A Dedham delight

PUBLISHED: 18:08 14 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013

Danielle Ellis and her daughter Lily

Danielle Ellis and her daughter Lily

Danielle and Stephen Ellis have put the heart and soul back into a once derelict 16th century cottage in Dedham. Camilla Sharman reports

DATING back to 1560, The Cottage is possibly the oldest property in the village of Dedham. Originally the house started out as three small cottages and over time the walls were knocked through to create one large house. 'The middle cottage was used as a grocery store from 1895 onwards,' explains owner Danielle Ellis, 'I found an old box of cat food in there with 1d on it.'

The previous owners were a brother and sister by the name of Harvey and the property was in their family for more than 200 years. 'Mr Harvey lived on one side of the house and his sister lived on the other,' Danielle adds.

The Ellis's have made the house a family home with everyone able to add their own skills to the renovation. Both Danielle and Stephen have renovated properties before and Stephen now owns a tile shop. They were also able to enlist the help of Danielle's dad, Geoff Twigg, who owns Stanmark Construction, a building company that won a FMB award in 2005 for a renovation project.

Once the renovation work began, the true character and charm of the property was quickly revealed as boards were ripped away to expose the red brick fireplaces and the beamed ceilings. The blackened beams were sandblasted to bring back the natural beauty of the wood and the brickwork on the chimney breasts was repaired and re-pointed.

Starting from scratch
Although the couple knew the property was in bad shape, they weren't quite prepared for when the floor fell through in the old lounge. 'We discovered that they'd been a fire and that one of the beams had been completely burnt through. To repair it the beam had been concreted to try and make it safe, but it obviously wasn't,' recalls Danielle.
When it came to the exterior of the property, they were fortunate that the roof was in quite good repair, although Danielle had a few problems finding a thatcher. 'I was driving down the road and saw a thatcher renovating a barn, so I pulled over and asked him if he could help,' recalls Danielle. 'The whole roof was repaired about 12 years ago, so we just needed the ridge redone and the north-facing side that becomes more weathered.'

The chocolate box exterior of the cottage looks immaculate and Danielle went to great lengths to get a paint colour to match the original deep cream walls. The project also included a two-storey extension on the rear of the property, but with a Grade II listed building, they had to ensure that the new building complied with the necessary planning and building regulations. For Danielle this was the most stressful part of the project and it took a whole year to get the final decision on the extension roof.
While the main renovation and extension was taking place, Danielle was busy sourcing furniture and accessories to create a warm and cosy interior. 'I remember going to pick the curtains for the lounge, but I couldn't remember what the sofas were like because I'd ordered them two years before,' she recalls.

Danielle is delighted with the overall look and has taken a neutral scheme and added soft accent colours. Her careful choice of furnishings and accessories has given the cottage its unique charm and character, which is particularly evident in the kitchen, the true heart of this home.

Feature fireplace
Christine, Danielle's mum, was able to help with the kitchen design, and she drew up a plan based around the feature fireplace that was then given to a local joinery company. A limestone worktop, sits upon the handmade oak units, with reclaimed terracotta tiles creating a
practical floor.

The kitchen is full of Danielle's love of cockerels and she has chosen a pretty rooster check fabric for the Roman blinds. Other cockerels can be spotted among her large collection of pots, pans and nick-nacks.
Danielle has gathered most of her furniture and accessories from local interior and antique shops, with a few foreign influences. 'When we first got together we said that wherever we visited we would bring something back - the curtains in the lilac bedroom are from Mauritius,' Danielle says with a smile.

The conservatory has a distinct light and airy French feel, achieved with a mix of ivory painted furniture and touches of duck egg blue in the pretty gingham seat cushions. The long line of the windows gives an elegant and traditional look to the conservatory, sympathetic to the property. Danielle certainly has a fine eye for detail.

Indian inspirations
A more sombre tone is set in the dining room, where a large Indian dining table sits in front of the inglenook fireplace. An old merchant's chest provides extra seating and an interesting talking point at dinner parties. With a suspended ceiling light, from Jim Lawrence and a decorative Indian table runner, the room is perfectly dressed for evening entertaining.
For more casual times, the family relax in the new spacious lower lounge, which is linked with steps to the original smaller lounge area with its fireside armchairs.

Upstairs, Danielle has opted for a slightly more contemporary colour scheme in the spare room that doubles as her dressing room - the lilac tone was inspired by the voile curtains. The colour scheme continues into the master bedroom and en suite, where a patchwork bedspread, lovingly made by Danielle and her mum, dresses the wrought iron bed.

The family bathroom houses an elegant slipper bath, which has been painted to match the tongue and groove. Stephen has tiled the shower cubicle with Venetian slips that are sympathetic with the house and work well with the original floor boards that remain.

Danielle simply loves the house and has enjoyed the whole experience. 'When we first moved in a friend told me it looked as if we'd been here forever,' says Danielle. 'I loved doing it and I can spend all day every day pottering about in the house.'

Thinking of thatch

•The UK has more thatched roofs than any other European country. The main material that is used is wheat straw and it is produced by specialist growers.

•Thatching can last for more than 45-50 years and a new layer of straw is applied over the weathered surface, building up a significant surface over time. However, in East Anglia and Eastern England, where water reed is more commonly used, the weathered layer is stripped and replaced.

•A roof that has been thatched well will need little maintenance, apart from re-ridging several times during
its lifespan - a general guide is every 15 years.

•Fire hazards are always a risk with thatched roofs because they are difficult to extinguish once they take hold. Ensuring that your chimneys are well maintained with secure flues
will minimise the risk of hot gases escaping and igniting the surrounding thatch.

Helpful house facts

Who lives there? Danielle and Stephen Ellis

Property style A renovated 16th century cottage with new two-storey extension

Inspiring idea The couple's spare room doubles as a dressing room for Danielle - the lilac tone was inspired by the voile curtains.

Top tip Where possible keep the original features in the property to maintain the character and individuality of the house

Favourite feature Danielle simply loves the whole house.
'I can spend all day every day just pottering about'

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