When Henry and Jacqueline Gummer began their search for a new family home in 2015, they had no intention of tackling a major building project. With a top priority for a home with a rural community feel for their family, the couple struggled to find something which ticked all the boxes.
After a couple of years spent searching, Henry and Jacqueline found their interest piqued by a Victorian farmworker’s cottage. “Though it was clear the house needed work, we fell in love with it immediately,” says Jacqueline.
Built around 1900, the cottage had been extended over time, resulting in a convoluted layout that didn’t make the most of the large garden or gorgeous country views. “At that stage, we weren’t planning anything ambitious. Perhaps naively, we thought we could get away with replacing some of the windows and redecorating,” Jacqueline continues. However, they found themselves renovating a house in need of extensive modernisations.
Designing a Revolutionary Scheme
The couple seized the opportunity and went ahead with the purchase.. However, after two winters spent living in the house, the size of the renovation became clear. “It was very dark and damp. As well as improving the thermal performance, our initial thoughts for the upgrade were to open up the back and bring more light in,” says Henry.
“After discussion with our architect, Fred [of Guttfield Architecture], we decided on a more ambitious design,” explains Jacqueline.
Fred’s scheme has revolutionised the property, building an extension which would be low-energy, contemporary and mirror the original Victorian building. Though the scale of the extension reflects the period property, contemporary materials help it stand apart.
The project broke ground in February 2019, with the family moving into nearby rented accommodation for the duration of the build. Henry and Jacqueline found the steel frame construction system fascinating. “Of course, there were highs and lows, with various moments of feeling like we’d made a mistake with the dimensions of a room or something like that,” says Henry. A lightweight steel frame forms the structural skeleton of the extension, allowing for the broad, open-plan living spaces the couple had envisioned.
“That has been combined with a timber infill system, so the majority of the extension is built from timber frame,” says Fred. “We re-insulated the solid masonry walls of the original cottage. We also lifted the suspended timber floor to lay insulation between the joists.”
Retrofitting the Old Cottage
A goal for a sustainable home drove Henry and Jacqueline’s decision to extend the cottage, rather than replace it entirely. It was therefore decided that the bolt-on extensions from the 1960s and 1990s, which weren’t as well built as the original cottage, would be demolished to make way for a new, large addition.
“An internal lining system was applied to the masonry walls and a lightweight metal frame was installed, with insulation between the framing and plasterboard over the inside,” explains Fred Guttfield. “The cottage needed to be re-plastered internally anyway, so this turned out to be a two-in-one solution.” The entire build-up of the system only added about 80mm to the inner face of the walls, so it hasn’t had a detrimental effect on overall floor area within the cottage.
Upgrades to the thermal performance of the cottage allowed for another ecologically forward-looking addition, in the form of a ground source heat pump. “The initial outlay for this type of tech can seem a bit daunting, but it was very important to us and we knew it would benefit us going forward,” says Henry.
“We’re so grateful for the space we have and the way we get to use the house. Having constant light and beautiful views really does enhance your life,” he concludes. Jacqueline echoes this sentiment. “While we’re not rushing to do it again any time soon, the experience hasn’t put us off,” she says. “The whole process was positive.”
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Rebecca began her journalism career writing for a luxury property magazine in Bangkok, before re-locating to London and becoming a features editor for a self build magazine. She is an experienced homes and interiors journalist and has written for many homes titles including Homebuilding & Renovating, Ideal Home and Period Living.
She has expertise on a wealth of topics — from oak frame homes to kitchen extensions. She has a passion for Victorian architecture; her dream is to extend an 1800s house.