Are you a first time buyer looking to renovate a period home on a budget? Discover how Katie and Lee Anderson turned a run down cottage into a stylish, bright home on a shoestring with plenty of DIY, clever budget buys and a spot of upcycling.
Owner: Katie Thompson, a marketing assistant, and her partner Lee Anderson, a plasterer
Property: A 19th-century, two-bedroom cottage set in a historic Nottinghamshire village
Essential repairs: The ceilings on the first floor were removed, leaving the rooms open to the rafters. The entire property was insulated, re-plumbed and rewired before a new kitchen and bathroom were fitted
Today, living at home has become the norm for the average 24 year old, scrimping and saving to one day realise the elusive dream of buying their first home, but Katie and Lee aren’t your average 24-year-old couple.
Not only have they managed to do something they doubted would ever be possible – afford a period home in their dream location – they accomplished something seasoned renovators twice their age would be proud of: they transformed the entire property in just over four months. ‘We knew we wanted a project,’ says Katie. ‘We always said that we didn’t want our first home to feel like somebody else’s house – we wanted to make it our own.’
Together since secondary school, Katie and Lee had dreamt of their first home for some time, but were happy to continue to save and live at their parents’ for the time being, occasionally looking online at what was for sale, but never expecting to find their dream home straight away. However, when browsing in May 2015 they came across a two-bedroom detached cottage in the perfect location that they just couldn’t ignore.
‘We’ve always wanted to live in this village,’ Katie explains. ‘We’ve grown up around here – my family live a mile in one direction, and Lee’s the other, and our friends have started to buy houses in the area, too.’ So taken by the property and its setting, the pair put in an offer within a week and, what’s more, without Katie having even viewed it. ‘We’d planned on saving for longer, but most of the houses here are out of our budget, so when we saw this at an affordable price, we knew we had to have it.
‘It hadn’t been touched since the 1980s, the beams were smothered in thick black paint and the floors were covered in lino,’ recalls Katie. Fortunately, as Lee is a plasterer by trade, and Katie has a natural flair for interior design, the pair were able to see past the dated décor to the generous rooms and sought-after period details, including original fireplaces and characterful oak beams.
‘When we saw the size of the bathroom, we thought we had hit the jackpot,’ says Katie. ‘We always said that if we managed to buy a period property we’d love to have three things: a cream range cooker, a log-burner and a freestanding bath, and this bathroom was large enough to fit one.’ But before the couple could start thinking about fitting their dream pieces, they had plenty of structural work to tackle. ‘We decided to completely overhaul the property and take it back to its shell, because we wanted to make sure we did things properly and got things exactly how we wanted them.’
Aware of the huge challenge that lay ahead, when Katie and Lee finally got the keys in August 2015 they wasted no time in getting started. ‘That evening our friends came round for a celebratory drink and then we all began ripping out the kitchen,’ Katie recalls. ‘The goal was to be in by Christmas; our friends said we’d never do it, and we nearly didn’t!’With plenty of experience and contacts in the building trade, along with two brothers who had recently completed renovations on hand for advice, Lee felt confident to carry out most of the jobs himself.
‘I work on old buildings all the time, so I knew the problems to look out for,’ he says. ‘The biggest challenge was removing the first-floor ceilings. We needed to take out all the boards and joists and fit new beams, then I had to cut lots of holes in the felt roof membrane to allow the roof to breathe before insulating,’ he explains. ‘It was a bit risky because some had warned it could cause the roof to leak.’
Meanwhile, a new staircase was fitted and the external walls were insulated and replastered. In the living room the brick chimney breast was uncovered, but was beyond repair, so Lee rebuilt it using salvaged bricks with help from friends and family. ‘It was handy having a pub over the road,’ says Lee. ‘When people helped us out, we’d take them for a few pints.’
While Lee was crawling over beams, ears pricked for the faintest drip coming from the roof, Katie was busy squeezing under ladders with the tape measure, jotting down all the measurements for buying furniture and thinking about how to decorate.
Working to a tight budget, the couple decided to prioritise their spending, choosing to splurge on high-quality fixtures and fittings needed to stand the test of time, while finding affordable and creative solutions to furnishing. ‘Rather than buy new we knew that we could find pieces in great condition on Ebay and Gumtree,’ says Katie. ‘We were also lucky because the elderly lady that lived here before us had left some lovely antique pieces.’
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As the countdown to Christmas began, Katie and Lee were becoming ever more anxious. At two weeks to go the property was still uninhabitable: with no boiler fitted, no carpet and no furniture, their dream of being in by the big day was fading fast. Finally, the boiler went in ten days before and the carpet went down on the 21st, by which time it was all systems go.
‘The furniture that we’d been accumulating was piled high in our parents’ garage, and as soon as the carpets went down we stayed up until gone 1am moving it all in,’ explains Katie.
That Christmas Eve, rather than heading to the pub to relax after a hard evening’s work before returning to their parents’ homes, as they had done day in day out for months on end, they went for a celebratory drink and walked the few steps back to their new front door and into their cosy new home, lit by the warming glow of the log-burner and the twinkling lights of their very first Christmas tree.