Real home: be inspired by this beautiful Grade II-listed Welsh longhouse

Christine and Neville Brown’s cottage in Wales has a long and fascinating history that has shaped the character of their unusual period home

beamed ceiling with cottage and a stove and sofa
(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Novelist George Orwell, actor Cary Grant and the writer and journalist Arthur Koestler have all left their mark on the picturesque white-washed cottage near Portmeirion that is now owned by Christine and Neville Brown. 

Their Grade II-listed Welsh longhouse, with its quirky minstrels’ gallery, barrelled ceiling and reclaimed wooden prison door, harbours an extraordinary and varied history that makes it unique.

Inspired to tackle your own project? We have masses of ideas and helpful advice on what to do and where to start in our feature on house renovation. For more real home transformations, head to our hub page.

welsh cottage with cottage style garden

The pretty Welsh longhouse is tucked away down a quiet lane in the Vale of Ffestiniog and has changed very little since it was built in the 17th century. Neville and Christine whitewashed the outside walls and painted the sash windows in Farrow & Ball’s Vert De Terre

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Owners  Neville and Christine Brown live here. The couple used to run a number
of shops and restaurants in Harlech, but have both now retired

Property  A Grade II-listed, 17th-century longhouse in the Vale of Ffestiniog, near Portmeirion in Wales. The property was originally built as a farmhouse and has
five bedrooms and two kitchens 

What they did  Neville and Christine bought the house in 1994 and rewired it, updated the plumbing and redecorated so that a friend could live there. They eventually moved in themselves and made further decorative updates while preserving all the original features. 

‘It was built in the 17th century as a farmhouse that included a dairy, cow shed and pigsty,’ says Neville. ‘It was the last farm in the country to use a dog wheel for churning butter.’

In the 1940s the Welsh longhouse was bought by a manager of the Portmeirion estate, Jim Wylie, who was working alongside architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, designer and builder of the famous Italian-style village. 

Wylie often invited film stars – including Cary Grant - to visit the cottage while they were staying at the Portmeirion Hotel. It is believed that Williams-Ellis’ influences extended into the cottage, where he sourced a very substantial front door believed to have come from a castle, fitted an internal door from Liverpool jail and painted the barrel ceiling bright blue with a scattering of stars.

The property was later occupied by Hungarian philosopher Arthur Koestler, whose guests included George Orwell.

pink painted kitchen diner with blue aga in a cottage

The elegant barrel ceiling creates a sense of space in the kitchen, where a double-oven Aga is tucked into the ancient fireplace. Original quarry tiles on the floor are a reminder of the cottage’s farming history. The table came from their daughter’s shop, Llew Glas Interiors, and the chairs came from one of Christine and Neville’s restaurants.

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

By the time Christine and Neville bought the property in 1994, however, it was looking rather sorry for itself. It had been left to a dogs’ home and no-one had lived in it for some time. ‘It was very dank and gloomy,’ recalls Neville. ‘Whoever lived there last had a very odd taste in decor – including wrapping paper pasted round the sides of the bath.’

kitchen painted pink with dark blue aga and beam mantlepiece

The artwork over the Aga is by the late Peter Shaw, a Derbyshire artist

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

At that time Christine and Neville were working flat out, running a number of shops and restaurants they owned in Harlech. They spent a month having the house put to rights – rewiring, replumbing and decorating – so a friend could live there until they were finally able to move to the cottage themselves in 2003.

cottage living room with beamed ceiling and sofa

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

‘We moved when we sold our business and retired,’ says Neville. ‘We love the location. It’s such a peaceful place to live and such a contrast to the hectic nature of our working lives.’

wooden chair by the fireplace

The beautifully carved chest was the first thing Christine and Neville bought together when they married. Most of the furniture in the cottage is freestanding to preserve the original features and idiosyncrasies of the period property

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Their lifelong friend Ken also moved with them into the five-bedroom cottage. ‘We often joke that he came to dinner 44 years ago and never left,’ says Neville. ‘We have lots of space – including two bathrooms, two shower rooms and two kitchens - and it works well for the three of us. We wanted to retain all the original features so we didn’t make any major structural changes, but we did update the décor to make the rooms lighter and warmer.’ 

cottage with sofa and stove and beamed ceiling

The double height of the second sitting room allows for a minstrels’ gallery over the fireplace; Neville says the Esse oil-fired stove is realistic and saves a lot of work. The armchair, covered in Emperor’s Robe fabric, was a gift. The wall is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Book Room Red

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Original features include the wonky old ceiling trusses, stone flagged and slate floors, low uneven doors, wood panelling and heavy oak beams over the fireplaces.‘We treated the beams for woodworm as a precautionary measure,’ says Neville. 

bedroom in a cottage with wooden beams

No two lines are parallel in this 17th-century Welsh longhouse and the beams crisscrossing the main bedroom ceiling highlight the property’s charming quirkiness. 

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

They also gained permission to build a conservatory, converted an outbuilding into a guest suite and whitewashed the exterior stone walls before painting all the window frames.

bedroom in a welsh cottage with beamed ceiling

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Although they brought furniture from their previous home, Christine and Neville have also acquired many more antiques to create the informal, layered look of the cottage. Large, colourful rugs brighten most rooms, along with ceramics and paintings that they have collected over the years. 

wooden doors open towards bathroom

The en-suite bath is from B&Q, with panelling painted in Farrow & Ball’s Parma Gray. Scapa vinyl from Carpetright is a similar floor 

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

The cottage has double-height rooms on either side of the hall, which is used as a sitting area, creating plenty of wall space for tapestries and pictures. There is also a large dining kitchen where the barrel ceiling generates a sense of space over the Aga. 

cottage garden

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

‘We have to think quite large scale in this house because some of the rooms are very spacious,’ says Neville. ‘That’s why we bought the lovely Welsh dresser for the kitchen – although we had to virtually take it apart to get it through the doors.’

wooden front doors on a welsh cottage

The couple have reason to believe the front door originated in a castle, one of the many unique features in this historic home

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

They are fortunate to have an ideal go-to place for many of their treasured items of furniture. ‘Our daughter runs a shop in Harlech called Llew Glas Interiors and we buy quite a bit from there, but we also go to auctions and salerooms,’ says Neville. ‘It’s quite an eclectic mix. We’ve had some of the sofas for decades and every so often we have them re-covered. We tend to buy furniture that will last and that has character and provenance.’

timber windows in a cottage

Christine has a huge collection of garden pots and moves them around to ensure there’s always a good display

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Christine is a keen gardener and has been instrumental in transforming the large garden into a series of outdoor ‘rooms’, including a rectangular pond flanked by seating and evergreen borders, a sheltered place for eating alfresco and sitting areas in the full sun to the front of the house.

For lovely cottage garden ideas you can look to our feature.

cottage garden with a bench and pool

Christine has transformed the large plot into a series of outdoor ‘rooms’, with something to catch the eye in every season, including this sizeable pond and fountain. For a similar wooden Lutyens-style bench, try Sloane & Sons 

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

‘The house and garden are constantly evolving in small, subtle ways,’ says Neville. ‘It’s a very comfortable place – cosy in winter around a roaring fire but beautiful outside when we are soaking up the sun in the middle of summer. It’s wonderful here, but we are very aware that we’re just passing through so we feel it’s our duty to look after it.’ 

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