Pretty as it is, this country home was neither the right size nor the right type for Alison and Steve Chipperfield, who were looking for a rural property in Devon. For a start it was thatched, and having lived in a thatched cottage for many years previously, they were all too aware of what owning one entailed. ‘They are quite expensive to run,’ says Alison, ‘and rethatching is a big job.’ Besides, the house was smaller than they would have liked and with six grown-up sons between them, they wondered how they would accommodate everyone.
However, located on the edge of an estate-owned village near Honiton in Devon, the property had so much else in its favour, as Alison explains. ‘We used to come to the village quite a bit because we liked the pub, The Drewe Arms. The village is beautifully kept and unspoilt, with no streetlights, no pavements, no signs - it’s just as it was years ago.’
Read on to find out how Alison and Steve went about updating their home and making their mark on it, without compromising its many original features, then browse the rest of our real home transformations. Don't miss our guide on how to buy an old house.
Owners Alison and Steve Chipperfield live here with their Jack Russell cross Norah. Alison and Steve are retired but are involved with the Whirlwind Charitable Trust, which works with disadvantaged and disabled young people. The couple have six grown-up sons.
Property A Grade II-listed, three-bedroom house built in around 1650 on the edge of an estate-owned village, five miles from Honiton in Devon.
What they did Rethatched the roof, updated the kitchen and bathrooms, decorated throughout, and redesigned and replanted the garden.
‘We loved the house from the start. We liked the idea of not being in the village, but being close enough to walk to the pub, and we’re surrounded by fields and farmland,’ says Alison. ‘There are a few other little thatched cottages around us, so it doesn’t feel isolated.’
Another selling point for the Chipperfields was the beautiful garden - about three acres of it - divided up into smaller garden rooms. There’s also a paddock, vegetable patch, outbuildings, and even a swimming pool and the remains of an old quarry set within a natural cliff.
The big barn proved the deciding factor, though. It had been converted into living accommodation by the previous owners and provided the extra space the Chipperfields needed when all the family come to stay. With that resolved, Alison and Steve bought their new home.
The main structure was in good shape, although sadly a fire 15 years ago had destroyed the original oak floors. The décor wasn’t to their liking, but since Alison loves painting this wasn’t a problem.
‘Steve does the DIY,’ she explains, ‘and I do all the decorating because I’m always changing it; sometimes just because I want a new look, but also because we like buying pictures and paintings, so we’re always moving things around.’
These are the finishing touches, though, and first there were bigger tasks to complete. The couple had the roof rethatched, and refreshed the kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen is housed in a Victorian addition to the original house and is open plan to the dining room.
Where the two spaces join you can see the thickness of the original outside walls. Alison and Steve enlisted a local joiner to make new kitchen cabinets but retained some of the old cupboards, too, giving them a fresh coat of paint. It seemed a shame to replace the perfectly good wooden worktops, so these were sanded down and reoiled.
Bearing in mind the open view from the kitchen, Alison wanted to make sure the dining room furniture was just right. She found the perfect table and chairs in an antiques shop in France and piled them into the back of the car for a cramped return journey. ‘We often buy things from brocantes and fleamarkets in France,’ says Alison. ‘I’ve picked up all sorts – furniture, paintings, old linen and antique light fittings.’
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Alison’s finds are often the perfect pieces to complete a room or give it a new look, and a good excuse to get the paintbrushes out. Next on Alison’s antiques shopping list is some furniture for the snug. ‘I’m always looking for nice French sofas, but I haven’t found the right ones yet,’ she adds.
In the meantime, Alison plans to repaint the snug walls in a soft shade of green.
There are plenty of tasks to keep Alison busy in the garden, too. ‘I’ve gradually replanted the garden alongside working on the house. I’ve put in dozens of roses and I’ve restocked the flower borders so there’s something to enjoy all year round,’ she says.
The couple also took out the swimming pool, which was beyond repair, and transformed the old quarry into a sheltered seating area.
Sitting in the evening sunshine, Alison and Steve admire the view across the fields towards the village, and look back at the thatched house they hadn’t originally intended to buy.
‘We love it here, we love the garden and the village. It’s a very sociable community here, and a really good lifestyle,’ says Alison. ‘We don’t regret buying the house – even with its thatch.’