home stories: falling for a listed building with Caro Davies aka @the_listed_home
Beams, wonky walls, bags of period charm and character are all so seductive when searching for a new home. The charm of living in an old property will make many of us go weak at the knees, even if its not what we had on our wish list. Some properties have a way of getting under your skin the minute you walk through the door, they speak to you and if that "magic feeling" starts to well up inside you, your're already hooked, its too late to run and resistance is futile.
This is exactly what happened for the homeowner in this weeks home story. Not looking for a cottage (let alone a Grade 2 listed one), Caro and her husband fell head over heels with their charming period home as soon as they walked through the door.
I found Caro's Instagram account @the_listed_home and was instantly sucked in. We share a big love of green and I am always fascinated by homeowner who take on listed properties, I love to see how they bring new life into such characterful spaces.
Caro has worked with listed buildings consent and turned this very old house into a beautiful home for her family which has grown into the house over the years. Over to you Caro...
Living in a cottage was never on my wish list, if I’m honest. And particularly a Grade 2 Listed cottage! Our previous homes have all been period properties; but — more often than not — we’ve naturally gravitated towards Victorian or Georgian architecture. Exposed beams were something that were actually our our ‘no list’. It’s amazing how things change.
House buying is so emotive, isn’t it? You start off with a tick list; things you definitely need, things that would be nice. Then there’s the other stuff that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford! But all of those things go out of the window, when you find ‘the one’.
We nearly didn’t come to view our house at all; as it was so far removed from the things we’d specified to the agent. It was actually the garden that swayed us. The promise of a Victorian walled garden was too much of a lure. I remember the day that we had our first viewing so clearly. It was February. Grey and drizzly and I figured, if a house looks good in this light, it will look amazing in the sunshine. We walked into the house and firstly couldn’t believe the size of the rooms. But also the height of the ceilings.
Granted, the cottage doesn’t have the 13 feet high ceilings that we were blessed with in our first property. But, for a cottage (the main part of which was built in 1690), the ceiling height is pretty decent. The previous owners also had lovely neutral decor and furnishings too, which made it much easier to see how our belongings would fit in the house.
We’d renovated 3 houses prior to buying this one, so a do-er upper definitely wasn’t something we were looking for this time around. The garden was an added bonus. Beautiful mellow brick walls, surrounding not one, but two gardens. With a gate in the wall that separates them. It really felt like the secret garden.
But moreover that, even though the house had physical attributes that we liked, it was the feel of it that won us over. It has an amazing calm ambience. It felt like home the minute we walked though the door. We put an offer in the same day and because we didn’t have anything to sell, it was accepted there and then.
That was almost a decade ago now! In that time things have changed a lot. Instead of it just being my husband and me; we’ve also been joined by our twin sons, who are now eight. We also have two cats and seven chickens!
The house has changed a lot too, over the years. Firstly, in the way that we’ve used the rooms. My home office on the first floor gave way to the boys’ nursery. The dining room and sitting room have changed places at least three times! And the biggest change is the renovation that we started in August 2019.
We finally decided to try and get planning permission and listed building consent. To knock down the dated conservatory on the back of the house, and replace it with a modern space, that would span the entire back of the house. It was a bold design for such an old house; even though it’s been extended before.
The main part of the house was built circa 1690 but it has a side addition that was added in around 1890. There was a bit of chat about how much garden we’d lose by building across the width of the property but, in terms of ‘lost’ space, we were only losing a dark and dingy patio, that we rarely used. But, in terms of gain, we would be getting a warm fully insulated living space and a large live-in kitchen. Plus a downstairs loo, utility room and even a small boot room.
Our council are notoriously hard to please when it comes to listed building consent though.
I was really nervous that our plans would be rejected but our conservation officer was amazing. Even though the house is over 300 years old, she could see that we wouldn’t do anything to ruin the integrity of the original building; and we’re just bringing it up to date.
The work started in August 2019, which is when I started my Listed Home Instagram account.
And I’ve shared our build from day one — to where we are now. It’s been a crazy journey, that’s for sure.
Although we renovated properties before, we didn’t have children in tow. And we’ve never worked on such a big project — with the limitations of a Grade 2 listing. I wrote a blog post with some tips for other people about getting planning on a listed building. I get asked about it quite a lot, so I thought it would be useful to write it all down.
It’s certainly not as straightforward as submitting plans and getting them passed! Our conservation officer needed to see progress reports all the way through, to ensure that we were not doing anything to compromise the building. Thankfully, I think she is pleased! As are we.
We have gently ushered our wonky little cottage into the 21st-century, with the addition of a beautiful family space, that we can all enjoy. Thankfully, it came at just the right time too; we spent the majority of lockdown in the new extension!
In terms of my decorating style, I’ve always been interested in interiors. I’ve been collecting Living Etc magazines since 1998, and still have my whole collection! I wouldn’t say that I am a slave to trends or fashion, but instead I tend to pick and choose and definitely mix modern with vintage and even antique pieces.
Our downstairs toilet is a good example. It is a combination of traditional design — in the form of William Morris wallpaper and painted tongue and groove panelling — combined with very modern sanitary ware. A boxy, poured resin sink, modern loo and brushed brass fittings.
Another instance is our kitchen. We went for a classic Shaker design in heritage colours; handbuilt by a local cabinet-maker. But gave it a modern twist, by adding quartz work surfaces and hexagonal Lilypad tiles from Mandarin stone, paired with black grout.
I painted the bookcase in our sitting room black too — along with the chimney breast in the twins’ bedroom. My mum was horrified when I first said I was painting things black, but she agrees that it works really well. Despite original reservations, black paint almost softens a room rather than making it look harsh.
I think our house will always be evolving. I love switching things around and mixing things up. There is such a trend for grey, minimal material interiors at the moment. Instagram is full of them, but it just isn’t my taste. I want my surroundings to make me feel happy and inspired.
The element of surprise in a house is a lovely thing. The botanical mural that we have in our hallway is a joy, Not just for visitors but for us too! I get a thrill every time I see it; it has truly brought the garden and the house together.
If I was to give anyone a little piece of advice about decorating a home it would be to include things that you really love… Even if they don’t necessarily fit the style of your house — or your decor — at first glance. If you carry on doing this, you’ll eventually see that (instead of sticking out like a sore thumb) your treasured pieces will start to work together. And, as a result, your interior style will definitely begin to evolve.
It might not look like other houses that you see on the internet or in magazines but it will be your unique style. And that is definitely something to be celebrated!
Thank you Caro for sharing the story of your gorgeous home. I love how Caro has brought a mix of modern and vintage styles into her home, of course I love her use of green and the botanical garden mural is simply stunning.
As well as having a serious interiors obsession, Caro is also a designer of beautiful personalised prints, paper cuts and cards with her business Mooks and has been writing her blog The Twinkle Diaries for 8 years now. To follow more of Caro's home story you can follow her on Instagram HERE