18th century cottage renovation

Joyce and Harry James have successfully restored a derelict stone property and added a single-storey extension, while carefully preserving all of its charming original character

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Joyce and Harry James, who are originally from Canada, fell in love with Ireland and its relaxed way of life after enjoying many holidays in the beautiful countryside.

‘We loved it so much that we decided to buy a property here,’ Joyce explains. ‘But we wanted something with character and were keen to take on a renovation project.’

The couple started searching the internet, shortlisting properties to view on their trips to and from Canada.

‘We got to know Ireland really well, as we travelled all over to look at places that we thought would suit us,’ says Joyce.

On one trip in 2001 the couple happened to stop at an estate agent’s where they picked up the property details of a former farmworker’s cottage. Impressed by what they saw, they headed off to view it.

Fact file

The owners: Joyce James, a retired marketing executive, and her husband Harry, who is retired from banking

‘As we drove up to the cottage we knew it was exactly what we wanted – we especially loved the breathtaking views,’ says Joyce. ‘That evening, Harry sketched out a plan of how he imagined it could look, even before we had put our offer in.’

It was built as a farmworker’s thatched cottage during the 1770s. After a fire destroyed the thatch roof, a second storey and slate roof were added.

‘It had been lived in until the 1960s, but had been left derelict ever since then,’ says Joyce. ‘It was literally made up of four walls and a roof, with a little pig shed attached to one side of it.’

Despite the size of the project that lay ahead, Joyce and Harry were excited about the build and the prospect of bringing the derelict property back to life.

‘We could see that it had huge potential and couldn’t resist its beautiful, tranquil location,’ says Joyce.

The couple decided to live on site in a caravan and tackle the project in stages. Stage one was the cottage, which had to be renovated completely. Stage two was the pig shed – although it was directly linked to the property, it needed to be incorporated into the main house by knocking through the original cottage to link the two buildings together via the kitchen. The walls of the pig shed needed total refurbishment and a new roof to make it habitable.

Stage three would be a new extension, with every element of the painstaking restoration work carefully considered.

‘We wanted the cottage and its extension to look like it had been there for hundreds of years, so we did a lot of research into the materials that were used traditionally, including limestone,’ says Joyce.

The couple were pleased to discover the Traditional Lime Company in Carlow. ‘They seemed to be the only place that could give us advice on how to use it,’ says Joyce, ‘so we went ahead with the work.’

The builders gutted the cottage, the roof was replaced and so were the original beams which had gone rotten. The floors were dug out to gain more headroom and underfloor heating was installed. All the walls were lime plastered, while tongue-and-groove was used on the inside of some of the external walls with 12-inch insulation for added warmth.

‘We hired a local carpenter to make all the doors and windows, while a family of masons did the stone work,’ says Joyce.

Meanwhile, Joyce and Harry decided to turn the ground floor of the original cottage into an open-plan kitchen and dining space, with the upper floor dedicated to the master bedroom and en suite.

‘As the building work was progressing according to plan, we went back to Canada to arrange the shipping of furniture and our other belongings to Ireland,’ says Joyce.

However, when the couple returned, the cottage still wasn’t finished and they realised they would have nowhere to store anything when their furniture shipment arrived. So their priority was to build a garage mainly for storage.

They hired a local tradesman who came up with a design of poured concrete walls and floors instead of building blocks. The garage shell was completed in only one week, which just left the roof to be added.

‘We wanted a steel charcoal-grey roof, which wouldn’t be in stock for another two weeks, so we decided to wait for it,’ says Joyce. ‘As luck would have it, we received a call five minutes later to say it was in stock!’

Once the main body of the cottage was complete the couple turned their attention to renovating the pig shed.

‘We wanted to incorporate it into the cottage, making it as open-plan as possible, so we decided to knock through the adjoining wall in the shed to the original cottage and create an archway to and from the two spaces,’ Joyce explains.

Work went ahead, with the builders heavily insulating the walls, as before, and adding a pair of double windows and glazed French doors leading out to the pretty garden outside.

The final stage was the new extension, where the couple planned to incorporate a home office, guest bedroom, bathroom, utility room and hallway.

‘We wanted it to look like it was part of the original cottage, so it was important to get the stonework right,’ says Joyce. ‘We had been pleased with the work that the local stonemasons had done in the earlier stages of the renovation project, so we asked them to work on the extension.’

They called in an architect to draw up plans for the new extension and submit them to the local planning authority. The plans featured a timber-frame, two-storey extension to create the extra space needed to link the extension to the cottage.

Harry and a local builder built the timber frame themselves. Once the frame was erected and ready for the stonework, he called in the stonemasons. However, they had taken on another job and wouldn’t be available for another year – that is, until Joyce managed to charm them into fitting in the job somehow.

‘They were brilliant, agreeing to work in the evenings and at the weekends to get the extension completed,’ says Joyce. ‘They did such a good job that I can’t tell where the old cottage ends and the new part begins – we’re so pleased.’

Still keen to create a seamless link between the authentic part of the building and the extension, the couple had a new staircase custom-built to blend in with the original woodwork of the cottage.

Once all the major building work was finished, Joyce eagerly turned her attention to the décor and furnishings, deciding on a pared-back interior scheme.

‘We wanted it to be uncluttered and simply furnished,’ she explains. ‘That’s why we’ve kept the palette as neutral as possible, choosing off-white shades – it really complements the stonework and makes the house feel light and airy.’

Joyce and Harry are thrilled with their new-look cottage.

‘We’re so pleased we didn’t lose any of the charm that this quaint little cottage had to offer,’ Joyce smiles. ‘We can now sit back and enjoy the wonderful Irish countryside views and our beautiful cosy home.’


Labour and building work£120,598
New roof£30,149
Windows and doors£8,614
Decorating and furnishings£4,737
Wood-burning stove£1,292