From a distance, the large Victorian house – perched high on a cliff, with peeling paint and ivy growing over the walls – resembled something from a Gothic horror movie when Kirstie and Paul Jackson first viewed it. Its owners had lived there since the 1960s and the building had fallen into disrepair, but the Jacksons were still able to see its potential.
‘When we walked in, the rooms were incredibly light and the views so fantastic that we knew we had to buy it,’ Kirstie explains. ‘Although it seemed we were getting a lot of house for our money, once we started to uncover the extent of the work needed, we realised our budget would be stretched to the limit.’
The seven-bedroom villa backs on to a coastal path and is quarried into the side of a cliff, enjoying elevated views over Ilfracombe towards the sea.
The owners: Kirstie Jackson and her husband Paul, both restaurateurs, live here with their daughter Blue, five, and son Ned, three months
Although the original Victorian fireplaces, sash windows, stained glass and ornate mouldings were mainly intact, the leaking roof eventually brought parts of the ceiling crashing down after Kirstie and Paul moved in. Not surprisingly, the extent of the restoration project forced them to camp out on the top floor while work started on the two floors below.
‘Our immediate priority was to repair the roof, but we also installed a damp-proof course, replastered most of the walls and had the house rewired and replumbed, with a new heating system,’ says Paul.
Soon after they decided to move out completely before work was finished. ‘Kirstie discovered that she was pregnant a month before we moved in, so when our daughter Blue was born we decided to move back to the flat above our restaurant in Woolacombe for a year, until the house was more liveable. It just wasn’t suitable for a baby,’ Paul continues.
A builder friend took down the walls and introduced structural steelwork in the sitting and dining rooms to create a large open-plan space and a more practical layout rather than the maze of rooms which existed before. The hallway and larder walls in the small scullery kitchen were removed to create a spacious kitchen/dining room.
‘The layout of the house was confusing when we moved in. The ground-floor-WC – originally used by the gardener – only had a door on the outside, which wasn’t practical for a modern family home,’ says Paul.
Kirstie and Paul also changed the layout on the first floor, so the original small family bathroom became a bedroom and a large study was transformed into a spacious en suite for the master bedroom. The second floor of the property had been converted into a flat by the previous owners. At the back were two small rooms – one had been used as an artist’s studio and the other was a kitchenette – which were next to a larger kitchen. As the couple already had a kitchen downstairs, they converted the large kitchen into a family bathroom. They removed the kitchenette wall next to the art studio to create a big home office/studio and continued using the rest of the space as bedrooms.
Work on the project stopped from time to time when the couple’s funds ran out and, at one point, they had to remortgage to complete the ground floor renovations. ‘We didn’t do the sensible thing and start out with a fixed budget and a logical plan of action,’ Kirstie admits. ‘It was awful thinking we might not be able to afford to finish what we had started, as we’d both grown to love the house. In the end, it took four years to complete the project.
‘Renovating such a big house was a huge undertaking and it cost far more than we’d imagined,’ she adds.
Kirstie and Paul enjoy visiting recycling centres and reclamation yards in search of unusual pieces to either restore, paint or adapt. Luckily for them, this talent for giving unwanted items a new lease of life helped them to stretch their budget.
Paul, who had worked as a stonemason in the past, is also an experienced furniture maker. He hand-built their kitchen cabinets using reclaimed solid oak from a variety of sources – including tables, chests of drawers and a church pew – which were either bought at auction or found at the local council dump. Parquet flooring that had once been in a nightclub was turned into wood panelling in the main bathroom, and Paul built a stylish cupboard for the same room using salvaged teak wood from a former university lab.He also made beds and tables from driftwood and used old bargeboards from the house, which were replaced during the renovation work.
‘My most ambitious project involved restoring the dilapidated conservatory entrance, using photographs to get a precise match,’ says Paul. He also rebuilt the façade of an original Victorian vine room, where a grape vine and nectarine tree are now growing, and even made a Wendy house from old floorboards for Blue – complete with its own tiled roof, teak door and mini lawned garden. There’s also a new raised decked area for Kirstie and Paul to enjoy the views from the cliff-top.
The couple were keen on restoring the original features in the house, especially the floor tiles they discovered beneath the old lino in the hallway and kitchen. The patterned tiles were repaired, patched with matching tiles which were bought on eBay and finished with a good polishing using Johnson’s Traffic Liquid Wax.
‘At first, I thought we needed to call in specialists to look at the tiles as they were in such a bad state,’ says Kirstie. ‘We then realised we didn’t have the budget to pay someone to restore them, so Paul and I found a step-by-step guide online and tackled the job ourselves.’
The couple believe they were lucky to inherit so many original Victorian features. As Kirstie says: ‘Restoring and furnishing the house did become a bit of an obsession, I admit, but there’s nothing more satisfying than taking something dated and worn out and giving it a new lease of life.’
Kirstie, who studied the history of architecture at university and is a member of the Victorian Society which campaigns for the restoration of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, also loves restoring period features from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. She and Paul wanted their home to reflect their passion for vintage pieces.
‘We started buying restored sanitaryware from specialist shops, but soon realised that we could find the same items for a fraction of the price at recycling centres and the local dump,’ says Kirstie. ‘We also have some great finds from Victorian hotels that were closing down and selling their fittings’.
The couple are thrilled with the results of their restoration project and couldn’t wish for a better location. ‘We’re proud of what we have achieved – and it’s wonderful living so high up, with fantastic views and lots of sea air,’ says Kirstie.
|Labour, including plastering, painting, floors, walls, new roof and fireplace restoration||£61,000|
|General building supplies||£20,000|
|Rewiring and plumbing||£31,000|
|Fixtures and fittings||£27,500|