Devon Life discovers a beautifully restored 16th-century cottage in Thorverton

PUBLISHED: 14:23 06 March 2013 | UPDATED: 19:26 02 April 2013

Devon Life discovers a beautifully restored 16th-century cottage in Thorverton

Devon Life discovers a beautifully restored 16th-century cottage in Thorverton

Moving to a 16th-century cottage signalled a new phase of life for both Gemma Adamiw and the house itself

Two Cottages

Moving to a 16th-century cottage signalled a new phase of life for both Gemma Adamiw and the house itself

Words by Annabelle Grundy photos by Colin Poole

Gemma Adamiws life changed dramatically nine years ago, when her marriage ended and she found herself downsizing from the family home with her daughter, Ellie Velvet, and son, Augustus, then aged ten and seven. She began house-hunting, knowing she wanted to stay close to friends and schools, but with no fixed ideas beyond that.

A little For Sale sign stuck in the window of a 500-year-old, terraced cottage in the village of Thorverton, near Exeter, prompted her to investigate, and she came away having made up her mind to buy the property. Id hardly looked at any other places but there was a good feel to this one, she says, I could tell it would suit us.

The cottage was sound and roomy but its low ceilings, exposed stonework, dreary mustard-coloured carpets and old-fashioned pine kitchen cabinets all gave the interior a dark, dated and enclosed feel. Gemma was keen to bring light into the rooms, but she had to think creatively. I wasnt in a position to start knocking down walls or replacing the kitchen units, so I decided the best idea would be to paint things, she says.

Over the next few months, Gemma single-handedly painted walls, ceiling beams and furniture, turning the tired interior into a bright, welcoming home, Id never done any decorating before, but I used lots of off-white and gentle, muted colours with a soft, chalky finish that suits an old property, and my style has evolved from there. Its quite eclectic, but just about everything has a memory attached, either inherited, bought on a holiday, or maybe something the children have made.

There was more change on the horizon, two years later, when the adjoining cottage came up for sale. The two properties had originally been one house and Gemma had a legal right of way through the garden of the other cottage, putting her in a prime position to buy it and bring the pair together again, The other house was so close that the idea of owning it really appealed, she explains. It was also an opportunity to demonstrate to the children that even though life had changed, there were still positive things to be achieved.

The new property presented far more of a challenge than the first one. The interior had barely been touched for decades and Gemma was faced with minimal kitchen and bathroom facilities, layers of old wallpaper and crumbling lino flooring.

As their existing home was already comfortable for three, she decided against simply creating more living space, and instead deliberately kept the layout in two distinct halves, for the extra flexibility it allows. While the ground floor was turned into office and storage space, the three upstairs rooms were reconfigured to make a pretty, cottage-style guest bedroom and bathroom, and another smaller bedroom with a tiny en-suite shower room. Once again, Gemma did whatever she could by herself, stripping heavily painted ceiling beams by hand and labouring for the builders at weekends. I scraped paint and wallpaper and carried bucket-loads of rubble and rubbish down to the skip on the road outside, she says. It was hard work, but I just had to keep going.

Blending her creative flair with the practical experience she gained from her renovation, Gemma has now started her own business, upcycling second-hand furniture. High-quality but out-of-fashion wooden furniture, rescued from auctions and junk shops, is rejuvenated with pretty paint colours and chic, contemporary fabrics. She is also planning to share her knowledge with furniture-painting courses starting soon. Rather than buying new, I like the idea of refreshing something old, she says. There are plenty of unique, well-made items in charity shops and antiques markets. Its eco-friendly and often more interesting and better value than the high street.

From the outside, Gemmas home still looks like a pair of cottages, but now inside the two parts are reunited, and the house, like its owners, is ready for the next chapter in its life. This place is important, because I created it for me and the children, says Gemma. Its not just a house its definitely a home.

Upcycled furniture and painting courses: 01392 861114 / 07540 345673 or find Gemma Adamiw on Facebook

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