CORNWALL HOMES: BRINGING A SMITHY BACK TO LIFE
PUBLISHED: 11:29 15 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:54 30 August 2017
From engine houses, former workshops and barns, Cornwall is filled with old buildings falling down and begging to be brought back to life.
When it comes to creating a gorgeous guest space, the number of square metres has little to do with it - as The Smithy more than proves...
WHETHER engine houses, former workshops or barns, Cornwall seems filled with old buildings falling down and begging to be brought back to life. So when John Cullin and wife Carole bought their 18th century cottage in the small village of Tregothna four years ago after moving to Cornwall from Bristol, and were offered the chance to buy the broken down stone building at the bottom of their garden at the same time, John admits they were excited by its possibilities.
Known to have once been the village’s blacksmith’s where horses would come to the stone building looking out on the village green to be re-shod, the forge was in a serious state of disrepair, and its new owners felt it was dangerous to leave unattended. Rather than make it into a garage – which would have been a waste – it is now a stunning one-bedroom annex for family and friends to stay - planners won’t allow paying guests - as well as offering a refuge to the couple as work begins on their own two-bedroom cottage.
We have deeds for the house going back to 1720 but there’s no mention of the smithy. It could be from around 1850 or it could be earlier,’ says John.
I am just 70 now and Carole is a bit younger and we should be taking things easier but I have often driven around and looked at people doing things to their house and old buildings and thought we should do something like that - and now we can sit back because we have.’
The stone building has been in a state of disrepair for many years - and although not a listed building, it is considered a building of historical importance which meant taking care to maintain as much of the original fabric of the building as possible. Old slate was used to repair the roof - which had been partly tin. And the couple’s architects came up with a plan to build a building inside the original structure.
The outer fabric has stayed as it was,’ explains John. The original idea was to strengthen the walls and rebuild the roof, but when they looked at it, it was going to cause all kinds of problems. We wanted to keep the building looking as close to how it was as possible.’
So instead of pulling down stone walls and rebuilding them, the architects built a frame within the building - which meant it could be insulated - and added in a concrete floor.
Roof lights added to the building’s repaired roof and converting the old double doors of the smithy’s where horses would have been re-shod into a window are the only real changes to the building’s structure. The building faces on to the village green and is the last building you see driving out of the village; their neighbours have been enthusiastic to see the old run down building brought back to life so sympathetically.
A second old door which faces a neighbour has been left in the building’s structure but removed from the new interior to avoid changing the neighbour’s view. Oak beams have also been added to the house. They are cosmetic, not structural,’ adds John. But they frame the room really well.’
The flooring has been given a Mediterranean twist with terracotta tiles throughout broken up only by a large hessian rug in the bedroom. Slate would have been more traditional, but it can be quite cold and dark,’ says John, a former heating engineer and plumber who built the kitchen himself and did other work for the project helping to keep them under budget.
Since it was completed earlier this year, the annex has received a warm welcome from people who have stayed there - and it’s likely to enjoy a busy 2016 as John and Carole begin work on their cottage. If the work gets too messy, we can move into it,’ he says.
I would fully recommend people who are most fortunate to have an unused barn or outbuilding to convert it into something substantial and useful,’ adds John. We are so lucky and very happy with the results. It’s best to have a recommended architect and builder to advise you, as they know all the pitfalls you are against.’ And one last piece of advice. Keep a journal, take photographs step-by-step for you to look back on; it will come in handy for future reference.’
And although that time to sit back and relax and enjoy the finished project is now on the cards, John admits he has caught the bug for bringing old buildings back to life. There’s an old shelter hut in the village built before the war and it looks a bit of a state. I think you could probably to the same inside that as we have done, you wouldn’t have to do a lot to the outside fabric. You could do what we have done to a lot of old building. I hope the work we did can encourage people to do things with old buildings - when you drive around you see lots old out buildings around that are going to waste.’