Are you passionate about preserving old homes and saving their stories for the next generation to enjoy?
Let Jane Way's sympathetic restoration of this listed townhouse in Marlborough, complete with beautifully traditional, cosy interiors, inspire you to embark on your own project.
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How many feet have climbed up the three worn steps to the door of this historic home over the centuries? That’s what Jane Way found herself wondering as she approached the timber-frame townhouse for the first time. ‘I’d spent three months hunting for a renovation project, and when I found this solid home I knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for,’ she says.
Owner Jane Way lives here with her Staffordshire bull terrier Maya. Jane runs Old Home Interiors, offering assistance for people restoring or furnishing period properties.
Property A Grade II-listed townhouse in Marlborough, Wiltshire, built in the 1580s or 1590s, with Georgian additions at the back.
What she did Jane restored the whole house.
It was rewired, replumbed and central heating installed. The kitchen was updated, a new bathroom fitted and Jane decorated throughout.
The house appealed to Jane because, although nothing had been looked after properly and it was a bit cobbled together, all the features were there. ‘A lot of old houses you look at nowadays have been “vandalised”,’ she says. ‘But this had all the original hinges and door furniture, the floors were intact under the carpets, and the beautiful beams were there, even though covered in thick black gloss. So I knew it hadn’t been ruined and I could look past all the horrors. You need to be quite brave and imaginative to take on something like this.’
Jane was brave enough not to get a formal survey. ‘I didn’t see the point with a house this age – I got a “walk and talk” survey instead,’ she explains. ‘The surveyor spent about an hour and a half walking round the house taking notes and photographs.’ And his verdict? ‘That it was an extremely sound house for its age. It just needed a lot of TLC,’ adds Jane. In August 2012, when the sale went through, that’s what she started to provide.
Jane enlisted an architect who specialised in listed buildings to advise her how to restore and update the house while at the same time bringing it closer to how it would have originally looked. Working with just one builder, and calling in specialists as required – to remove the gloss from the beams, for instance – Jane tackled the house room by room. It took 10 months for the building work and essentials, then a year to decorate.
‘I could have had the whole thing finished in six months with a team of builders, but working quickly like that it could have been ruined,’ explains Jane. She wanted to make sure that everything was done in a careful, considered way. ‘I called in a roofer first to make sure everything was watertight, the builder then stripped out the central heating, the baths and the kitchen, and the electricians got going.'
‘I moved in after a month and lived in one of the rooms on the top floor, sleeping on an air bed,’ recalls Jane. ‘We left just one cold tap working, and one toilet. The only power point we had was in the cellar, so there were wires trailing up the stairs. It was lethal and very basic, and I had to be keen to do it, but I was on a tight budget and saved a lot of money that way.’
What kept Jane going through all the hardships was her clear vision of how it would look when it was finished. ‘I was brought up in old houses, surrounded by antiques,’ she says. ‘As soon as I walk into a house or a room I can visualise how it should look and all the colours that will work.’
That’s not to say there weren’t a few unexpected twists along the way. The finish for the living room walls didn’t go quite to plan. Jane wanted damask wallpaper above the panelling but that proved too expensive, so she developed her own paint technique. ‘I knew what I wanted, but I just didn’t know how to get there,’ she says. She started by painting it all cream to match the panelling, adding a solid blue layer on top to complement the two French chairs then sponging it off, so the cream came through in a pretty cloud-like effect.
‘I wondered whether to leave it like that, but that wasn’t the picture I had in my head,’ adds Jane. ‘I wanted some bronze to complement the brick floor I’d uncovered, and a slight sheen like damask.’ She applied some copper powder and glaze left over from when she used to restore antique china, then scrubbed the wall with fine wire wool. ‘By happy coincidence this gave me exactly the look I was after, but it took a whole week to do,’ she says. ‘One of the best compliments I’ve had is that it looks like it’s been there for years, which is exactly what I was aiming for.’
Yet, as she starts to think about moving on to her next project and putting the old townhouse up for sale, Jane is the first to admit that this home isn’t ‘perfect’. Some of the floors are uneven, walls bow ever so slightly in places, and one or two paintings are hung on the slant to compensate for a ceiling that would defy a spirit level. But these features are worn by the house like a badge of honour; they are the idiosyncrasies that make up its character, and together with the initials A, WP and the date 1719, roughly carved into the old oak door, and the worn stone steps, are the marks of time celebrated in Jane’s sensitive renovation.