Real home: a pretty thatched house in Devon gets an update

This charming home on the edge of an unspoilt village won over Alison and Steve Chipperfield, even though they had vowed never to buy another thatched property

thatched home in summer
(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

Pretty as it is, this country home was neither the right size nor the right type for Alison and Steve Chipperfield, who were looking for a rural property in Devon. For a start it was thatched, and having lived in a thatched cottage for many years previously, they were all too aware of what owning one entailed. ‘They are quite expensive to run,’ says Alison, ‘and rethatching is a big job.’ Besides, the house was smaller than they would have liked and with six grown-up sons between them, they wondered how they would accommodate everyone. 

However, located on the edge of an estate-owned village near Honiton in Devon, the property had so much else in its favour, as Alison explains. ‘We used to come to the village quite a bit because we liked the pub, The Drewe Arms. The village is beautifully kept and unspoilt, with no streetlights, no pavements, no signs - it’s just as it was years ago.’ 

Read on to find out how Alison and Steve went about updating their home and making their mark on it, without compromising its many original features, then browse the rest of our real home transformations. Don't miss our guide on how to buy an old house.  

dining space in 17th century thatched cottage

At the heart of the 17th-century house, the dining room is light and bright in summer with doors onto the garden, while in winter the Arada Ecoburn Plus stove comes into its own 

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

Owners  Alison and Steve Chipperfield live here with their Jack Russell cross Norah. Alison and Steve are retired but are involved with the Whirlwind Charitable Trust, which works with disadvantaged and disabled young people. The couple have six grown-up sons.
Property   A Grade II-listed, three-bedroom house built in around 1650 on the edge of an estate-owned village, five miles from Honiton in Devon.
What they did Rethatched the roof, updated the kitchen and bathrooms, decorated throughout, and redesigned and replanted the garden.

‘We loved the house from the start. We liked the idea of not being in the village, but being close enough to walk to the pub, and we’re surrounded by fields and farmland,’ says Alison. ‘There are a few other little thatched cottages around us, so it doesn’t feel isolated.’ 

Another selling point for the Chipperfields was the beautiful garden - about three acres of it - divided up into smaller garden rooms. There’s also a paddock, vegetable patch, outbuildings, and even a swimming pool and the remains of an old quarry set within a natural cliff.

17th century thatched cottage

Alison and Steve brought the antique table and chairs back from France in their car. The rug is from Tribal Gatherings in Exmouth

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

The big barn proved the deciding factor, though. It had been converted into living accommodation by the previous owners and provided the extra space the Chipperfields needed when all the family come to stay. With that resolved, Alison and Steve bought their new home. 

windsor chair and beams in 17th century thatched cottage

This classic spindleback chair came from Alison’s son’s company, Alexander Tcharny Antiques in Fulham. The curtains are from Laura Ashley

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

The main structure was in good shape, although sadly a fire 15 years ago had destroyed the original oak floors. The décor wasn’t to their liking, but since Alison loves painting this wasn’t a problem. 

open plan kitchen diner in 17th century thatched cottage

The kitchen is in the Victorian part of the house, and you can see the thickness of the original outside walls in the opening between the two rooms. Here, Alison and Steve kept the quarry tiles. 

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

‘Steve does the DIY,’ she explains, ‘and I do all the decorating because I’m always changing it; sometimes just because I want a new look, but also because we like buying pictures and paintings, so we’re always moving things around.’ 

kitchen extension in 17th century thatched cottage

A local joiner made new kitchen cabinets but but the couple kept some of the old cupboards, too, giving them a fresh coat of paint. The existing wooden worktops were sanded down and reoiled. The hob and oven are from Zanussi. Ian Mankin does a similar striped fabric to that used for the blind

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

These are the finishing touches, though, and first there were bigger tasks to complete. The couple had the roof rethatched, and refreshed the kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen is housed in a Victorian addition to the original house and is open plan to the dining room. 

living room in 17th century thatched cottage

Next to the dining room is the snug. Alison swaps the Ikea sofa covers for red ones in the winter, but is on the lookout for a pair of vintage French sofas. Alison also plans to paint the snug walls green

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

Where the two spaces join you can see the thickness of the original outside walls. Alison and Steve enlisted a local joiner to make new kitchen cabinets but retained some of the old cupboards, too, giving them a fresh coat of paint. It seemed a shame to replace the perfectly good wooden worktops, so these were sanded down and reoiled.

living room in 17th century thatched cottage

Alison and Steve’s home is just ten miles from the sea and is full of paintings and models of boats. Steve used to work in marketing for super yachts and loves sailing. The oriental table lamp is from Alexander Tcharny Antiques. Chandni Chowk sells similar kilim rugs

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

Bearing in mind the open view from the kitchen, Alison wanted to make sure the dining room furniture was just right. She found the perfect table and chairs in an antiques shop in France and piled them into the back of the car for a cramped return journey. ‘We often buy things from brocantes and fleamarkets in France,’ says Alison. ‘I’ve picked up all sorts – furniture, paintings, old linen and antique light fittings.’ 

conservatory in 17th century thatched cottage

The previous owners added this oak-frame conservatory about 10 years ago. Steve made the coffee table from reclaimed wood, and Alison’s furniture-maker son Ben Tcharny designed and made the wooden chairs

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

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(Image credit: Period Living)

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Alison’s finds are often the perfect pieces to complete a room or give it a new look, and a good excuse to get the paintbrushes out. Next on Alison’s antiques shopping list is some furniture for the snug. ‘I’m always looking for nice French sofas, but I haven’t found the right ones yet,’ she adds. 

In the meantime, Alison plans to repaint the snug walls in a soft shade of green.

There are plenty of tasks to keep Alison busy in the garden, too. ‘I’ve gradually replanted the garden alongside working on the house. I’ve put in dozens of roses and I’ve restocked the flower borders so there’s something to enjoy all year round,’ she says. 

The couple also took out the swimming pool, which was beyond repair, and transformed the old quarry into a sheltered seating area. 

landing in 17th century thatched cottage

On the upstairs landing is a marriage chest bought at Pilgrim Antiques. The model boat is from Alexander Tcharny Antiques. For a similar striking red paint, try Designers Guild’s Strawberry Jam

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

Sitting in the evening sunshine, Alison and Steve admire the view across the fields towards the village, and look back at the thatched house they hadn’t originally intended to buy. 

sleigh bed in 17th century thatched cottage

Tucked under the eaves is the master bedroom, with an antique sleigh bed dressed in John Lewis bedding and a cushion from Biggie Best. The mirror is from McBain’s Antiques in Exeter 

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

‘We love it here, we love the garden and the village. It’s a very sociable community here, and a really good lifestyle,’ says Alison. ‘We don’t regret buying the house – even with its thatch.’

period bedroom in 17th century thatched cottage

The guest room is simply furnished with a bed from Potburys, and an old pine chest bought at an auction in Cornwall. The trunk is a family antique

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)

roses over doorway in 17th century thatched cottage

Two climbing roses meet over the potting shed
David Austin’s Cécile Brunner is a similar pink

(Image credit: Bruce Hemming)


Karen Darlow
After a brief foray into music journalism, fashion and beauty, Karen found herself right at home working on interior magazines with her role on Ideal Home magazine. She is now Homes Editor on Period Living magazine and loves the opportunity the job gives her to see how others mix vintage style and modern furnishings in their beautiful properties.