After outgrowing their three-bed semi, Leanne and Calum were looking for a fresh challenge and a new home offering character and plenty of renovation potential. When they spotted a run-down 100-year-old cottage on the outskirts of Dyce in Aberdeenshire, they didn’t hesitate to take it.
Inspired? Browse more real home transformations to find out just what's possible. And take the first step towards your own home renovation with our handy guide.
The owners: Leanne Watt, an account manager for an oil firm, her husband Calum, a self-employed floor layer/fitter, sons Innes and Murray, and border terrier Stevie
The property: A three-bedroom former farm workers' cottage near Dyce, Aberdeen
Project cost: £82,500
Aided by an architect friend of Calum’s, they reconfigured the layout and added a single-storey extension that encompassed the full height of the cottage. Now, the family has a country-style cottage inspired by the ski chalets Leanne and Calum lived in when they worked as chalet hosts in France.
‘It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy this house,' says Leanne. 'We viewed it on the Tuesday and put our offer in the next day, which was the closing date. We were both a bit nervous when we got it – we weren’t really expecting to win the bid and weren’t completely ready for a renovation. The cottage had no insulation, was freezing cold and covered in floral brown wallpaper, but we could see its potential. I’d always dreamt of living in an old cottage, so it really was the perfect project for us.'
‘We’d already renovated a one-bedroom flat and a three-bedroom semi before we moved in here, but this project was way beyond anything we’d done before,' explains Calum. 'We split roles down the middle almost immediately. I’m much more hands-on and Leanne’s more into the interiors side of things, so I project-managed while Leanne handled design and finances.'
‘It ended up being a lot more work than we anticipated,' explains Leanne. 'I remember getting the keys on the first day and standing in front of the house, not knowing what at all to do. I fell pregnant part way through and had to take a step back. It was a stressful time, especially moving back in with my parents. It was easier for me – Calum had to live with the in-laws!'
'I was on site most days, overseeing and also building the extension,' says Calum. 'Leanne’s dad painted the rooms, which was a brilliant saving. We took down internal walls, changed the layout, installed a new heating system, new roof and insulation, changed the location of the front door and added an extension. No part of the cottage was untouched once we’d finished with it.'
More from Real Homes
From stunning readers' homes to extension advice and decorating ideas, each issue of Real Homes magazine is packed with inspiration. Get the magazine delivered straight to your door every month with a subscription.
‘Halfway through the project,' says Leanne. 'Calum left me in the lurch as he had the opportunity to go offshore with his work. We’d no roof at the time and it was a rainy summer, so you can imagine what a nightmare it was.
'Later on in the build, we were trying to finish the decorating and other jobs off while looking after Innes. I’d never do it again – the only reward is seeing it once it’s finished!'
Did they alway agree on what they wanted to do? ‘We bickered a little bit about the way we wanted to do things,' explains Calum. 'I wanted modern, dark grey windows, but Leanne wanted more traditional cottage-style ones. I was a bit panicked – I’d pushed for them so much I was worried they’d turn out to be a disaster, but they looked good in the end.'
Leanne laughs, ‘It took us a while to develop our style. Instagram and Pinterest were both great for ideas, and I kept magazine cuttings in a scrapbook. We chose a country cottage feel mixed with a modern rustic look using reclaimed and upcycled materials.
'I’m still playing around with ideas. I’m constantly having a clear-out and moving things around. It drives Calum mad because he can never find anything!'
‘Leanne was more driven than me when it came to interiors. She’s definitely got the best taste. The house would still be half-finished if I’d been in charge. Leanne would show me a picture of a chair she wanted to buy and I’d just be like, “I could just make it.” She always declined, for some reason...' says Calum.
‘We love the space here and the garden is huge. Summer is great – we love hosting barbecues on the decking outside, and the bench Calum made using pallets is the ideal spot to sit and enjoy a drink by the fire pit,' enthuses Leanne. 'On a bright day, the light streams in and the extension is the perfect place to spend time together. The house is our happy place – we’ve put so much work into renovating it that it really makes us appreciate coming home.’
‘I tried to hide my panic when I realised the size of the job we’d taken on, but Leanne knew,' says Calum. 'One day, we stripped the upstairs out and realised the roof was rotting, so it cost us an extra £15,000 to reslate it. That was definitely a stressful moment. Another time, we took a wall down to find the remains of a huge rat behind it. It was very dead so I wasn’t too squeamish, but Leanne’s face was a picture. She found the whole process stressful, but I’d work on the house constantly if I could. I loved the pressure and I learned so much.’
- Windows and bifolds: Ellon Timber and Express Bi-fold Doors
- Insulation: Encon Insulation
- Kitchen: Howdens
- Bathrooms: Victoria Plum