Cat Portraits in Oils & Pencils From Photos

by melanie and nicholas

Cottage Renovations!

July 2007 we found a little cottage in the heart of Wales that we immediately fell in love with. It had been on the market 3 the 4th it was taken off the market and negotiations proceeded. By October it was ours. The cottage had changed hands a number of times since the 80's and the majority of these used it as a second home. The cottage is very old, we cant give an exact date but we believe it has to have started in some from in around 1750. A lot of things had been done to try to bring it into the 21st centaury, however some things had not been done by professionals and things needed fixing! Read on to follow the story of how we turned a tired little cottage, into a happy home.

The Cottage Door.

The first thing we did was to renovate the front door. We had been given the old photo below which is as far as we know the only surviving photo of our cottage from the late 1960's. It shows the lady (nearest the door) who had lived there since 1921 who was the village post lady. We knew that the door had once been very wide, we have no real idea why this would have been and its possible that the door in the photo was eventually replaced by a standard sized, narrower door and the right hand side of the doorway was blocked up. The whole area was really only made with cheap ply wood, so having spent the first winter with a makeshift curtain over the door we looked around for a local carpenter who could make us a bespoke stable oak door to fit the space. We bought it back to its former glory and you can see a photo below the following summer when it was complete.

door old photo door old photo

Renovating The Kitchen

The next room to be renovated was the kitchen in 2013. In the old days the room was called the parlour, where you would have entertained the vicar or laid out your loved one on their deathbed. I know it sounds strange but that's what use to happen! The room was made into a kitchen in the late 80's, the fireplace was covered over and a fitted kitchen was added in the 90's. The kitchen before renovation was tired and old. It looked lovely but the large cupboards were quite overpowering in what essentially is a fairly small room with low ceilings. You can see the large oak beam in some of the photos below which if you are over 5'7 you need to duck both through the door and under the beam. The cottage was built for a hard working, short and stocky welsh generation.The photos below tell the story of the renovation and if you would like to see photos of the new kitchen, visit our cottage kitchen page here >>

doing up the cottage kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
The chimney breast had been blocked up for many years and a cooker put in front which jutted out into the room. We wanted to set the cooker back into the chimney breast and so work commenced to open the chimney up to restore the original feature.
As you can see here they have started to unblock the chimney breast and in the gap you can see the original back of the fireplace. We found 3 phases of different fireplaces as the fashions changed over the generations.
doing up the cottage kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
There is certainly no going back now! Props were added to make sure the ceiling didn't come down as they took out the upper stones to make everything safe.
A concrete lintel was added under / behind to make everything sturdy as the old joists had rotted in the walls over the years. We can feel safe that everything is very sturdy now.
doing up the cottage kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
The builders found an old beam that had come out of the old local school which is currently being renovated as a green technology center. So part of the history of the village is kept alive in our kitchen!
The stone mason did a superb job on the chimney breast, and you can see that it has just been pointed above and drying. That you perhaps are unable to see here is the back of the chimney is curved going back up into the actual chimney itself.
doing up the cottage kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
The next job as to remove the old units to reveal what we know to be quite a mess behind.
We were right - this is a huge mess to sort out. Luckily we had exceptional builders who knew exactly what they were doing!
doing up the cottage kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
Just a mess really, what more can you say!
The old concrete had to come off the far wall and we have revealed the old stone wall, a wonderful feature of the kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
the old stone wall looked great and it just needed pointing next.
The new cupboards are starting to be installed.
doing up the cottage kitchen
doing up the cottage kitchen
new plumbing as the dishwasher is now under the sink and the washing machine on the right hand side. New sink is working and the new cooker has been installed. Things were really starting to take shape at this stage.
The next job was to renovate the old quarry tile floor - three days of 12 hour work chipping out the old group which was hardened silicone and then rerouting with a lighter colour - very tiring but worth all the effort.
doing up the cottage kitchen
Here is a sneak preview of the completed kitchen. We were just over the moon with what both us and the builders had achieved in the two months it took to complete. If you would like to see more photos of the kitchen, visit our cottage kitchen page here >>

Renovating The Cottage Garden

When we bought the cottage it had a fairly narrow garden which was a simple long lawn with shrubs and bushes either side and backs on to woodland at the bottom and side to the right. The first photo below was taken looking up the garden on the day we viewed the cottage.It was a lovely natural and generally well maintained garden however we wanted to try to landscape it and pull out the awful privet hedge, resurrect the nature pond and put some life back into the garden.

cottage gardens renovation cottage gardens renovation
Our long term plans for the garden were to divide the top and bottom garden, so that we had an enclosed cottage style garden with a seating area at the top and then a lawned area at the bottom of the garden. The photo above shows the privet hedge but of course we moved in the cottage in October so we couldn't do any real work till the spring....
The photo above shows a year later when we had started to change things. We chopped the hedge down and dug the roots out and began the process of making the divide between bottom garden and top. The nature pond was a a good place to create the division and it was quite a lot of work to dig it out as we are built on bedrock!
cottage gardens renovation cottage gardens renovation
Two years later we started to create a proper divide, we still had some lawn at this point which we found difficult to mow. The plants were starting to develop, it takes years for things to grow and gain height which is our main aim for this part of the garden
By the May 2011 we had removed all of the grass and graveled the whole area and started to enclose it all with the taller plants. The nature pond is behind the willow tree which was starting to come to life with frogs and newts.
cottage gardens renovation
This is how our top cottage garden looks in May 2014. We put up a picket fence when Lily was a puppy so that we could keep her in the top part of the garden so that she was kept safe. We have electric fence around the bottom garden and woodland to keep the foxes out. She loves the middle garden now and zooms around on the lawn, she has learnt about the fence and doesn't go near it which is great. If you would like to see more photos of the cottage garden, check out our Cottage Garden page >>

The Middle Garden...into the Woodland Garden

The garden was 75 foot long when we bought it, however three years later we had the chance of buying a small piece of land adjoining the garden to the right. This meant we could continue the bottom lawned area down into what we hoped would be a woodland garden. it was going to be A LOT of work though.

cottage gardens renovation cottage gardens renovation

This is what the bottom of the garden looked like on the day we viewed the cottage in May 2007. It was a basic 75 foot long garden with shrubs and lawn generally well maintained as a holiday home cottage garden.

The following year I had moved a lot of the shrubs to other parts of the garden and started a veggie patch in the bottom right. We didn't have rabbits back then, we have so many rabbits in recent years its impossible to keep them from eating the vegetables now.
more photos to follow...

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Pet Portraits - Melanie Phillips and Nicholas Beall. Paintings in oils and drawings in graphite pencil, handmade in the UK.
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