Real home: explore a quirky thatched cottage brimming with vintage finds

With a passion for the past, the Hadleighs became the custodians of a picturesque 17th-century cottage which they have lovingly restored

thatched cottage exterior
(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Are you passionate about preserving historic homes? Perhaps you are planning your own restoration on a listed building? Read on to hear about the Hadleighs' loving and sensitive restoration of a 17th-century thatched cottage that once faced demolition and the discoveries they made along the way...

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.

We have plenty of information on listed buildings in our guide if you fancy learning more about them, plus in every issue of Period Living magazine we include expert advice on the restoration, care and maintenance of period properties. 

hadleigh thatched cottage daffodils

Once obscured from view by the overgrown garden, the picture-perfect exterior of the 16th-century thatch is the result of the couple’s re-landscaping work. This began by installing new drainage around the front, which flows into a restored well. They created a new lawn and four new flower beds, replaced modern slab paths with reclaimed bricks and lined them with new borders. ‘We love the cottage look so we have planted the paths with daffodils for spring followed by lavender,’ says Denise. The chimneys were extended to meet fire regulations for thatched properties

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Owners  Brian and Denise Hadleigh live here with cocker spaniel Rosie
Property  A Grade II-listed two-bedroom thatched cottage dating back to the 17th century with later additions, set in the New Forest
What they did  Brian and Denise hired skilled craftspeople to restore original brickwork including walls, fireplaces, chimneys and the original well in the garden. They redecorated throughout to preserve and complement the period of the cottage and installed authentic fixtures and fittings. They also re-landscaped the garden, installing extra drainage and creating a kitchen garden

With its picture-perfect façade, daffodil-lined path and manicured lawns, it’s hard to imagine that until recently this adorable chocolate-box cottage could barely be seen behind the tangled undergrowth of a neglected garden. 

Time had taken its toll on the house, too; at one point it was in such a poor state of repair that it was in danger of being demolished before the issue of a Grade II listing saved its fate. Luckily, it later caught the eye of heritage enthusiasts Denise and Brian Hadleigh and couldn’t have fallen into better hands. 

The inglenook fireplace makes a show-stopping focal point in the living room and has been fitted with a Charnwood Island I multi-fuel stove. The brickwork was restored by Neal Cooper and his team, who uncovered the original bread oven in the process.

Walls are painted in Edward Bulmer’s Buff shade, which lets the period features and prized antiques really shine, while the alcove is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Red Earth. Ceilings are in Farrow & Ball’s Clunch and the woodwork in Earthborn’s Donkey Ride. The chairs and grandfather clock are from Martin & Pole Auction House and the curtain fabric is a 1930s Sanderson design that the couple had specially reprinted

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

While some looking to downsize prefer low-maintenance, modern properties, seasoned period property owners and renovators Brian and Denise were fully prepared for the challenges involved with owning an old home. Besides a project, they were looking for three important things: ‘a pantry, wood-burners and a garden large enough to grow our flowers, fruit and veg,’ says Denise.

cottage living room

Stairs lead off the living room to the bedroom's upstairs

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

The couple spotted the 16th-century cottage online and decided to take a look. ‘We thought the ceilings would be too low for Brian and that it would just be a day trip out.’ But as luck would have it they completely fell in love with the property and bought it after their first viewing. 

colourful cottage kitchen with dresser

Cinder Rose by Farrow & Ball beautifully sets off the Hadleighs’ collectibles. The dresser is original to the cottage and the taxidermy is from Martin & Pole Auction House

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

The previous owner had done some renovations,  which included replacing a lean-to with a new kitchen, pantry and bathroom extension, so the property was livable, with  a layout that suited the Hadleighs’ requirements.

freestanding cottage kitchen sink and cooker

In the kitchen freestanding furniture helps to create
a quintessential cottage look. The couple upgraded the cooker to an
Everhot 110i. The carpet is the stair runner from the Hadleighs’ previous home, which is pictured in the paintings on the wall. The vintage-style tulip prismatic glass pendant lamp is from The French House and the spot lights are from Jim Lawrence

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

While no structural work was needed, they soon discovered problems that required urgent attention. ‘We’d lived in enough period properties to know that there’s always more that needs doing than meets the eye,’ says Denise. 

cottage kitchen shelves

Denise had always dreamt of having a walk-in pantry
so it was prerequisite in the house search. She created
a curtain from vintage fabric and is always on the look out for usable vintage tins to add to her collection. Modern light switches were replaced by Bakelite designs from
Bromleighs, right of shot

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Indeed, during their first winter the garden became heavily waterlogged, so land drains needed to be  installed across the front of the property, bringing prized period features back to life in the process. ‘To our delight we uncovered the old well so we had it restored,’ says Brian. ‘The drains and water butts now flow into it and we use it to water the garden.’

Shelves in the kitchen display china, taxidermy and collectibles 

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Inside, the couple discovered damp problems, which they suspected could be rising. Luckily a survey confirmed the cause to be hygroscopic salts, which was not as bad as feared. In order to control it plasterboard added in the past had to be carefully removed from the original walls. 

kitchen table cake detail

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

The couple left the task in the safe hands of master brick layer Neal Cooper of Trowel Craft, who had worked on the likes of Hampton Court and Kensington Palace and lived locally. ‘He did such a magnificent job,’ says Denise. 

cottage kitchen gallery wall

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

‘It’s so important to use experts for specialist renovation work.’ As he was working on repairing the original lime mortar he made the unusual discovery of a mummified rat. ‘From its position it had to have been placed there; expert opinion is that it may have been by superstitious people during the Great Plague,’ says Brian. ‘We returned it with a note for future generations.’

traditional cottage living room yellow sofa

In the ‘Morning Room’ Neal Cooper removed plasterboard from the internal walls to reveal a beautiful old beam and brick structure, and painstakingly repaired the original lime mortar. Experts who have examined the beams as part of a historical survey commissioned by Brian and Denise suggest they are ships timbers, probably from Bucklers Hard around the mid-17th century. The sofa is from Martin & Pole Auction House, as is the painted table top repurposed as pretty wall art. The cushions were made by Denise from embroideries

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Neal’s team also set to work restoring the bricks in the inglenook fireplace. They were covered in bitumen and many had been rendered over with concrete so required replacing. As they worked they found what Denise recognised as a bread oven and this now forms a prized feature. Keen to protect it, the pair contacted English Heritage to update the listing with the find. 

vintage china in cabinet

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Throughout the house the couple have striven to preserve the unique character by uncovering and reinstating period features wherever possible, all the way down to the light switches. White paint was stripped from the floorboards to reveal beautiful pine, authentic radiators and light fittings were restored and replaced, and modern white plastic switches were replaced with traditional Bakelite ones. 

cottage dining room with beams

The original beams make a spectacular feature in the dining room, which is decorated in Edward Bulmer’s Buff. The table, chairs, chaise, carpet and table lustre candelabras are all from Martin & Pole Auction House

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Brian and Denise knew that they had to take care when choosing paint, as many of the modern formulas are not suitable for use on lime plaster. After sampling numerous brands they settled on Edward Bulmer’s Natural Paint as it was breathable but also came in an array of subtle shades, which suited the house as well as the numerous collectibles.

floral roll top bath pink cottage bathroom

The couple made a beautiful statement bath by covering the cast-iron roll-top with floral fabric from John Lewis & Partners. The walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Cinder Rose and Denise made the curtains from fabric found in a charity shop

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

‘We’re not minimalists,’ says Denise. ‘We do like our embroideries and artworks, and these paints made the perfect backdrop.’ For years the pair have been picking up pieces from auctions, antiques centres and fleamarkets. ‘We love their history and the subtle colours.’

vintage cottage bedroom

Bespoke fitted storage makes the most of awkward alcoves in the master bedroom. The antique bed is from Victorian Dreams. Denise handmade the cushions and the vintage-style eiderdown is from Belinda Davies Eiderdowns

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

If not antique, then items are more than likely to be bespoke made, including all the soft furnishings, which Denise made by hand. ‘I don’t like using a sewing machine,’ she says. ‘I find hand stitching much more relaxing.’ That said, it’s not often Brian and Denise relax, as there’s always a project on the go. ‘Our children say we make them tired!’ Brian laughs. His latest project is converting the roof space of the garage into a craft room for Denise.

lean-to greenhouse

The greenhouse was tailored to their needs by Swallow and features an antique plant pot theatre from Martin & Pole Auction House

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

‘We don’t go in with a specific vision,’ reflects Denise. ‘We work with the building; everything has been done slowly as and when we have time and money. This is us now, we’re happy here.’ 

When they’re not busy on the upkeep of the property Denise loves to cook, spending time in her favourite room, the kitchen, making homemade preserves and even her own butter, while Brian likes nothing better than reading a good book by the fire. 

morris minor travellor

The Hadleighs' prized Morris Minor, Molly

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Get the best period home inspiration, ideas and advice straight to your door every month with a subscription to Period Living magazine

More inspiration from Period Living:

Pippa is Style Editor for Period Living magazine and spends many a weekend exploring the Cotswolds for decorating shoot ideas. A collector at heart, she is currently looking for a vintage cabinet to store her favourite wares.