Most people who have embarked on a ‘grand designs’ style renovation of a derelict period property will say it was a very challenging process.
However, most won’t be able to compete with the hardships of Jane Beck and her family, who battled to save a pretty Ceredigion cottage from dereliction and transform it into a dream home in the country.
Originally from Berkshire, as soon as Jane saw the cottage she fell in love and a move to Wales became imminent.
Jane remembers: “We parked inconspicuously on the verge with the windows open, we were serenaded in the gloom by tawny owls all round us and THAT WAS IT!
“It’s all about the birds here; always was.”
So, cottage purchased, Jane arrived at ‘Emporium’ one cold night 22 years ago with just £23 in her purse, a Christmas tree, and four kids in the back a touring caravan she had just bought from the council tip.
Jane sold almost all of her belongings to buy the cottage, so there was little to bring with her to the family’s new home.
She says: “There were very dark times at the start. My mettle was tested to its breaking point.
“The first night was cold. We slept, the six of us, on a mattress on the floor in the front bedroom – but it was magic!
“Completely unmodernised it was like stepping into the 1930s, no electricity, no water and an outside Ty Bach (toilet). On our arrival a river ran from the back to the front and out of the front door!
“It was dark inside. The garden was very overgrown with yew and laurel obscuring the small windows.”
Risking it all, she and her then partner took out a huge bridging loan to try and make the cottage habitable. The first challenge was to try and create a basic kitchen.
Jane laughs: “It wasn’t real though, not plumbed in or anything. It just looked like a very makeshift kitchen, set up in the parlour.”
But if the kitchen was a temporary installation, the initial bathroom was even more makeshift.
Jane remembers: “We had bought a roll top bath (off the tip again!), so that went upstairs into the front bedroom. It initially drained out of the window onto the path!”
Looking back Jane has fond memories of the children bathing in stacker boxes, jackdaws waking them up crowing at the end of the bed and ‘ghosts’ wandering about on the landing!
But there were casualties along the journey, namely her relationship.
Jane says: “The early years were the worst, finding myself a single parent 18 months in with four children, no roof, no heating and no windows in my bedroom.
“Sleeping in my clothes and getting up at 5am to work in the fish factory in Newquay was a challenge.
“But I never had the luxury of packing it in, forwards was the only option, so forwards we went.”
While many people might have considered walking away, in the midst of her property ‘labour of love’ and making plenty of renovation mistakes, Jane set up her own business called Welsh Blankets.
And it’s been the saving of the cottage, providing much welcomed funds to speed up the renovation process .
Jane, now aged 54, explains: “It’s taken 22 years to make Emporium what it is now and it’s still not finished!
“Most of the good stuff has been done in the past 10 years, thanks to the business. We were lucky to find a local joiner, come magician, Alan Bailey who worked his magic on our kitchen and throughout the house.”
The cottage is believed to date back to about 1870 and it’s the age of the building that has inspired Jane’s interior design .
She says: “The house was the inspiration. Why buy an old house and create a new one? I always wanted to keep it authentic.
“I didn’t want to completely lose that romantic ideal and maybe that’s a contributing factor to taking so long?
“It’s been painted with light and airy colours over the years but I prefer it with deep pigments, creates a bit of theatre; it suits it better.”
Where Jane has needed to update the cottage to create a home for modern living she has pondered long and hard for additions that will be sympathetic to the style and age of the house.
Magazines such as Period Living and Country Living, annual events such as the Homebuilding and Renovating Show and social media have all have helped bring ideas to the interiors over the years.
The most recent update has happened outside with the addition of a hot tub, slate sun terrace and a sauna hut in the rear garden.
But it’s the kitchen that’s Jane’s favourite room with the family spending lots of time together, creating lifelong memories, in this sociable space.
Jane might be 22 years into the renovation but the cottage constantly inspires her through the seasons, as she sits and contemplates the space around her.
She says: “I love the evening light through the front room window. In summer there’s always flowers from the garden there and Binkie, my little dog, loves to sit in the sun and look out the window.
“The light through the bedroom window in the morning is magic too. The room is a terracotta colour and in autumn especially it lights up with the glow of the sun.”
As the Welsh blankets business grew, Alan built a tin shack in the garden called Ty Zinc, meaning the business could move out of the parlour and into its own home.
Jane sells the blanket and quilt products from Ty Zinc and says she offers the largest stock of traditional Welsh blankets anywhere the world.
The business has grown into accommodation too, with the addition of shepherd’s huts on the land, so holiday makers can also enjoy the idyllic spot near Tregaron that Jane fell in love with when she first stumbled across the cottage over two decades ago.
But the cottage still isn’t finished.
The bathroom is due a face-lift next and then maybe, just maybe, Jane’s dream home transformation is complete.
But Jane won’t forget how hard it was, what has been achieved and the bond she now has with the house she saved.
She muses: “It was reckless and challenging. We didn’t all make it. I look back on it now and can scarce believe it myself. But we love our home – there’s a lot of us in those old stones.”
News From Wales Online