Birds Cottage in Upham transformed from a derelict country cottage into a beautiful home
- Credit: Knight Frank
There’s something romantic about a derelict country cottage; renovating one can certainly be a labour of love as Emma Caulton discovered on a trip to Upham
Birds Cottage was tucked behind a garden so overgrown it could barely be seen – but that is what appealed to Rachel and Jason Field.
“We were always passing through Upham and we’d often thought we would like to live in the village when we noticed this hidden cottage,” recalls Jason.
They were living in Hamble, as Jason is a keen sailor, but were looking to move nearer to where their sons were going to go to school and happened to be, as Jason says, “in the right place at the right time to buy the cottage, and in the right position to do it up. It was a hidden gem.”
The derelict two-bedroom 18th century cottage hadn’t been lived in for years and Jason is only half joking when he says there was more wildlife living inside it than outside. Rachel shivers slightly when she recalls mushrooms growing on the walls and rats’ nests. She says: “It was a complete wreck.”
“We did the work in two halves... well, three halves,” smiles Jason. “First we renovated the original cottage so that we could move into it, as we had to be in for the start of the school year. We bought the house in March 2010 and moved in at the end of August, although it was only half complete, setting up a kitchen in the garage.”
Next the intention had been to create a new first floor above the single storey garage. But then they discovered that this much later addition didn’t have any foundations, so they had to demolish it and build a new extension based on the original footprint. Meanwhile a summer house in the garden served as the kitchen while the work was being done.
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The original cottage has been carefully restored to show off its beamed rooms to best effect; it is thought the gnarled oak beams may well be old ships’ timbers. In contrast the new extension, sympathetically done using traditional materials such as reclaimed bricks, has a more modern feel with a spacious open-plan kitchen and breakfast room on the ground floor opening onto the conservatory which in turn opens onto the garden.
“We didn’t want to recreate an old-fashioned look as we felt we couldn’t replicate the original property which is full of character with its old beams; we wanted to show that off as much as possible,” explains Jason.
This approach has resulted in a stylish and comfortable melding of country charm and contemporary chic throughout the cottage. For example traditional joinery work is juxtaposed against a central turning staircase of light oak and glass, while an interior design scheme mashes urban upcycled, vintage pieces alongside rustic log-burning stoves (there are three altogether, in the sitting room, master bedroom and Jason’s study, although as the house is well insulated and benefits from underfloor heating they’re rarely used).
The kitchen is coolly contemporary with linear, handle-free units from Searle & Taylor topped by grey granite worktops, supplied by Gra-Knight, against a bright red splashback. Funky elements include a wall of framed classic album covers, low-hanging glossy handmade lights from Hampshire Light, and, over the breakfast bar, a unique light incorporating V8 rocker covers, based on a design by Jason and created by Paul Firbank.
Paul, otherwise known as the Rag and Bone Man, has won awards for his work crafting bespoke lighting and furniture from vintage machinery, engine parts and modern scrap, and he has appeared on Channel 4 ‘s Kevin McCloud’s Man Made Home and Supersized Scrap. He has now become a friend of Jason’s and his work is featured throughout Jason and Rachel’s home including distinctive breakfast bar stools using salvaged components from World War II lorries and rare tractor seats, a coat hook from bike brake levers, and wall lights in the conservatory made from 1920s fuse boxes.
In the dining room and the sitting room, which open onto each other, the mix of country classic and urban vibe is particularly striking. The original bread oven in the dining room (it’s likely the cottage was once the village bakery) and an inglenook fireplace in the sitting room are both lit by statement standard lamps: an oversized studio-style light by designer Shane Holland in one room and an attention-grabbing pair of lights upcycled from old lighthouse fog horns and 1930s car lights by Paul Firbank in the other.
Upstairs the contrast between the original cottage, where the master bedroom and guest bedroom feature soaring vaulted ceilings with exposed beams and the new extension with the boys’ bedrooms is evident. In the boys’ rooms, Jason has played with the layout by maximising the space as well as the fun by building raised sleeping ‘pods’ in one room. Useful storage underneath these beds hides a tunnel running from this room into a secret play space behind the wardrobe of the other boy’s room – a modern take on Narnia!
Another example of Jason’s individual approach to design can be found in the bathrooms, where traditional teak decking usually found on yachts has been used as flooring.
Jason says: “I wanted a hardwearing bathroom floor that wouldn’t need a lot of maintenance and with my boating background I thought teak decking would be perfect.” It is certainly a good-looking and practical solution – here commissioned from Hamble Yacht Services.
Otherwise, even the bathrooms continue the engaging fusion of period, contemporary and vintage. For example the family bathroom features exposed brickwork (originally an exterior wall) complemented by in-vogue white brick tiles, a freestanding bath tub, Edwardian-style basin with chrome rail, big glass walk-in shower and an old champagne case used as storage for toiletries.
The cool and quirky mix-up continues outside in what was the final ‘half’: the garaging and gardens. The outbuildings, encompassing garage, workshop and gym (or “torture chamber,” quips Jason), use vernacular details such as weatherboarding and herringbone patterned brickwork.
The garden wall was built using traditional methods and local materials including flint handpicked by Rachel and Jason from their neighbour’s field. Rachel says: “We felt it was important to get flint that was as local as possible to match the traditional flint walls throughout the village.”
These walls are complemented by sinuous railings and gates with birds worked into the design created by noted local sculptor Charles Normandale.
An extensive terrace backed by a lush green wall of passion flowers and vines is given an air of grandeur with a pair of oversized coach lights. There’s that summer house, with useful outside kitchen and bar, while an old Land Rover has imaginatively been turned into a playroom for the boys in one corner of the garden.
Jason and Rachel quite rightly say they’re proud of all the work they’ve done to Birds Cottage. They’ve created a lovely family home from an unpromising wreck which has respect for its village setting, and all the luxurious comfort of a contemporary country home while having just enough of a cool, edgy vibe.
And now they’re tempted to do it all again!
Birds Cottage, Upham is on the market for £950,000 with Knight Frank, Winchester, 01962 850333, www.knightfrank.co.uk/contact/winchester-estate-agents/--------------------------------------------------
Architect: Michael Warren Associates, Winchester; 01962 841224; www.michaelwarrenarchitects.co.uk
Joinery: G Burnett Joinery. Romsey; 01794 368031
Kitchen: Searle & Taylor Kitchen, Ropley; 01962 850851; www.searle-taylor.co.uk
Lighting: Hampshire Light, Alton; 01420 549961; www.hampshirelight.net | The Rag and Bone Man, London; 07733 365774; Theragandboneman.co.uk
Railings & Gate: Charles Normandale, Warnford; 01730 829300; www.charlesnormandale.com
Teak flooring: Hamble Yacht Services, Hamble; 02380 454111; www.hambleyachtservices.co.uk
Underfloor Heating: Hi-Q Plumbing & Heating Services, Hythe; 07859 828916; www.hiqph.co.uk
Worktop: Gra-knight, Four Marks; 01420 588514; www.gra-knight.net