Real home: a thatched cottage with an intriguing past

Chris and Alison Young fell in love with a quintessential English country cottage and have slowly uncovered its hidden secrets

The Story

Owners: Chris and Alison Young, both retired, live here and are often visited by their children and grandchildren

Property: A two-bedroom thatched cottage originally built around 1725 with later additions, set in a small Wiltshire village

What they did: The couple updated the kitchen, added a new bathroom and made essential structural repairs. They have decorated throughout taking care to compliment the style of the property and have created a pretty cottage garden 

Set in a quiet village behind a picket fence and enveloped by garden, Chris and Alison’s thatched cottage is at its best on a glorious summer’s day; its front borders brimming with a mix of rose bushes, petunia-filled hanging baskets, fuchsias and hollyhocks bobbing in the breeze. 

Inside, the house has all the ingredients of a rural English cottage: low ceilings with rustic beams, a deep inglenook and flagstone floors, bound with a timeless country charm.

Find out how they transformed the cottage, then browse through more real home transformations and find out how to renovate a house

 Chris and Alison’s cottage has all the chocolate box features of a traditional country thatch  

 'We’re never living in a period property,’ said Chris Young to his wife Alison, after helping to renovate their daughter’s 16th-century home. But when it came to relocating from Cornwall to Wiltshire to be closer to family in 2010, Chris and Alison were charmed by the original features of a 1700s chocolate box thatch, which they have since discovered has far more to it than meets the eye.

At the opposite end of the guest room is a pretty dressing table; for a similar rustic ladder, try Maisons du Monde  

Set in a quiet village behind a picket fence and enveloped by garden, the cottage is at its best on a glorious summer’s day; its front borders brimming with a mix of rose bushes, petunia-filled hanging baskets, fuchsias and hollyhocks bobbing in the breeze. Inside, the house has all the ingredients of a rural English cottage: low ceilings with rustic beams, a deep inglenook and flagstone floors, bound with a timeless country charm. 

 As you enter the cottage you’re welcomed with beautiful original beams. The bureau is from Bressington’s antiques shop in Devizes  

It’s hard to imagine that this cottage originally consisted of just two rooms, an upstairs and a downstairs, cobbled together within a day. ‘We commissioned a historical survey and it found that the cottage had been built using squatter’s rights under Common Law in the 1700s, which declared that if a house could be built within 24 hours, with smoke coming from its chimney, then the builder could claim the land as his own,’ explains Chris. ‘It was a hurriedly constructed timber-frame building with wattle and daub walls – luckily these features are still intact today, so it’s a rare gem.’


The survey also revealed details of the cottage’s piecemeal evolution, including a wing added in the 1800s and the conversion of an adjoining barn into a kitchen in the 1950s. Unlike previous generations, Chris and Alison were determined to limit structural changes to essential maintenance, seeing themselves as custodians tasked with preserving the property’s pretty period features. 

 A traditional kitchen dresser is filled with pretty floral china and old jam jars collected from various flea markets and antiques shops  

Instead the pair have made their mark by refreshing the tired interior and transforming it into a homely, welcoming space, in-keeping with the age of the property. Fascinated by pieces from the past, and keen archaeologists, Chris and Alison enjoy wandering antiques shops and fleamarkets for vintage finds to bring their home to life. ‘We try to only buy things that have a purpose,’ says Alison. ‘We want it to look lived in, not like a museum, but sometimes it’s hard to resist. We’re running out of space, so Chris has set a rule that we can only buy something if it fits in my handbag!’

 Decorated in a timeless country style, the living room occupies the oldest part of the house, which once formed the single downstairs room of the squatters’ cottage  

(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

The pair have also focused their efforts on turning the uninspiring outdoor space into a pretty garden befitting the charm of the house. Step outside and you notice the garden is a continuation of the living space, cleverly zoned by strategically placed plants, fencing and furniture into a series of outdoor rooms. Everywhere you look quirky planters and garden antiques are dotted to create humour and interest. ‘We can’t imagine living anywhere else – it’s perfect. Except we’re even starting to run out of space in the garden now!’

To complement the low ceiling, Chris and Alison opted for a low profile, Howard-style sofa from Sofas & Stuff  

The inglenook originally housed the old range, which was only removed in the 1950s  

 The bed is from Dunelm and Alison upcycled the lampshades using pretty floral ribbon  

In the master bedroom an exposed beam partway through the wall indicates the original roof line of the cottage before it was raised and new windows were installed by later generations.  

In the guest bedroom, floral quilts and cushions from Shepton Mallet fleamarket give a traditional English cottage feel  

Low ceilings and narrow access meant that it was tricky to accommodate big pieces of furniture, so Chris and Alison extended an existing wardrobe and picked up a selection of old leather luggage cases from flea markets, which can be easily stored above the wardrobe and under the bed. 


Chris and Alison have also turned the uninspiring outdoor space into a pretty garden befitting the charm of the house. Step outside and you notice the garden is a continuation of the living space, cleverly zoned by strategically placed plants, fencing and furniture into a series of outdoor rooms. 

Seating has been cleverly placed in the sun traps throughout the garden  

 A rustic cart makes a pretty focal point  

The garden is dotted with vintage finds. Old washtubs make characterful planters and a rusting daybed is a quirky way to display potted plants  

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