Familial territory

While most people undertaking a project will buy an unfamiliar plot or house, possibly even in an unfamiliar area, a couple in Cheshire took the opposite approach, building next door to the in-laws

Some would shy away from a property where your next-door neighbours would be your in-laws, but for Jodie Nesbitt-Shaw and Mark Shaw, the family connection was why they chose their house!

The cottage near Sandbach in Cheshire had originally belonged to Mark’s grandmother, and sits beside his parents’ home.

Whenever Jodie visited Mark’s grandmother she always loved the cottage, which while tiny, had a fairytale air about it. His grandmother had moved in to the house decades ago with her husband, and brought up four children there. Mark’s great-grandfather built the house next door to her, where his parents now live.

Following Mark’s grandmother’s death, the cottage was put up for auction, and with an idea that they could fulfil their dream of moving to the country, accompanied by some big plans for the tiny cottage, the couple put in the winning bid.

From the front, the cottage retains its rural charm, but it is around the back that the traditional turns contemporary, where huge windows flood the extended rear with sunlight, and offer views over the surrounding countryside.

Despite the fact that when purchased the property was in a very poor state of repair, the couple still faced objections when they applied to renovate and extend it – even though from the road all that can be seen is the front elevation, which still retains the original 150 year old cottage’s bucolic charm, and a wall that formed part of the 110 year old barn.

However, working with planning department and their architect, objections were overcome and neighbours soon became fascinated by the works.

“It was really exciting to see my original rough-sketched concept brought to life by the architect’s rendering,” says Jodie.

The planning application was a rollercoaster and took six to seven months to get passed. “They were very strict on what we could do – the roadside appearance had to stay the same, even down to how we replaced the air bricks on the wall of the barn,” says Mark.“Working with the rigidity of it was hard, but we had a cracking architect in DnA Group from Chester; Mark and Rachel helped us fight for the planning.”

The local authority stipulated the necessity for a bat and barn owl survey, and an archeological survey, although no issues were found that delayed or changed the plans.

Once the build project was progressing the couple left their previous home and moved in with Mark’s parents to be closer to the site, hoping that shortly it would be advanced enough for them to move in, with the project continuing around them.

Once the works were finally underway, they thought it was going to be an easy ride – but the original builder laid a traditional foundation, and Jodie and Mark discovered to their dismay that a reinforced raft foundation was required. The resulting works to take out and replace the foundations added £10k to the build cost. “Do not rely solely on your builder for information; establish the legalities of things,” advises Mark.

After the problems with the foundations, the couple parted ways with the builder, and a frustrating, dormant few months followed. But with great timing, one of Mark’s best friends, Tom, set up a building company, Prestige Building Services, and they knew they could trust him!

Tom arranged all of the work, which was carried out on site by Tommy, who kept the project moving forwards at a pace.

The couple also found it was well worth using an independent building inspector, CPR of Stoke-on-Trent, who acted on the local authority’s behalf and made the process much more fluid.

While there were no unexpected structural issues to be addressed, this area of Cheshire is known for its salt mines, and the local authority can offer payment for repairs for building movement caused by salt-related subsidence.

However, the cracks in the barn wall were not deemed caused by this – even though it was the same authority that insisted on the raft foundation and floating floor to counter future issues with salt-related subsidence – so Jodie and Mark were unable to take advantage of the funding.

Although glazing dominates the rear elevation, Cheshire brick, reclaimed from parts of the original cottage, was used on the extension, connecting further the old and the new.

As Mark works in procurement, his experience proved to be invaluable. When it came to sourcing the windows and doors he used an array of manufacturers. “To get the exact products we wanted we went with several firms – we chose aluminium as that allowed the frames to be slimmer,” he says. The bi-fold doors were bought from Sterling in Warrington.

“We had great advice from one company, who recommended that we had the anthracite grey on the outside so the exterior glazing was all the same colour, but white on the inside in the old cottage part,” he continues. “We also ensured that for satisfactory sightlines there were the same number of glazing panels downstairs as on the window above – this made for a pleasing symmetry when looking at the property from the outside.”

As with any new build or refurbishment project, insulation is an important part of meeting Building Regulations, and the property is kept cosy with a variety of products – the kitchen/lounge/diner floor floats above six inches of Celotex insulation laid between the joists, with underfloor heating laid by the couple themselves.

The cavity walls have four inches of slab insulation, while upstairs, which features sloping ceilings in order to keep volume, foil- backed insulation was used with additional insulation in the overlapping eaves.

The interiors of the cottage fit the building perfectly, and create a beautiful family home for the couple and their two children.

Downstairs is the open-plan family kitchen, lounge and dining room, with large-scale marble floor tiles. The kitchen boasts an island complete with marble worktop and a belfast sink, while a contemporary chandelier from the casts a glow over the informal seating area.

The beautiful wooden dining table was made by Patsy’s Place in Liverpool; the same sewing- machine stands used to support the table are also used to lovely effect under the sink in the main bathroom. Seating pews came from the old church that Mark’s grandmother attended, adding further family history to the home.

The sitting room in the old part of the cottage boasts a pool table and snug, and a fireplace in the dividing wall opens on both sides, so when the dual-aspect woodburner is installed this will also warm the kitchen.

The open-tread hardwood staircase from StairBox leads up to a glass-balustraded landing, the use of glass adding further to the open plan airiness that the property enjoys.

The galleried landing looks down on the kitchen, and two stunning chandeliers flood the rooms below with dramatic light. “With most of the lighting in the house being recessed spots we have only three suspended lights, so we felt that these should make a statement,” says Jodie.

Upstairs are four bedrooms, one each for the couple’s two children, an ensuite guest bedroom, and an ensuite master bedroom – all bedrooms as well as the landing are carpeted. The family bathroom features a roll-top claw- foot bath and gorgeous patchwork-inspired tiles that were also used in the ensuite.

So do they have any words of wisdom for anyone about to commence a similar project? “I’d recommend you double and triple check the conditions in the planning permission, and check and re-check the legalities; missing something can cost down the line!” advises Mark. “And ask yourself how well do you really know your builder… Having said that it’ll be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have!”

Jodie and Mark share a favourite part of the whole project – “the day the windows went in in the old cottage.” The installation of the windows seemed to mark the change from a building site to a prospective home.

“But I’ve loved so much of it!” says Mark, “there was a lot of soul-searching and digging deep, but often I find myself sitting on the top stair looking out of the windows at the garden, and thinking – wow – it’s been worth it!”

So now it’s complete, are they wanting to do it all again? “We’d manage a build for someone else, but we were so emotionally invested in this we don’t think we’d build our own family home again.” And with such a beautiful, personalised home, why would they ever want to move?