‘a Huge project didn’t faze me’
Jillian, 36, saw beyond her old property’s disrepair and transformed it into a stylish seaside cottage
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.
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.’
‘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’