build two outside walls for the new family room. ‘The stonemason made such a great job of cutting the stones that, when the walls were rebuilt, they looked as if they’d been there since 1840,’ says Amanda.
For the other two walls of the lock-up and the new garden/dining room, Amanda and John took their inspiration from New England-style properties, and the weatherboarding is perfectly in keeping with the delightful riverside setting.
‘It adds a lovely new dimension to the cottage, marrying it all together seamlessly,’ says Amanda.
As the project progressed, John tackled a host of jobs, including building a new veranda outside the laundry room, while Amanda turned her attention to the interior design. ‘I chose a neutral palette, opting for greys to give a relaxed country feel, adding interest with soft furnishings and accessories, many chosen from the ranges I sell.’
Despite the inevitable upheaval of living in the cottage while the six-month project progressed, the couple are delighted. ‘The extra space has made a huge difference,’ says Amanda. ‘We’re so pleased with our labour-of-love cottage, and if the original stonemason who once lived here walked in today, I hope he’d be pleased to see how it’s evolved.’
The former stonemason’s cottage has been thoughtfully renovated and extended. The front door is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe