Owner Rosie Foster (above) owns the house. When she and husband Simon are not using the cottage themselves, Apifera is available as a holiday let (uniquehomestays.com).
Property A quarry worker’s cottage, originally built in the 1600s. The cottage overlooks the Wye Valley in Herefordshire. It was adapted in the 1800s and was extended more recently by the previous owners.
What she did Removed all the dry lining and plastic sheets from the walls and repaired them using lime and traditional building methods. Replaced modern kitchen tiles with reclaimed quarry tiles and used salvaged roof boards to create a hayloft above the kitchen-diner.
Plain and simple, its interiors capturing the essence of humble 1930s and 40s style: this was what Rosie Foster had in mind as she started renovating her small rural cottage. It soon became clear, however, that the project would be anything but simple and Rosie had to rethink her plans for the interiors once she realised the scale of the work ahead.
She had never intended to take on such a huge renovation. ‘When I told my husband I was going to look at this cottage he said: “you’re totally mad” and he was totally right in hindsight!’ says Rosie. ‘But as soon as we came up the track I just fell in love with the cottage.'
Read on to find out how this restoration developed into something far more complicated, as Rosie and her builder uncovered structural problems that required urgent attention. Then browse all our real home transformations. For more information about how to renovate a house, see our expert guide.
In an idyllic setting with its own grapevines and cider orchard, surrounded by almost seven acres of common land overlooking the River Wye, it is one of 30 or so quarrymen’s cottages dotted across the hill. The cottage appealed not only because of the glorious scenery, but also because it seemed untouched by the modern world. 'It was perfect – or so we thought,' says Rosie.
‘All but one of the other cottages on the hill are surrounded by extensions, but this one hadn’t been tampered with too much,’ says Rosie. The house was altered by its Victorian owner in the 1800s, when the flagstones were replaced with floorboards and a smart stone fireplace replaced the rough-hewn chimney opening and bread oven. Partition walls were added upstairs and downstairs, so the modest one-up one-down dwelling went up in the world.
Subsequent owners incorporated the adjacent barn to create a kitchen and had dry-lined the walls in an effort to make the cottage warmer; this had caused a lot of damp. ‘I knew there was something wrong,’ says Rosie. ‘The bathroom wall was damp and badly bowing into the room.’
Rosie was keen to get the kitchen up to scratch, but the structural engineer had said the ceiling joists were not suitable for weight bearing. ‘We decided to remove and replace them with the correct load-bearing joists before replacing the ceiling,’ says Rosie. ‘We could then come back to the room above the kitchen at a later date.’
Work started with the help of local builder Anthony Feakins and the ceiling was removed. It soon became apparent that all was not well. ‘The truss was balancing on a single stone set in the wall, the roof wasn’t attached to the truss, and the weight of the roof was causing the walls to bow,’ recalls Rosie. ‘A lot of the mortar within the old walls had long been washed away. It was our worst nightmare. We couldn’t sell it in this semi-derelict state, the only way was to forge ahead.’
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A less courageous renovator might have crumbled – along with the walls – but Rosie, putting a characteristically positive spin on the challenge, decided it would bring the kitchen closer to its original use as a barn.
‘We pulled off what remained of the old plaster and got to the plastic lining,’ she adds. ‘It was so depressing, everything was sopping wet and water was streaming down the walls. It really was my lowest point.’
Luckily builder Anthony kept things on track, telling Rosie that it was a limestone cottage and that lime needs to breathe.
‘He told me we had to get rid of the plastic lining, so we took it off, and went home,’ says Rosie. ‘The next morning we got up there really early, and it was as dry as a bone. It had completely dried out in just one night.’
From that moment on, the renovation became all about putting the cottage back in touch with its humble beginnings. Using natural and traditional materials – lime mortar and clay paints, reclaimed tiles and timber – and secondhand and antique furnishings, Rosie transformed the cottage into the calm space it is now.
Her thoughts of post-war interiors with spriggy floral fabrics changed to reflect the more rustic look of the kitchen, and she opted instead for a traditional Welsh cottage look.
Rosie’s husband Simon and their son Max pitched in to help, cleaning all the old quarry tiles and lime rendering the interior walls. Rosie scoured the local area sourcing materials for the build and cleaned and sanded old roofing boards one by one.
The additional building work on the kitchen and walls took care of Rosie’s budget, so by necessity the finishing touches have an element of make-do-and-mend. Bookcases were fashioned from an old door and some scaffolding planks, antique tray cloths became curtains, and the bath that had been removed because Rosie thought it looked ‘a bit tatty’ had to be put back in again, with taps donated by friends.
It took Rosie just one year to complete the renovations. A relentless year of shifting rubble, working through clouds of dust and piles of salvaged timber. ‘It took over our lives, every weekend, every single day,’ recalls Rosie. ‘We didn’t see anyone or do anything. We had to get it finished, we had to get it up and running.’
Yet despite all the hardships, the results are quiet and harmonious, with no hint of the traumas Rosie and her cottage have endured along the way.
‘It was full on but it was a joy. I’ve loved seeing it all coming together from that awful disaster moment, when water was pouring down the walls,’ says Rosie. ‘Suddenly it all worked, it was extraordinary. As soon as we took down the ceiling and took out the plastic and breeze blocks the whole place took on a different feel. It’s as if the house was saying “thank you, I can breathe again”. And I’d do it all again in a flash if I could.’
Photographs David Curran for Unique Home Stays