A DIY renovation

Clare and Russell Cottle took a hands-on approach to creating their dream home and used their DIY skills to save money on the renovation

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Clare and Russell Cottle’s detached property was in a time warp when they bought it 11 years ago, as it had not been updated much since it was built in 1978.

However, it was in a pretty village and had well-proportioned rooms, so the house offered great potential for the couple to achieve a welcoming family home.

Clare recalls. ‘Anything was better than our arrangements at the time as we were living in a one-bedroom flat in Glasgow. Russell’s job as an airline pilot meant he was based in London and was only able to come home a couple of nights a week.

‘I was expecting our first child, and had to give up my job as an air hostess as I was unable to fly. I wanted to settle down and find a home that would grow with us and our family, and as Russell was away a lot I needed somewhere that wasn’t too far from my family.’

Fact file

The owners: Clare Cottle lives here with her husband Russell, an airline pilot, and their children Kate, 10, and Euan, eight

The property: A four-bedroom detached house built in 1978

The location: Killearn, Stirlingshire, Scotland

What they spent: The couple bought the property in 2002 for £275,000 and have spent around £25,000 on renovation work. The house has recently been valued at around £450,000


The four-bedroom house they bought in a village 20 miles outside Glasgow nestles at the base of the Campsie Fells. With its good schools and close community, Clare and Russell felt sure that they would be able to settle into the village. ‘It was important that we had a solid base where our children could grow up,’ Russell adds. It was the height of the market, and like many properties at that time, the house was in great demand, with several people competing in a closed bid. Luckily, Clare and Russell’s offer was successful and they moved in with only a few pieces of furniture and three-day-old baby Kate.

The renovation

With an entire house to renovate, Russell reorganised his work schedule to fly long-haul flights, and life took on a regular routine of two weeks away, followed by three weeks at home. With more time on his hands, Russell was able to concentrate on renovating and updating their new home. Keen to cut costs, he decided to tackle the majority of the work himself. ‘I had some experience as I had worked with my property developer brother renovating houses and flats in the past, and my father built our family home when I was a teenager, so I knew I could tackle most of it,’ he says. ‘Occasionally I would ask for help if something was too big for me to do on my own, but it was cheaper and often easier for me to get on with it.’

First on the project list was replacing the inefficient and expensive electric night storage heating system with gas central heating. ‘I installed the pipework and hung all the radiators but hired a plumber to fit the boiler and connect us to the mains gas,’ says Russell.

Due to cost constraints, the couple planned to do one large project every year, fitting in more general jobs in between. The next major job on the list was to take down the wall between the dining room and the kitchen and update the kitchen units. ‘The dining room was always dark as it’s north-facing, so we only used it occasionally,’ explains Clare. ‘By opening up the space, we would have a larger kitchen and bring more light into the dining area.’

With the help of a local builder, Russell removed the dividing wall, inserting an RSJ to support the weight of the rooms above. The kitchen window was also removed and replaced with new windows and double doors leading out to the garden, further increasing the light in the new open-plan space. As there was a drop in level from the house to the garden, making outdoor entertaining problematic, the couple designed decking on stilts to fit just outside the new double doors, which Russell built using decking boards from a nearby DIY store. The old back door was also blocked off and the rear lobby area turned into a new utility room.

‘Luckily that summer was warm, so we cooked a lot of our meals on the barbecue, and if the work was too chaotic we went to my sister’s house nearby for a meal and a break from the noise and dust,’ says Clare.

Modernising the home

Shortly after Euan was born, the Cottles decided to replace all the draughty wooden windows with modern double glazing. ‘We employed a company based in Glasgow to make each window,’ explains Russell. ‘I then removed all the old windows just before they came back to install the new ones.’

Over the years, the couple have worked their way through the property. Other projects have included updating a wrought-iron staircase with an elegant wooden design, replacing the bathrooms, painting the bedrooms and, where necessary, stripping the woodchip wallpaper from the walls and plastering over the Artex on the ceilings.

‘We discovered that it can be easier putting up new plasterboard over old woodchip wallpaper than spending hours stripping an entire wall only to find that it has taken off half the plaster beneath and it needs re-plastering anyway,’ says Russell.

While Russell used his skills to tackle the renovating, Clare drew on her creative flair, taking ideas from magazines and interior stores. Their house is furnished simply and elegantly with furniture from secondhand shops, flea markets and the high street. ‘The living room upstairs is my favourite room, with its amazing views to the hills beyond,’ says Clare. It is hard to believe that this charming space was once the least used room in the house.

The original 1970s fireplace was built of fake brick that ran half the length of the wall and had a small fire that smoked heavily when lit. Russell removed the fake brickwork and re-plastered the wall, before removing the back of the fireplace brick by brick. Using the external chimney’s measurements as a gauge, he rebuilt the fireplace to double the original depth. He then fitted a Victorian insert, grate and mantelpiece, all bought from a local salvage yard.

After 10 years of renovation work, Clare and Russell can appreciate their hard work. ‘We have a few more projects to do, such as building a conservatory,’ says Clare. ‘That can wait, though, as for now we just want to enjoy the house and our children.’

The costs

Building work (in kitchen)£3,600