THE OLD MANSE
It seems like a lifetime ago now. My hubby and I were young and carefree. We were brave and perhaps a little reckless. I was an account director in a PR firm and he was a solicitor. And, of course, we were not yet parents.
It was the height of the property boom and we had made a little extra money when we each sold our first houses to buy our marital home. We had been looking for an investment property, a little ‘doer-upper’ that we could refurbish quickly and sell on or rent out.
Andrew would tell you that I am the one with the unhealthy addiction to property listings but he is just as bad. He may now deny it, but it was my hubby who found the somewhat down-at-heel ‘Old Manse’ for sale in a local newspaper and the two of us took my mum along with us to see it. The idea was that it would give us inspiration for a future in property development- somewhere in the very distant future.
The Old Manse as it was when we first saw it
I knew it had to be mine
That was the idea at least. The problem was that even as we walked up the scruffy, overgrown path I knew it had to be mine. The house had been owned by the Presbyterian Church for many years. It had once had huge gardens, tennis courts and a pavilion where village fetes were held but the grounds had long since been sold off for redevelopment.
The dark and dated hallway
The interior was dark and dated. There were light sockets hanging off the walls, lumps of missing cornicing, and a yet-to be fitted kitchen in a cramped corner. A veritable forest of ivy was growing through the corrugated iron roof of a vast covered courtyard off the ‘kitchen’ containing the oldest, dirtiest high-flush loo I had ever seen and an ancient boiler.
Bringing light to the dark hallway
More shabby than chic
It was definitely more shabby than chic but I could see the glint of a property diamond amongst the coal dust. My faith is very important to me and I’m pretty sensitive to atmospheres. Whatever your beliefs, most of us get a feeling for a place as soon as we walk into it. I had a real sense of prayerful people having lived there and there was a wonderful aura of peace in the place.
The old dining room
The redecorated dining room
Growing up, one of my best friends was the daughter of a Methodist minister and her mum was a dab hand at transforming run down manses on a budget. It reminded me of my youth, having sleepovers with the Cooper kids and being very well cared for by the minister’s wife. I immediately loved it and so did my mum. Andrew took one look at us both and knew his days in the home we had only purchased ten months before would be numbered.
On the move
As he always does when we decide to move (and we’re now on our fifth house move between us since we met 13 years ago), he panicked. He tends to be full of bravado when bidding then back tracks once we have an offer accepted. Many agonising conversations later, we were on the move.
We put the building work out to tender and I negotiated and niggled and pulled the budget back. My first ‘real job’ was as a project co-ordinator in an architects office so I’m probably a very difficult client. I know what I want and I’m not ashamed to say that I really like to get my own way. Having said that, I’m still in touch with the surveyor and architect who managed the build and am working with him again. He might tell you a different story, but I hope he’d say I wasn’t too unbearable.
Pouring money down a well
We moved into rented accommodation in the middle of a freezing October and found that the boiler didn’t work. The carpets were infested with fleas and my back gave way on Christmas Eve leading to a couple of months of agony and immobility. We discovered a seemingly bottomless well under our new kitchen which resulted in a few jittery conversations with the rivers authority and eventually had us spending two days literally pouring money (in the shape of several tonnes of concrete) down the well.
The new kitchen
We didn’t approach the build as a development project, we just wanted to restore a beautiful old building and breath life into it again. We wanted the refurbishment to be sympathetic and in keeping with the character of the house. The previous owner had redone the roof (thank goodness) and the old sash windows had been replaced with pvc double glazing. I need to set out my stall here and say that I loath and detest plastic windows in old houses. Still, it did mean that the house was well insulated and saved us from having to undertake some budget busting jobs.
When it came to finishes, our first wedding anniversary gift to each other was to replace the 1970s tiled fireplace in the drawing room with a reclaimed Victorian marble one and we sanded and stained the original hardwood floors.
I love mixing vintage and modern. The limited edition Terry Bradley print looks great above the Victorian fireplace.
My husband called in favours from locals he knew to help strip wallpaper and sort out the jungle of a garden. My parents were amazing. They climbed ladders to put numerous coats of white paint onto 12.5 ft high purple ceilings (Mum), shifted tonnes of concrete and spent weeks re-plastering the downstairs loo (Dad). They even gave us a loan to complete the work that took us a very long time to pay back and cost them much more than just the cash they handed over. We could not have done what we did without their love, support and dedication.
My youngest brother Niall is over 6ft 5” so he was regularly called upon to do the hard to reach jobs and, along with middle child, Michael, he assembled and shifted a fair amount of furniture. We had many a late night ourselves doing various tedious jobs. It was hard graft and I’m proud of what we all achieved.
The least garish bedroom before we began
Our master bedroom (without the purple walls)
During the second viewing of our (hopefully) new home, the owner told us he wanted to sell to us because when he looked up The Old Manse online it reassured him that we would do a good job on refurbishing his property. I hope he’s right!