Deeper and down for stylish Suffolk living

Jan Gillespie from Woodbridge quadrupled the size of her family home through the creation of a spacious basement area. She loved the results so much, she now welcomes guests who can enjoy the mix of traditional and contemporary style at Fenn Cottage

Jan Gillespie from Woodbridge quadrupled the size of her family home through the creation of a spacious basement area. She loved the results so much, she now welcomes guests who can enjoy the mix of traditional and contemporary style at Fenn Cottage

When Jan Gillespie and her husband Richard began house-hunting in Suffolk seven years ago, they fell in love with the riverside market town of Woodbridge, and a tucked-away cottage in particular. But with three children to accommodate, the tiny dwelling in the heart of the historic town’s conservation area at first seemed as if it would need a magic wand waving over it to transform it into the house of their dreams.“It was the location we fell for,” explains Jan. “Fenn Cottage nestles in green space all around, close by Fen Meadow, a parkland area just ten minutes walk from the riverside and all the town’s lovely shops and restaurants. “Although the original space was much too small for us, we bought Fenn Cottage in 2004 and spent a year living there. We wanted to create a home that all five of us would love, and we hit on the idea of creating a spacious basement area as well as extending sideways.” Plans were drawn up in consultation with Woodbridge architect Stephen Claydon, who knows the area well and is based just a stone’s throw from Fenn Cottage. The planned new dwelling would transform the 750 sq ft cottage into an extensive four bedroom home with an open plan living area, as well as a self-contained suite in the newly-created basement area – a total of 3,250 sq ft in total.“That’s when the idea of developing a luxury bed and breakfast in the separate suite really hit me,” says Jan. “I love this town, I love our environment and having worked in the travel industry I’m passionate about hospitality. I believed I could really help our future guests to get the most of their stay in our fantastic location.”The resulting spacious home and guest suite only came to be after two years of hard work. The family moved out while the cottage was completely re-modelled. The basement area was dug out and built up with an innovative Quadlock scheme of polystyrene blocks, which ensured rapid construction. A rainwater harvesting system was installed which appealed to Jan’s desire to be both eco-friendly and efficient. And to link the existing brick-built cottage area with the new extension, natural wooden boarding – every plank painted by Jan herself! – was covered in a carefully chosen and specially-imported soft grey to complement the natural environment all around. “If the woodstain was tough enough for Finland, I thought it could cope with Woodbridge weather!” quips Jan.Jan explains that she was ultimately aiming for ‘the New England clapboard look’, and the house looks somehow modern yet traditional as it peeps above the canopy of greenery in Fen Meadow. The look and feel also owes a debt to the Australian outdoor lifestyle Jan and Richard enjoyed in Melbourne, where they lived for six years. With its wraparound garden, level decking and verandah, there is exterior space to enjoy all year round. An outdoor fireplace is just one of the many unusual details that make this a great house for entertaining. The family’s open-plan kitchen, living and dining area includes three sets of French doors leading outside, so there is always a lush green view from every aspect. The eclectic styling and mix of furniture illustrate Jan’s flair for interior design – with favourite pieces such as the French oak dining table she’s had for years and the giant dresser shipped from a chemist’s shop in Melbourne, mixing in with her latest purchase of dining chairs from Snape Maltings and lighting from Bella Figure in nearby Melton.Jan has an eye for a bargain and is happy to mix and match to get the look she loves. She found the sitting area’s enormous mid-century tigerwood sideboard on eBay and had it shipped from Germany, while the wrought iron standard lamp was a canny car boot sale find. The traditional style kitchen was composed from High Street units and Jan invested in a luxurious white Silestone worktop, which helps gives the space an airy, contemporary feel.Dotted throughout the house and garden are the candles and lanterns which Jan loves, and the fireplace creates a cosy glow to enjoy indoors during the winter nights, or a wonderful focal point for summer gatherings of friends. The children each have their own bedroom and a separate bathroom and sitting room, while Jan has created a discreet laundry area which helps to keep all the domestic clutter well-hidden, creating the serene atmosphere that her bed and breakfast guests love.The guest suite at Fenn Cottage has a separate entrance away from the family house. Guests step inside their own luxurious world here, straight into an extensive living/dining area with cream leather sofas and an enormous flatscreen television (Sky movies included!). A delightful double bedroom and spacious bath and shower room are also part of their personal domain.The colour palette throughout the suite is turquoise, taupe and cream, and the luxurious touches extend to the spa toiletries and delicious continental breakfast on offer in the inviting guest hamper. Freshly delivered croissants, local jams and squeezed-to-order orange juice are on the menu, and works by local artists on the walls give guests something interesting to look at as they relax at the dining table. The white shutters (which are a feature throughout Fenn Cottage) ensure that they have complete privacy, and the underfloor heating throughout the property keeps them cosy.“The beauty of our location is that you don’t need to use the car at all during your stay. It’s a short walk across the meadow and through the Georgian streets of Woodbridge to the Abbey School, the riverside and the many restaurants. I am happy to advise people to make sure they get everything they want from their stay,” says Jan, who will even lend guests a pair of wellies if they’ve left them at home!But despite having such a delightful place to call home, Jan has found that creating the new-style Fenn Cottage had led her even further into sharing her space with others. “We recently enjoyed house swapping with a family in Spain, and have further trips to London, France and even Florida planned,” she explains. “Whether it’s through the house-swapping holidays or welcoming bed and breakfast guests here in Woodbridge, I’m so delighted to be able to share everything I love about where we live with other people.”


If you’d like to stay at the suite at Fenn Cottage, all the details are on Jan’s website www.thesuitefenncottage.comTo achieve the contemporary but traditional feel, Jan and Richard used these suppliers:H L Perfitt Ltd Stonemasons (for stone worktops) Tel: 01379 652211Quad-Lock Tel: 0870 4431901Homecomms (home network and entertainment system) Tel: 01508 548811Holman specialist paints (house exterior) Tel: 01793 511537Klargester (rainwater harvester) Tel: 01296 633000

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