An idyllic Yorkshire cottage brought back from the brink on a tight budget

cottage living room with wood wall panelling and stove
(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

After a change in her personal circumstances, Yorkshire-based photographer Shelly Mantovani began looking for a new house for herself, her daughter, and their dog. 

“I was after a period home and definitely not a new build,” begins Shelly. “The trouble was, renovating a house can be a money pit and I was on a tight budget. I knew that any renovations would have to be done on a shoestring.”

Shelly briefly looked online at a four bedroom, 500-year-old property in a South Yorkshire conservation village. It was a house with a quirky history, serving at one point as the village post office. “Jeremy Clarkson’s mum, Shirley, bought this house and used it as offices and a factory for her handmade Paddington Bear merchandise,” adds Shelly. Over the last 25 years, however, it has remained largely empty. 

white cottage with small windows and porch

(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

Weighing up the cottage renovation project

Shelly quickly discounted buying the house because it had damp, peeling plaster and needed total renovation.

“My house hunt wasn’t going anywhere, so a friend of mine said: ‘Show me your shortlist’,” remembers Shelly. “When I did, he picked this property out immediately. He thought it was perfect, but I was put off by the fact that it didn’t have a garden and needed lots of work. Still, I made an appointment to view it and, even though mould was climbing up the walls and plaster was hanging off, I could see his point. The place had character and charm.”

Not wanting to get a large renovation mortgage, Shelly asked local builder Darren Holmes for an estimate and, after settling on a refurbishment budget of £25,000, decided to take the plunge. Work started on site in August while Shelly and Schyler stayed with a friend.

If you're looking to undertake a project like Shelly's, find out how to find a good renovation project, and how to know when something is past worth saving. 

Embarking on a whole-house renovation

To treat the damp, the timber wall panelling was taken off and the plaster chipped back to the original stonework in both the sitting room and dining room. A new damp-proof course was added, the walls were replastered and, finally, the panelling was replaced in the sitting room. 

A self-levelling screed, topped with engineered wood flooring, replaced the uneven concrete floor in the sitting room and dining room.

An old fireplace was also removed and the chimney widened to create a new opening for the log burning stove, while a stone lintel, uncovered during this part of the renovation, was left exposed.

small courtyard garden with patio table and dog

(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

Uncovering hidden surprises in the old cottage

The renovation work threw up some surprises. “It was about this time that we uncovered a ‘hidden’ external door to the rear of the property,” says Shelly. “It was strange: when I bought the house there was a window in the sitting room — but when I saw it from the outside I could see that it wasn’t a window at all. It was a door with a handle and lock, although I wasn’t able to open it. 

"Internally, the bottom half of the door had been boxed in with a false wall, so Darren ripped it out and made it into a functioning door again.” This now leads to a small outdoor space, which Shelly has landscaped, and which now features a breakfast table.

The kitchen was originally small and an odd shape, due to the position of the door into the dining room. “There was room for a sink and a washing machine and that was about it,” says Shelly. 

“Darren looked at the layout and said the only way to make it into a feasible working space with proper units was to move the doorway and use galley kitchen ideas. Afterwards, I had room for new handmade units, a very small butler sink and a dishwasher. We also added a utility room and a cloakroom off the kitchen using space from the back of my garage, which was behind the original wall."

In the master bedroom and second bedroom, the ceilings were so low that Shelly was worried about constantly banging her head, so Darren ripped out both in order to expose the original beams and to create vaulted ceilings.

Shelly was able to spend more than her original budget and turn the smallest bedroom into a brand new and generously proportioned bathroom.

“My £25,000 budget rapidly expanded to double the size, largely because I bought expensive things, like the handmade kitchen and the engineered oak flooring,” she says. “Then again, I saved money by sanding down and painting everything myself. I’m pleased with how everything’s turned out, especially because I had no experience of renovating on this scale before. It’s been an education.”

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