When Claire Mcfadyen and husband Jamie found a neglected country cottage, they knew they could bring it to life and make sure it had a happy ending
Claire and Jamie Mcfadyen have transformed a neglected Victorian country cottage into the perfect fairy-tale home
Claire Mcfadyen and her husband Jamie weren’t looking to move to a cottage in the country, but a chance find by her father got them thinking, and they decided that it couldn’t be missed. ‘We were living not far away in a place that was all finished so we were very settled,’ Claire recalls. ‘But my father found this house and emailed me the details saying it was a real belter. As I looked round it, I just kept thinking it was like a fairy-tale cottage from a story book, and I could see that with a bit of work it could be magical. We also do like a project, which helps.’ Before long, Claire and Jamie were the new owners of this former worker’s cottage next to the old hunting dog kennels of a country estate. The house was suffering from damp and decay, and was not habitable, so for the first four months the family lived with Claire’s parents while the initial renovations were taking place.
‘When we started, like most people we had a small budget,’ says Claire. ‘And then the first quote came back – just repointing the chimneys took up almost the whole budget. We realised then that we had to take on more of the work ourselves.’ Luckily, Claire’s husband Jamie was very hands on and did a lot of the labour, but for some tasks they also employed individual specialists and DIY helpers, who could do the renovations for a more reasonable fee. ‘Still, I don’t think Jamie slept for the first four months after we bought the house, juggling his work and our renovation commitments.’
Work began in January 2017, starting with the chimney breasts. All the old loose brickwork needed to be pulled out in the main bedroom in order to fit a super-king-size bed into the room, and the remaining chimneys were then repointed. Next came the rewiring, replumbing and replastering.
‘We had a couple of near disasters in those first few weeks,’ recalls Claire. ‘We weren’t expecting the boiler to break down the day after we bought the house and a heavy snowfall meant the electrician was snowed in!’ Fortunately, this all happened in the early stages of the renovation so the couple didn’t have to redo any of the work.
Once the major refurbishments were completed, Claire could start getting creative and think about the décor. ‘I didn’t want the house to feel gloomy, which is a danger with a house of this style and proportions, so I chose the same light, neutral colours throughout to keep the look cohesive,’ she says. Claire describes her home style as ‘rustic country’, and the soft-white paint shades act as the perfect backdrop for her furniture and fittings. ‘I have lots of vintage pieces, which could be termed as antiques, but they don’t feel too old-fashioned,’ she adds. ‘As time’s gone on I’ve become more confident in how I mix these interior pieces with different styles and colours. For instance, I wanted the girls’ playroom to be snug and cosy, so I chose a darker colour as a contrast and repeated it in the conservatory dining space to counter all the glass.’
At Christmastime, Claire’s style and creativity with this mix of pale and natural elements come into their own. ‘There are a lot of things I keep up all year round, including fairy lights and foliage, just adding in seasonal ornaments, dried flowers and glass decorations,’ says Claire. ‘It’s an easy style that is very cosy and inviting, which is lucky as this house is always quite a sociable one.’
Claire says it was interesting working on the house with her husband, as even during the most labour-intensive stages of the renovations they discovered they had similar ideas and agreed on most of the style decisions for their home. ‘We have more house plans afoot, including a kitchen extension with an open-plan dining area and a view to the fields,’ says Claire. ‘It looks as though the next chapter in our home renovation is going to be another busy but creative one.’