Forgoing a more thorough survey meant Steve and Lynne Morris took on a major renovation project of a farmhouse that perhaps would have been destined for demolition.
The building’s severe structural issues led to a time consuming and expensive rebuild.
However, the couple persevered and by taking on much of the work themselves have created a light and spacious home, but have also retained and enhanced the original period charm of the farmhouse.
- Name: Steve and Lunne Morris
- Build cost: £420,000
- Build time: 1 year 5 months
- Location: Monmouthshire
When Steve and Lynne Morris stumbled upon the 17th century farmhouse in the Monmouthshire countryside, it had unfortunately been sold subject to contract. They had been looking to renovate for some time, so when it came back on the market at a reduced price, the couple moved quickly to beat the other interested parties.
In their haste to secure a purchase, they only got a quick survey done, and in retrospect Steve acknowledges that they should have chosen a surveyor with a lot of experience of old, traditional structures. The surveyor they chose concluded that the house was sound but the floorboards seemed springy. It turned out that the ‘springiness’ was the result of the floorboards holding up the joists rather than the other way round, plus the fact that an infestation of deathwatch beetle had completely devoured all the ends of the structural timber beams. Not one of the joists still remained in the walls, and some of the rubble stone walls were only a couple of inches thick, too.
Defects continued to mount with a 10-inch bow at the front, and a nine-inch drop in floor level over a six-foot span, plus the window arches had all gone and would need to be rebuilt. It dawned on Steve and Lynne that this was going to be a major rebuild. Instead of quotations from two building contractors for around £170,000, the project would ultimately cost £420,000 and take up 16 months of the couple’s lives.
All the inner structure had to be ripped out (including the original lathe and plaster), the floors dug up, an inner wall constructed along the whole front of the house, tie beams inserted to arrest the lateral spread of the structure, and big RSJs inserted to replace the rotten timber beams. All the render was stripped off too, and the walls either repointed or completely rebuilt. One stroke of good fortune was, however, that the couple found a buried stash of top-quality dressed building stone on site, which saved some cost.
The original walls were constructed of rubble stone, which made it incredibly difficult to fix anything to the wall structure as this material is typically very soft — Steve and Lynne had to use resin anchors to fix anything, including the floor joists. (Resin anchors are typically steel studs, bolts and anchorages, which are bonded into masonry or concrete using a resin-based adhesive system.) They then used a weak cement mix known as ‘Cadw Mix’ (Cadw is the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage) of 11 parts sand to one part cement and one part lime to allow movement without cracking.
Instead of hiring a contractor, the couple went back to a small firm with whom they had worked with on a self-build project 20 years previously, comprising two excellent stonemasons and a carpenter who was going to project manage the works. Unfortunately, the carpenter decided to go off on his own, leaving Steve to get stuck in himself, becoming the designer, project manager, groundworker, electrician, and much more besides. Steve hired the stonemasons on a day rate and the couple, along with their teenage children, moved into a complex of two giant mobile homes that they had assembled within one of the barns on site. (Lynne undertook all the book keeping and bill paying from an office set up in one of the mobile homes.)
They neglected to remember that the stonemasons were some 20 years older than when they first worked with them, and although highly skilled, they weren’t the fastest workers. The project took 16 months to finish, but fortunately, the couple were well safeguarded against the cost implications of running over. Steve bought a second-hand digger and dumper truck on eBay, meaning he cut costs by doing a lot of work himself, and the couple was fortunate enough not to need a mortgage to cover the costs of their project.
The couple now have a magnificent and beautifully equipped period home in a stunning location. The main interior spaces include a large open plan orangery kitchen, an oak frame double-height living/garden room, and spacious bedroom suites with every creature comfort — and all this overlooking beautifully landscaped Victorian-style gardens and their paddocks beyond. The only worrying thing now is that Steve is starting to dream of converting one of the two barns that are part of the property.