Photo credit: All photos belong to Amanda and are used with permission via her Instagram profile @theoldforgecottage
Spend any time exploring the UK, and you'll notice that listed building are everywhere. From townhouses to country cottages, there are an estimated 500,000 listed buildings on this little island of ours - and Amanda's Old Forge cottage is one of them.
With parts of her home dating back to a mind-blowing 1425 (!!!!), Amanda and her husband Niall had their work cut out when they signed on the dotted line for a beautiful property that had started its life in Medieval times before slowly being added to up until the mid 1800s. It's been a Wheelwrights, an Undertakers and a Bake House, and now it's a family home for the couple, their three beautiful children and two adorable dogs.
Naturally, I regard Amanda and Niall with a kind of awe and curiosity - what makes someone decide to renovate a property this old? What kind of qualities and practical skills do you need to have? What kind of vision? And most importantly... what does it entail?
Here is part one of Amanda's interview. Seeing as we had so much to chat about, I've decided to break this down into two and present it to you in halves - so read on to find out where it all started. Part 2 is here.
Hi Amanda. Please would you introduce yourself to everyone?
Hi, I’m Amanda and I live in a small village just outside Lewes with Niall, my husband, our 3 children who are 21, 18 and 14 with our 2 crazy huskies Max and Ruby! We moved into the Old Forge almost 2 years ago having looked at numerous properties in this location over the last 10 years or so but were never successful in securing anything until this came along... maybe it was fate!
The cottage dates back to 1425, originally as a 3 bay medieval house...as a forge, a wheelwrights, an undertakers and a bake house. It has been added to over the years and in the 1800’s they converted the cowshed on the back which is now the dining room and one end of the front room!
Before we get into this, it's worth telling everyone that you've renovated four previous homes. What pros you guys are! Is that what gave you confidence doing this one?
Ha Ha, I’m not sure we are pro’s...just learnt a lot along the way with an enjoyment of renovating houses.
Some couples like to go cycling or something together... well, we like to do up houses! We kind of fell into it really, with no plan initially.
The first property we bought was a wreck, but it’s all we could afford at the time. It has given us a certain amount of confidence, but this is a project unlike any other we have undertaken! I knew there would be lots of firsts and lots of new skills to learn by us both. But Niall never sits still, and is always up for the challenge...and I tend to get swept along by his enthusiasm.
When did you decide you were going to renovate this house? And how did you feel about renovating again?
We had been in our previous property for 7 years and had finished it (if that’s even possible?). I tend to get itchy feet and have always had a drive to find my forever home - it's a cliché I know, ( I can see my family doing an eye roll right now!!) but I get this feeling that when it’s time to go, it’s time to go!
I was back on Rightmove and we saw this. It was way out of our price range considering the amount of work that needed doing, so we pushed it to one side. Six months or so later it came down in price by quite a lot and that was our moment.
As we wandered around the house we were blown away by it, probably blind-sided actually! We had a survey done by a specialist company for Listed Buildings and nearly passed out when the 57 page report hit the mat! I’m still trying to work out if we are brave or stupid!
We were so excited to be starting another project and one that was very new and different for us.
A 57 page report!? That is a lot to digest! Did you intend to renovate it to sell it afterwards, or to stay?
No, the intention has never been to renovate and sell quickly - I don’t think that should be the approach with these important listed buildings.
We knew this was going to be a major renovation job due to its listed status and a potentially expensive renovation. We said: this is going to take us 10 years. I think we will get it done before that, but it’s a balance of working full-time and family time, and renovating The Old Forge has to fit in around that.
I have a feeling we are going to be here for a very long time, though. This is a forever family home and if you know me, you’ll understand that’s very hard for me to say!
That's lovely to hear! Have you finished yet, and if not, when do you expect you will be?
We are nowhere near finished. There are 14 rooms and other parts to this cottage. In the space of 2 years, we will have managed one bathroom, a kitchen, a snug, a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom and the all-important laundry room. We have not stopped and we have done this ourselves, albeit with a small amount of specialist plumbing for the bathroom. I’m beginning to feel my age!
Now, let's talk money. I won't ask you what you spent or planned to spend, but how did you go about the process of deciding upon your budget?
The budget is on-going - ‘fluid’ to a certain extent. Every job we have undertaken so far has been worse than we thought. I guess in a property that was built nearly 600 years ago, you are going to find some surprises!
When we moved in we had a defined contingency, and we were focussed on trying to make it cover the essentials. We got a new bathroom and a few rooms done. We had a priority list when we moved in but then things we didn’t expect came out the woodwork...
We had dead rodents in the water tank and no real mains water supply as the pipes were so old. We had to dig up the front garden and run new, bigger pipes as the old ones had rusted up. I think the previous owners didn’t really notice just being the two of them in their nineties, but you move a family of 5 in with teenagers who want to shower all the time and put one item in the washing machine and you notice very quickly that the existing system isn’t going to work!
Oh crikey! So it's not really been the kind of renovation project where you can work to a budget?
Unlike any other house we have done this budget is flexible. We know this is a long-term home and want to do all we can to restore it sympathetically to its former glory. It really feels like a money pit..!
I also for the first time don’t want to compromise as I have in other properties we have renovated - we are not doing this to make a quick profit. Having said that, I love bargain hunting and shopping around. I spend ages researching and we always haggle with everything we buy. I love getting things cheap and upcycling to furnish the house.
Really, we try and put money aside and budget monthly in order to create a renovation fund. We list what needs doing in a room, do the approximate costings and save that amount up before we start on it.
It's easy to see how budgeting could go out the window - so many things are unknown...
A lot of the cottage is an unknown. For example, I ripped up the carpet to paint the floorboards in the snug, a simple and cheap option. It wasn’t until we went to do this that we discovered all the joists and plates under the floor were rotten. Poor Niall spent 2 weeks holiday over Easter taking all the old ones out and replacing with new, treated ones.
He then had to lay all the existing floorboards back in the right order! Always remember to number them, that’s my top tip!
Finally, how did you prioritise where to spend initially? Were there any things that were particularly important to you?
To be honest that part of things has been fairly fluid too. We did the emergency things when we moved in. Mains water, safe electrics and fuse board, and creating a new bathroom upstairs were the priorities with 5 of us.
I got on with the living room as that was the easiest, most straight-forward room to do, and it was important to me that we had a lovely room to relax in amongst all the chaos around us.
That makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
Head back over here next week to read part 2 of Amanda's interview. She and I are talking about:
- relationships - negotiating with your partner (and teenagers!)
- the reality of living in a house while it's being renovated
- where Amanda finds her inspiration from, and how she's been able to consistently make so many 'right' choices while she's decorating
- what it's like to work with a listed building, in particular,
- Amanda's best tips for renovating if you're going to give it a go
- what life is like now.
Make sure you subscribe if you don't want to miss part 2 of this interview - it will only take a moment to guarantee you'll be notified of the next post, and I promise never to spam you with junk mail. :)
Thank you so much, Amanda. Follow Amanda here on Instagram if you want to see more Old Forge Cottage updates in the meantime!