INTERIORS OF CORNWALL: WELCOME TO THE MUD HOUSE
PUBLISHED: 12:09 13 February 2017 | UPDATED: 12:16 30 August 2017
Bringing a 300-year-old cottage back to life is not for the faint-hearted, discover the Wring family
Pilgrim Cottage is an 18th century fisherman’s cottage dating back to around 1700. For the discerning house-hunter looking for character, so far so good. But the house - like many built at that time is built of cob, a natural building material made from subsoil, water, some kind of fibrous organic material (typically straw), and sometimes lime. The contents of subsoil naturally vary, and if it does not contain the right mixture it can be modified with sand or clay. It’s basically mud,’ says owner David Wring.
But this failed to put off the experienced house renovator and his family. As soon as I saw this house advertised, I knew it had to be bought as these cottages in Cornwall are now as rare as rocking horse pooh!’
Sitting in Newquay, near Porth beach, a dynamic family beach area with nature walks on either side of the golden sand Atlantic beach, made it even more of an attraction, admits David.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. The property was in desperate need of repair after suffering from decades of neglect and poor maintenance and it needed a substantial but sympathetic restoration.
After more than two decades of building industry experience of building new homes, renovating old and new ones, I had still seriously underestimated this project and the enormous task in hand,’ he admits.
The exterior of the cottage had been cement washed to give it an instant exterior renewal. But this had a devastating and detrimental mistake for the longevity of the property. The cement stops moisture penetrating and reviving the cob,’ explains David. Cob needs moisture and if it dries out it quickly starts decaying and breaking away.’
Inside the walls had been lined in asbestos sheets in order to control the damp, but had caused deep and damaging drying out on the interior walls too. The result was that the cobb had fractured and was breaking down. So the first thing that was needed was to strip the cottage right back to the cob on the interior and exterior.
This wasn’t particularly difficult because it seemed that every wall ceiling or partition I touch either totally collapsed, disintegrated or so much of it fell apart it was impossible to salvage,’ says David. Then we had to rebuild the cob sections that had decayed and that required serious attention to detail.’ But he admits it was also a lot of fun – and messy - to rebuild the mud walls before more treacherous work could begin. The layers of lime mortar had to be carefully built up. Because lime is hazardous (it burns the skin) we always worked with long rubber gloves, goggles and made sure we had access to plenty of cold water and a eye wash.’
The lime was supplied by Cornish Lime from Bodmin (cornishlime.co.uk) - the south west’s leading authority on lime restoration projects, he adds.
In total four tonnes of lime mortar had to be added before Pilgrim Cottage began to look and feel more homely. Keen to retain as much of the cottage’s original character as possible, David and his family removed all the original doors and carefully renovated them so they could be reused. There’s one in particular I’ve completely fallen in love with that we reckon must of come off a ship as its original shape and the mortice and tenon joints are off-set or wonky to fit a ship’s narrow doorway,’ says David.
Keen to retain the original slate floors, they had the almost impossible job of cleaning off the tar and asphalt that had been added to their surface. The removal was as difficult as you could possible imagine: like pulling sticky stuff off of a surface from a surface which it did not want to be removed from. Any removal agent made the situation messier but with perseverance eventually the floor was reclaimed to its original beauty.’
One of the most challenging changes was to raise the kitchen ceiling – which stood at just 5ft 6ins – a few inches higher than David himself. When I called Newquay Kitchens (newquaykitchens.co.uk) in to design the kitchen layout, Paul, who is 6ft 2ins, told me I simply had to re-consider the ceiling height. Basically he said he couldn’t put a kitchen in here.’
The transformation was a radical revelation: a stunning vaulted ceiling space completely transformed its living space. Suddenly we had found the missing link and one further stunning find came when we exposed the ceiling to find an original ship’s mast used as a roof truss with all its timber cut-outs exposed showing where the ship’s ropes would have gone!’
As with many cottages from its era, Pilgrim Cottage suffered with a lack of light. So David called in local lighting designer Claire Pendarves of Illumina Lighting in Truro (illuminalighting.co.uk), to produce a lighting system that could enhance the cottage.
Claire came up with some unique ideas which have added a huge compliment to the overall finish of the cottage.’
The installation of Velux roof windows also allowed natural light to flood the once dark cottage, changing the atmosphere into a modern rustic revival of an ancient property. The garden was so overgrown the only way to deal with it was to have a crane drop a mini digger over and to reclaim the garden from the wilderness - and let in more light.
Another modern touch was new slim profile triple-glazed windows by Rational in a soft grey which completed the natural light transformation.
The kitchen building works were quickly followed with the installation of a handmade and painted kitchen with a few slick tricks to maximise space like a two-drawer dish washer by Fisher Pykel and a drawer fridge system. The kitchen also features hide and slide’ ovens by Neff which allow for a greater floor working area.
Inside and out, the fully renovated Pilgrim Cottage now provides a luxury retreat blending the beauty and original features of an early-18th century fisherman’s cottage with the latest in life-enhancing technology.