Stone cottage filled with upcycled finds

With some clever upcycling and renovation work, Val and Norman Rennie have transformed an unloved stone cottage into a dream rural getaway

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Couple Val and Norman had a clear idea of the type of country property they were looking for, even if they were undecided on the location.

‘Living in a modern four-bedroom detached house, I’d always dreamt of having a cosy old cottage,’ says Val. ‘We didn’t want anything too big, or with a lot of land that needed maintaining, as we were only going to be there at weekends, but we still wanted a bit of outdoor space. We also wanted a property where we could add our own creative stamp.’

However, with a tight budget and a plan to carry out all the work themselves, the couple were aware that the project had to be achievable. ‘Norman had been in the building industry previously and will pretty much put his hand to anything. When I set him a challenge he doesn’t usually disappoint!’ laughs Val.

After an 18-month search for the perfect location that stretched all the way from Northumberland to Wales, the couple eventually realised that somewhere closer to home was the most practical solution, ideally within an hour-and-a half’s drive so that they could easily manage the project. They also decided to widen their scope in terms of property type. ‘We were initially hunting for two-bedroom properties, but we couldn’t find anything, so we started looking into the option of a one-bedroom home with the potential to upgrade or extend. That’s when we found the current house.’

Val and Norman finally settled on a terraced, two-bedroom stone cottage in a small market town in Weardale, County Durham, on the edge of the North Pennines. ‘We’d never actually heard of it before, but it’s only 50 minutes’ drive away. It’s close to the River Wear and surrounded by woodland, so it’s ideal for walking.’

Having stood empty for two years, the cottage was in a sorry state. ‘The paper was falling off the walls, it was damp and decorated in brown,’ Val recalls. ‘But we didn’t mind, as we could see its potential, and the fact that you couldn’t live in it while the work was being done was not a problem for us.’

Essential repairs

  • False ceilings were removed to reveal a characterful, beamed roof structure
  • Replumbing
  • Rewriring
  • Replastering
  • The stairs were ripped out and relocated to the living area to create a more spacious kitchen
  • The layout was improved to create a larger kitchen, utility and living/dining room on the ground floor, with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs

stone cottage white render exterior country

Val and Norman have since replaced the cottage’s windows with sashes more in keeping with the age of the property

stone cottage traditional white living room with stove

Once damp and dated, the living room is now cosy and welcoming. Both the sofas are from Laura Ashley, as is the Malmaison rug. Val made the curtains from an old Laura Ashley fabric and the couple installed a Dovre 2000 multi-fuel stove in the original inglenook. Above the stove hangs a clock from Achica

stone cottage country kitchen with wooden beams

Val and Norman chose to install engineered boards throughout the space. A traditional Belfast sink adds to the country feel, as do the floral print blind and cushions made by Val from old Laura Ashley fabric

stone cottage country utility room

What was once a downstairs bathroom off the kitchen has been converted into a handy utility room. A curtain made by Val in Vanessa Arbuthnott’s Flora and Fauna fabric adds a pretty touch to the space

stone cottage bedroom with exposed stone wall

stone cottage bedroom storage dark wood wardrobe fireplace

The wardrobe was created using old doors

stone cottage white vintage singer sewer writers desk

Val has painted an old Singer sewing machine table to create a quirky writing desk and teamed it with a garden chair from House of Fraser

stone cottage rustic garden building vintage

The summerhouse makes a lovely space to relax

stone cottage bathroom with red roll top bath

A slipper bath painted in Farrow & Ball’s Incarnadine brings warmth to the bathroom. The console sink and taps were bought on Ebay for just £70

stone cottage dining area in country kitchen

The classic combination of natural wood with cabinetry painted in Farrow & Ball’s Cornforth White gives the kitchen a traditional English country feel. Val rejuvenated an old pub table, still with its metal number disc, by sanding it down and refinishing it with wax.

The kitchen started life as old wooden doors found on Ebay. ‘We bought 13, stripped and painted them, then simply found carcasses to fit,’ says Val. ‘We also found an old dresser top on Ebay, which fitted perfectly into the recess by the window. It was much cheaper than buying wall cabinets and the glass front helps reflect light into the room.’

stone cottage colourful dining area under stairs

A small dining area in the corner of the living room is furnished with chairs painted in Annie Sloan’s Chalk paint and a waxed table. A large mirror from Achica helps create the illusion of space, while Laura Ashley’s Gosford Meadow wallpaper creates a pretty feature wall. 

‘The stairs actually came from a blacksmith’s cottage in Cambridge; we bought them on Ebay and Norman installed them himself.’ The feature is just one of many reclaimed finds in this house, which is a catalogue of upcycling inspiration.