A renovated cottage

Chris and Sandra Hale saw the potential of turning a 17th-century property and outbuildings into a B&B business, with their own separate living space – and they did much of the work themselves

TODO alt text

During a sabbatical from his high-pressure job, Chris Hales and his wife Sandra started contemplating a change of lifestyle. So when Chris’ company gave him the chance to take early retirement, he decided to make the most of it.

‘We’d already considered taking on a project together that could provide us with an income,’ says Chris. ‘Sandra, who is a retired art teacher, also wanted space to give art classes.’

The couple’s initial plan was to buy and renovate a derelict barn for their bed and breakfast business, which they would fund by selling their fivebedroom home. Luckily for them, Chris’ project management background, combined with his experience of building their previous home, gave them the confidence to tackle most of the renovation work themselves.

Fact file

The owners: Chris and Sandra Hale, who are both retired, run the property as a B&B business. Sandra also gives art classes in the barn

After months of looking for the perfect property, they were thrilled to find the cottage. ‘It was in the most fantastic position, with stunning views across the fields to Arundel Castle, and included a dilapidated barn and outbuildings with outline plans,’ says Chris. ‘The advantage of this property was that we could make the cottage our home and accommodate our B&B guests in the outbuildings.’

However, they were unable to go ahead with the purchase when their solicitor discovered complications in the title deeds. ‘The deeds didn’t include the strip of land in front of the barn, which we would need for access – it was a crucial element if our plan was to work,’ Chris explains.

The deeds were still held by the owner of Arundel Castle, the Duke of Norfolk, so Chris contacted the duchy estate. After 18 months of lengthy negotiations, a deal was struck.

‘We then exchanged contracts, including separate titles for the barn and outbuildings, the grass verge and driveway and two separate titles for the cottage, which originally had been two cottages,’ says Sandra.

The next major issue was getting planning permission from the local authority. Although they had bought the cottage, barn and cow sheds with outline planning permission, the Hales’ own requirements were different as they also planned to add a separate self-contained cottage for Sandra’s mother as well as a new garage.

The couple planned everything carefully, devoting plenty of time to their project. ‘This is where my training in project management came to the fore,’ Chris explains. ‘I concentrated on the big picture, envisaging what the final build would look like and how it would work; then I planned back from there.’

They broke the project down into six stages, starting with the cottage, which meant they could move out of their rented accommodation. Chris also thought it would be a good idea to meet with the planning office in the early build stages.

‘We weren’t just dealing with a listed building – the cottage is in a conservation area of outstanding natural beauty,’ he explains. ‘We told the planning office that we hoped to open a B&B business and they were very co-operative with our plans to develop the outbuildings.

Chris and Sandra’s son, who is an architect with a local firm, also helped by producing the drawings to meet local authority requirements. However, the couple still hit some problem areas.

‘As the cottage is Grade II listed, we weren’t allowed to extend or add a conservatory to increase the narrow sitting room. Plus, the proposed garage was considered too large for the size of the cottage,’ says Chris.

Work went ahead though, with the couple aiming to keep costs down by doing much of the work themselves. ‘It helped that I’d trained as an electrician – and as Sandra and I had built our previous home, we were not daunted by the project,’ says Chris.

While waiting for planning approval, they stripped the cottage and discovered a seriously undulating floor when the carpets were pulled up. The dining room floor level was at least 7cm higher in the corner than by the fireplace.

‘We think a washroom or toilet was once there,’ says Chris. ‘We removed a small wall and chopped away the high spots of the floor, so a screed could be laid to level the area, but we called in the experts for this stage. It was important that the floor was level.’

Next, Chris realised that the glass fibre roof insulation would have to be replaced. ‘It was filthy and infested with mice,’ he says. ‘Once we’d cleaned it out, we blocked up all the holes and re-lined the roof cavity with expanding spray foam.’

They then turned their attention to removing the plasterboard on the ceiling, which exposed the beautiful timber beams. They used a shot blaster with a mobile rig to clean the timber throughout the house, then stripped the Artex from the walls with wallpaper steam strippers.

‘It was really thick, but it was good to strip off the old textured finish and reveal a smooth surface,’ says Chris. They were not prepared for the mess from the shot blaster though. ‘The entire ground floor was covered in thick, heavy sand,’ laughs Sandra. ‘But it was worth it – the bricks returned to their natural rich red colour, the old oak beams became a dark chocolate colour and the newer oak fittings, like the staircase and doors, went back to their original state with a grainy texture.’

New plasterboard was fitted between the beams, which were then masked ready for decorating, and the walls were given a light skim with Easy Fill plaster before being treated with a surface sealant and then painted.

Chris created an en suite by building a timber partition clad with plasterboard. He hoped to re-use the existing drainage for the new en suite, but he was surprised to discover that the shower drain passed through the lounge before entering the front garden, where it discharged into a well. He solved it by installing a new drain from the first floor en suite and running it 12m to the manhole in the garden.

Next, the Hales employed a local carpenter to help install two new dormer windows at the rear of the cottage. ‘We literally had to hack through the thatch to prepare the roof timbers for the dormers before building the framework and putting in the windows,’ says Chris.

After lining the area with felt and battens to make the cottage watertight, the thatcher had to re-work part of their roofing. ‘That cost more than a straightforward repair,’ says Chris.

The couple also removed a large section of wall using two old oak beams they found as supports to allow light in through the new windows.

The couple had decided on an open-plan dining and kitchen area with a traditional handmade kitchen. ‘But when we saw the quotes for a bespoke kitchen, we did it ourselves with standard units fitted with bespoke doors,’ says Sandra. ‘We used the same cabinetry and floor tiles in the dining room, so the space flows together.

‘With the structural work complete, they went on to finish the work in the sitting room. ‘We chose solid oak for the flooring,’ says Chris. ‘The surface of the timber was already treated with lacquer to make it hardwearing; and after insulating with moisture-resistant flooring laid over a plastic membrane, each floorboard was nailed in place. We finished the look with 15cm of varnished oak skirting.’

It took two years to complete their project. ‘We’ve achieved everything we set out to do,’ says Sandra. ‘The guest cottages are very comfortable and each one has its own outdoor area. The barn provides lots of light for my art classes – and it’s a great place for parties.’

Sandra and Chris are looking forward to a family Christmas in the cottage. ‘I particularly love the house at this time of year with all the pretty lights and candles – it looks so magical,’ says Sandra. ‘We dress the rooms in a traditional style with lots of trimmings and always hang our stockings over the inglenook on Christmas Eve.’


Building work, inc. flooring and materials£57,162
External work£4,495
Plumbing and heating£750