As the proud new owners of a historic English cottage that dates back to the 1600s, my husband and I entered into this project with a lengthy list of renovation hopes and dreams. But even on our new-homeowner high, we accepted that renovating a listed building in the UK is notoriously tricky. We certainly didn't expect this to be straightforward or even easy. But one hurdle we never could have predicted?
Our dream kitchen design has been thwarted by a coven of ancient witches. Seriously.
Designing the Kitchen
Before this home was officially and legally ours, I could picture the kitchen. Nearly every cottage-related daydream of mine involved our family seated around a rustic wooden table in a beautiful kitchen, ideally with something freshly baked at the center.
So, naturally, when we started the design process, the kitchen took priority. After endless research, we settled on a kitchen designer and joiner, and he was the very first person we officially hired for the job. We arranged for a walk-through, and we nodded along as he told us how he’d like to design the space. It’s not a large room, but with wooden beams and stone walls, it’s full of charm and character––and he wanted to lean into all of it.
Making Our Plans
Given our home’s status as a listed building, it was understood that every proposed design was pending final approvals from the local Heritage Committee. This is standard in the UK. They get the official say on any changes to buildings of historical significance, but our designer’s plans were so in line with our own visions that we barely gave that a second thought.
Instead, we focused on the final product. To achieve a larger workspace, he proposed we remove the existing woodstove, raise the wooden beam currently nestled above the hearth, and transition that into a little nook for our cooking range. Then, the other wall would house the rest of our appliances and must-haves––the fridge and dishwasher, plus a farmhouse sink. Each piece was placed with functionality and maximum storage in mind.
When he sent over the proposed drawings, we were thrilled. His layout somehow freshened up and modernized the function of the space, all while maintaining the overall aesthetic and honoring the home’s origins. We agreed on Farrow & Ball’s Lichen paint color for the custom cabinetry, and our interior designer began pulling together wall colors and fabric options for the curtains and window seat cushion.
Starting the Renovation
We were so excited that even without the official approvals, we moved through the process with confidence. It felt good to make decisions and know that once we were allowed, everything would be ready to fall into place.
Then, a few weeks later, we looped in an architect to help us with our Heritage Committee submission. We waited with bated breath for his feedback, and I cheered when my husband told me that everything could go ahead as planned.
“...except for the beam above the kitchen hearth, that has to stay.”
I resisted. Keeping the beam would change the entire design of the kitchen. I could feel the edges of the picture in my mind immediately start to disintegrate. We’d lose space for our oven, and because of the layout of the room, that leaves one small wall to squeeze in all our appliances. But before I went into a full spiral, my husband explained why the beam must stay put.
Why We're Keeping the Beam
The first reason, according to our architect, is that raising the beam would create gaps in the hearth that can only be filled with specific stone from the surrounding Cotswolds region, and it would be nearly impossible to get it to match the existing stone. I fought the urge to roll my eyes at this because it all sounded a little dramatic. Surely there’s a way around that.
But the second reason was enough to convince me that the beam has got to stay put.
“There are historic etchings in the wood linked to witchcraft.”
While I would do a lot of things to achieve my dream home, enraging the spirits of English witches from the 1600s is not on the list.
The good news? These specific etchings are meant to signify good luck. The bad news? Officially, moving the beam could compromise the integrity of the wood. Unofficially, it could upset the witches.
On our next visit to the house, I peered at the wood, trying to see these mystery carvings for myself. There, in the beam, is one perfect heart and a row of faint concentric circles, carved all across the wood that lines the top of the hearth. While I would do a lot of things to achieve my dream home, enraging the spirits of English witches from the 1600s is not on the list.
Where We Are Now
So, we submitted the proposal without the request to raise the beam, and we were approved. We still plan to remove the existing woodstove, but instead of our beautiful country cooker, we’ll fill the space with cabinets, and the appliances will go back along their original wall.
I'll accept the good luck the former owners have left us and hope that this all means that someday soon, we'll gather around a rustic table in the heart of our country cottage and share a meal.
In the meantime, I've decided not to dwell on what might have been. Instead, I'll accept the good luck the former owners have left us and hope that this all means that someday soon, we'll gather around a rustic table in the heart of our country cottage and share a meal.