Through the keyhole of a Cotswold cottage at Christmas
PUBLISHED: 13:39 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:24 10 December 2018
Christmas in the Wilson household is a heartwarming, traditional family affair
Christmas for Claudia and Steve Wilson is always a heartwarming time because Claudia’s children and three grand-children come to stay.
“On Christmas Eve the grandchildren always leave letters for Santa and a mince pie by the fire place,” she says. “We all have stockings when we wake up on Christmas morning, then after a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs we open the presents under the tree. And lunch is always traditional roast turkey.”
Claudia and Steve live with Monty the cocker spaniel in a part-Tudor house formed from two cottages knocked together some years ago.
When they first saw it, the couple were charmed by the three inglenook fireplaces, ancient floor boards and elm beams. They were not quite so enamoured of the one-acre garden which at the time was wildly overgrown and full of dumped rubbish. “I’ve never seen such enormous brambles,” says Claudia. “There were some nice oak and horse chestnut trees though and it was a lovely quiet area.” She and Steve have since cleared it and planted 60 laurels among other shrubs.
They could also see that the rooms were too dark with low ceilings (“only seven feet tall,” says Claudia), the décor dated and the layout needed reorganising.
So the couple decided to build on two large extensions. One contains a big Drawing Room and the other is two-storey, comprising a large kitchen-diner with a master ensuite above.
But first they made some changes to the original house.
“The real difficulty was right at the start when we replaced the ugly 1950s concrete blocks at the front of the house,” says Claudia. “They were at first floor level above the original stone.
First we had to source enough Cotswold stone to match the size and colour of the original so that it would blend in seamlessly. Then we had a nerve-wracking time when removing the blocks as we had to prop up the roof so the front didn’t collapse! Happily the front now looks just as it would have done originally when it was built hundreds of years ago.”
As for the interior...
“The stairs were too narrow and dark so we took down the stairwell wall and ceiling and rebuilt the wall so it made for a wider stairwell. This also meant we could incorporate a large window that had been in one of the bedrooms and we now have a lovely bright hallway and stairs.”
The couple also moved various walls upstairs to create a bathroom out of a bedroom and to make another bedroom bigger. They also had to rewire, replaster and replumb and replace all the doors, skirting boards and architraves.
Then they built the two extensions. Planning came through easily and work began in August 2015, finally ending in March the following year.
The original kitchen was old-fashioned with a blue tiled floor and units with melamine worktops. Now it is three times its original size and fitted with traditional Shaker style handmade cabinetry from Sambourne Kitchens, painted in French Grey, a Sambourne colour.
“We chose Silestone worktops,” says Claudia. “The utility room has the same Sambourne units with an oak worktop.” New flagstones were laid in the kitchen-diner, the hall and the snug.
Claudia has been improving houses ever since she bought her first tiny flat in London at the age of 18 and has now renovated more than 30 houses.
“So I should have expected the clouds of dust that rose up when we sandblasted some of the old beams which were thick with dust and black paint,” she says. “They permeated the whole house. We went on to use more beams in the kitchen extension to make it match the old cottage and in the Drawing Room we made a point of using reclaimed beams for a really authentic feeling.”
When it came to furnishing and decorating Claudia was in her element.
“I used to have an interior design shop in Tetbury and I knew that by using pale colours on the walls I could make the house look quite different and much lighter,” she says. “So there are lots of whites, greys and hints of blue on throws and cushions. And I’ve collected furniture from all over the place, from France, from antique shops, from Laura Ashley and even from eBay. The French furniture dates from the time when we had a holiday home in Brittany. But I don’t mind at all mixing High Street items with the antique.”
The house still has five bedrooms but now has acquired four bathrooms, three of which are en suite.
“We wanted plenty of room for the family when they came to stay,” says Claudia.
She finishes, “It’s so convenient here for travelling to the Cotswold Show in Cirencester. I am a director of the show with Lord Bathurst, and it’s great to be so close, especially when I’m working 14-hour days over the show weekend in July.
“In fact, this is my favourite home out of all the ones we have renovated as it has a wonderful family atmosphere and all the rooms flow really well since we remodelled it.”
Biggie Best trade supplier, biggiesbest.com
Cotswold Show, 01285 652007, cotswoldshow.co.uk
Farrow & Ball, 01202 876141, farrow-ball.com
Ikea, 020 3645 0000, ikea.com
John Lewis, 0345 604 9049, johnlewis.com
Laura Ashley, 0871 983 5999, lauraashley.com
Sambourne Kitchens, 01285 862333, sambournekitchens.co.uk
Topps Tiles, 0800 783 6262, toppstiles.co.uk
Victoria Plumb, 0344 804 4848, victoriaplumb.com