‘a Huge project didn’t faze me’

Jil­lian, 36, saw be­yond her old prop­erty’s dis­re­pair and trans­formed it into a stylish sea­side cot­tage

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Jil­lian Espey knew a run-down fish­er­man’s cot­tage could be­come a tran­quil home

Not ev­ery­one would have taken on this prop­erty, but be­cause I’d ren­o­vated my last three homes, it wasn’t that dif­fi­cult for me to see the po­ten­tial in this one,’ says Jil­lian. ‘As a former fish­er­man’s cot­tage, its lo­ca­tion in the pretty vil­lage of Groom­sport was ideal, and it was only 30 min­utes from Belfast along the County Down coast.

I’d been rent­ing at the time and ac­tively look­ing for my next project to tackle – trawl­ing the net and then spending Sun­day af­ter­noons driv­ing around look­ing at the houses I’d seen on­line that week. When this quaint cot­tage came on the mar­ket, I knew it was the per­fect place for me.

A state of re­pair

The in­te­rior of the house it­self was an­other mat­ter com­pletely. The pho­tos on the brochure couldn’t dis­guise the fact that the prop­erty was in se­ri­ous need of some TLC. How­ever, it was only when I ac­tu­ally went to view it that I re­alised the full ex­tent of what was re­quired to bring this lovely home back to life. Al­though I had pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of ren­o­va­tions, it was still quite a daunt­ing task, so I walked my builder around it be­fore I put in an of­fer, just to be on the safe side and put my mind at ease.

As the prop­erty wasn’t hab­it­able, I kept my rental house while I car­ried out the work. This took the pres­sure off, as it meant I didn’t have to live in a build­ing site full of dust and rub­ble. But of course, I wanted to move in as quickly as I could to keep costs down. How­ever, be­fore that could hap­pen, the place had to be gut­ted, and it was only with all the pre­vi­ous owner’s things out of the way that I could see what was fea­si­ble.

Tak­ing on a chal­lenge

The plan was to cre­ate a bet­ter flow and max­imise the foot­print, as there wasn’t enough room to ex­tend. I also wanted to in­crease the light through­out. The orig­i­nal lay­out had a kitchen-diner, liv­ing room and bed­room down­stairs, while up­stairs, there were two bed­rooms and a bath­room. I de­cided to open up the bot­tom floor

‘i’ve cho­sen din­ing chairs in the same style but dif­fer­ent colours for a more laid-back, in­for­mal vibe’

to cre­ate space for a liv­ing room to one side of the front door and a kitchen-diner to the other. Up­stairs we fit­ted in two bed­rooms, a bath­room and an en suite.

A new roof was in­stalled and the height was raised, too, re­plac­ing the run-down Velux windows with four dormer ones to pro­vide ex­tra head­room. The ground floors were also dug out to rec­tify their un­even­ness and to cre­ate a more airy space. Be­cause the house is built into a hill, the orig­i­nal back door was only 5ft 5in, whereas now it’s 5ft 10in, which makes all the dif­fer­ence – al­though taller vis­i­tors do still have to duck. I consider it to be part of the charm of a char­ac­ter­ful home.

We stud­ded, in­su­lated and plas­tered all the in­te­rior walls apart from one, which we left to show off the ex­posed old stonework as I was keen to re­tain the pe­riod feel of the cot­tage. Fi­nally, the whole place was rewired and re­plumbed. Sur­pris­ingly, the six-month ren­o­va­tion ran smoothly, which was partly be­cause I used a team of builders that I’d worked with on pre­vi­ous projects, and I also had an ar­chi­tect draw up the plans and in­struct the struc­tural engi­neer. He nav­i­gated plan­ning and build­ing con­trol, too, and this was very help­ful as it freed me up to project man­age the rest of the build. Plus it meant I could start think­ing about the decor scheme, which was prob­a­bly my favourite part.

The styling starts

Al­though we’d taken the prop­erty right back to its bare bones, it was im­por­tant to me that it should ex­ude as many tra­di­tional fea­tures as pos­si­ble. I find that a house will of­ten dic­tate its own style of in­te­rior and with the cot­tage, it was quite clear that a calm, neu­tral colour pal­ette would be the

‘my in­spi­ra­tion for the decor came from the coastal lo­ca­tion – i’ve used peb­ble grey shades for a re­lax­ing feel’

best op­tion. I’m a big fan of the sub­tle tones of Farrow & Ball’s Sky­light and the flex­i­bil­ity that Shaded White of­fers, and al­though Sky­light was too dark to be used in the kitchen in this in­stance, be­cause of the room’s smaller windows, it was well suited for other parts of the house.

I also had fun creat­ing fea­ture walls us­ing state­ment wall­pa­per, play­ing on the fact that it’s a former fish­er­man’s cot­tage. I sourced some fab­u­lous map mo­tif prints for the kitchen, while li­brary wall­pa­per in the liv­ing room adds depth to the scheme.

When it came to the fur­nish­ings and de­tails, I sup­pose I would de­scribe my style as hav­ing a slightly nau­ti­cal feel with a soft Scan­di­na­vian un­der­cur­rent. For­tu­nately, be­cause my pre­vi­ous homes have been close to the coast, most of the fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories I’ve col­lected over the years share a sea­side pal­ette of neu­trals, pale blues and soft greys. The re­sult is that they’ve all trans­ferred very easily from one

house to the next, and I’ve only added a few things here and there along the way.

Rest­ful re­treat

Now I’ve had a chance to live in the house, there’s noth­ing I’d re­ally want to change, al­though an in­te­grated sound sys­tem would have been a lux­ury! At some stage, it would be good to fit wooden shut­ters, too, but these are things I can do as and when I have the time and bud­get.

The cot­tage is such a re­lax­ing space now, and what could be bet­ter than be­ing able to watch the ships as they sail down Belfast Lough. It’s al­ways a treat to come home and I feel like I’m on a con­stant hol­i­day.’

colour code

‘Soft mole and grey shades con­trast well against the neu­tral back­drop’

Pais­ley Print ‘the pretty ra­japur wall­pa­per is from the cole & son range at alan espey In­te­ri­ors’

take A seat ‘It’s tricky to find fur­ni­ture to fit un­der slanted ceil­ings, but this eamesstyle chair is ideal’

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