english cottage in the countryside

5 Lessons I've Learned While Renovating an English Cottage

Somewhere between the 2006 release of the Christmas classic The Holiday and the present-day rise of cottagecore, I decided that owning a cottage in the English countryside was my ultimate dream. 

As an American living in London for the past eight years, it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds––and finally, in October 2021, it became an official reality. My husband and I closed on our very first home and became the proud new owners of a historic cottage, nestled in England’s Cotswolds region.

It’s been a long and involved process, but now, as we officially ease into renovations, I'm taking a look at all we’ve learned so far.

Historic Homes Are Complicated

In the UK, homes of historical significance are categorized as “Listed Buildings,” and ours is no exception. Because it was built in the 1600s, our cottage is heavily protected when it comes to making any major changes. This means that even once you own a home, you can’t just walk in and start renovating. It's been a long process to secure our approvals, but ten months after closing, it's official! Our renovation plans are a go.

Red tape aside, we're also learning that historic homes come with complications modern homes are unlikely to have. Soundproofing and indoor plumbing didn't exactly exist in the 1600s, and neither did HVAC systems. Modernizing a home like this without compromising the integrity of the house itself means every decision has to be made carefully — and under the guidance of people who know far more than we ever will.

sweet cottage entryway with bench

Design: Becca Interiors

Picking the Perfect Design Team is a Must

Because we have a lot of moving parts, our project has required a whole host of people to guide us. Along with an architect who knows all the ins and outs of historic properties, we also have a contractor, a kitchen joiner, and an interior designer, and we've consulted damp specialists and exterminators who are familiar with the specific problem areas of historic homes.

Modernizing a home like this without compromising the integrity of the house itself means every decision has to be made carefully.

With our design team as our guides, we’re able to add small luxuries we never would have imagined had we set out to do this on our own. The home is small and quirky and lacking in things like closets and laundry. But with the help of our team, we're adding all this and more—including a bunk room, a ton of hidden storage, and the attic loft-turned-dark academia library of my dreams.

Material Costs Aren’t Fixed

This might sound painfully obvious, but as anyone tackling a home project right now knows, material prices are astronomical and ever-changing—and unfortunately, it’s not getting much better. In our case, we have an added reason to feel stressed. We have to use specific materials in line with our home’s history, which means we won’t be able to just go with whatever material is cheaper. 

It also means that some of our materials might need to be specifically sourced. I’ll be honest, it all feels slightly intimidating. But we’ve waited this long, so we’re happy to do it right.

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

On our first walk-through with our contractor, he told us everything we could do—from underfloor heating to custom stone staircases to raising beams and lifting sagging stonework to maximize height. 

But as we moved further along in the process, we realized that some of these things won’t work. With our floors, underfloor heating isn’t as simple as it might be in a new build—and it comes with a price tag to reflect that. Moving beams and stonework also came with a unique set of challenges—most of which would again be way out of our budget to do correctly. 

This was all a good reminder that there’s a difference between must-haves and wants, and when it comes to a historic home, sometimes, the house itself has to come first.

dresser with old paintings and gold sconces

Design: Becca Interiors

It’s a Great Test for Marriage Compatibility

My husband and I are high school sweethearts, so to say we know everything there is to know about each other feels like a slight understatement. But once we started the design process, I realized that you really always can learn more about another person!

Together, we’ve been swapping Instagram posts and Pinterest pics, coming up with a cohesive vision for the final design plan. While I go for tiny florals, saturated pastels, and antique gold accents, my husband has a thing for rich leather, natural wood, bronze, and stripes.

When it comes to a historic home, sometimes, the house itself has to come first.

But it’s also been a major reminder that we’re a team. There have been moments where I’ve asked if I can just shut my brain off to the process, and my husband has taken over, only looping me back into the conversation when it’s necessary. There are also elements that don’t interest him as much, and I’ve happily scooped those decisions onto my plate. In the end, it’s all coming together in a perfect blend of our English country cottagecore dreams

While we still don’t have an exact completion date on our radar, it’s all feeling a bit more real—and I’m sure it means the end result will be all the sweeter.