From the front, Richard Stott and Heather Moffat’s home appears very similar to the other terraced cottages in their road. The five properties occupy an enviable green belt location overlooking the Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite, and were originally built around 200 years ago and inhabited by weavers — with long banks of mullion windows illuminating the first floor workrooms.
Richard and Heather’s end-terrace home is deceptive. One half is a traditional stone-built cottage, with relatively small windows designed to keep out the weather, but the other half has been newly constructed. The rear of this extension features a dramatic wall of full-height glazing, set within a green oak frame, which casts light and shadows into a spacious ground floor sitting room and an impressive master bedroom above.
“We’d been living in an Edwardian house on the edge of Huddersfield and wanted to move out to the sticks,” Richard explains. “This property was a repossession, and was the only one we could afford to buy in such a rural location. It’s high up on a hill, with fantastic views, but water was literally running down the walls inside and we were too scared to turn on the lights and risk electrocution!”
Family and friends were horrified when Heather and Richard chose to take on the dingy two bedroom property, formerly two cottages that had previously been knocked together. Apart from its location the house had little to recommend it, and had been left devoid of character following an unsympathetic renovation in the 1960s.
“We rented for a few months while some of the major building work was completed, and then camped out upstairs in the bedrooms and carried on doing up the house over the next four years,” explains Heather, a physiotherapist.
Careful sandblasting removed external layers of white-painted render to reveal attractive stone-built walls, and the cottage has been re-roofed using the original stone slates with artificial replicas to the rear, where the slope of the site makes it virtually impossible to view the roof at close quarters. “You really can’t tell the difference,” says Heather, “and although we usually prefer to use authentic materials it was impossible to ignore a saving of almost £5,000.”
Richard is an experienced painter and decorator, and the couple had successfully revamped their previous homes, but had never tackled anything on such an immense scale. The entire house has been damp-proofed and rewired, and the interiors slowly took shape as timber beams were exposed, window seats and wood panelling were installed and the fireplace was reinstated.
“The 1960s concrete floors in the old cottage had been marked out with squares to look like flagstones,” says Richard, a freelance photographer, “so we really couldn’t believe it when we discovered the genuine stone flags were still underneath. It was baffling and quite exciting. We damp-proofed and insulated the floor, and then cleaned and polished the flagstones before re-laying them.”
From the start, the couple had decided to position their kitchen and the neighbouring sitting/dining room in the old part of the house, enabling them to live in a totally self-contained three bedroom property while stage two of the project progressed. This involved replacing an existing flat-roofed extension with a two storey structure of stone, glass and green oak which would take full advantage of the views.
“The 1960s breeze block extension was hideous,” recalls Richard. “It contained a kitchen, but the roof was a sieve and the whole thing would fill up with water when it rained. Luckily, we knew the value of owning an existing extension in green belt, and realised the planners would allow us to rebuild it.”
Spurred on by their architect, Richard and Heather applied to build an imaginative two storey design, incorporating a full-height wall of glazing, with a second staircase leading up to a galleried landing and the master bedroom and en suite. Expecting the planners to apply certain restrictions, they were astounded when their plans were duly approved.
The oak framing was constructed off site before being craned into position, and this proved to be the most traumatic part of the entire project, as the crane – driven by one of Richard’s friends – struggled to negotiate the narrow lane and ultimately demolished most of a neighbour’s retaining wall.
“We dropped everything for the next couple of weeks to rebuild the wall,” says Richard. “It proved to be an expensive mistake, but other than that the extension went smoothly — although I did injure my back by lifting and carrying so many heavy materials. We man-handled everything from giant RSJs to large panes of glass, because there was no way we were going to risk bringing another crane along that lane!”
The couple realised the importance of having someone on site to oversee the work, and Richard decided to give up full-time work in order act as project manager and general labourer for the build, employing local tradesmen to work alongside him during the 18-month project.
Richard’s love of scouring reclamation and salvage yards has paid off, and the cottage and extension now boast some rather unusual features. The kitchen is a combination of various cupboards and dressers, topped with worktops made from old beams; the panelling in the dining room was previously old church pews; and window seats have been crafted from wood taken from the top of a skip.
“I’d never used reclaimed materials in this way before, but it’s very satisfying,” says Richard. “The rustic double doors into our lounge seemed like a bargain at £70, but it meant taking down part of the concrete block wall and adding a new lintel. You feel as though you’re saving money, but the process of cleaning up and adapting these old things is probably just as expensive as using new in the long run.”
Despite the brief delays the couple eventually completed their mammoth task, and have since had a son – George – who is now nine months old.“I’m a Yorkshireman and Heather is Scottish, which is a formidable combination when it comes to saving money,” states Richard. “We like recycling materials. In fact, we enjoyed this project so much that we’re already on the lookout for our next challenge.”