Renovating a centuries-old collection of buildings into a family home became a labour of love for a mum and her young son looking to leave London behind for Cornwall’s Atlantic coast
TEXT & IMAGES EWEN MACDONALD
Moving to a new home is meant to be one of the most stressful of times – next to a death in the family, and divorce. Salma Khan faced all three in a short space of time. Throw in a pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, and you have all the ingredients of a catastrophe.
But Salma is now ready to start a new life with her young son in a newly renovated listed building by the beach in West Cornwall.
The original Roundhouse in Crantock dates back more than 250 years. It has been through countless uses from tearoom to art gallery, but its history isn’t the only confusing element: the configuration of the main building and the additions that followed is an enduring mystery. Originally a row of separate buildings and outbuildings, the Roundhouse site incorporates 18th century smelters, a cottage and a series of joined up farm outbuildings – including a tack room and piggery – dating back to around 1850.
Its various uses also included a broccoli packing site, before being converted into use as an art gallery, craft store and church tea room. But by the time Salma bought the property it had gone unchanged for 40 years – and was in definitely need of major renovations to make it a family home, which would see the interiors gutted.
“The house consists of the outbuildings, an old cottage, and the Roundhouse itself,” explains Salma. The outbuildings formerly housed animals but now accommodate bedrooms, the main bathroom and a shower room. The kitchen/diner, mezzanine area and a den for the children are in the old cottage, while the showcase circular living room sits in the Roundhouse.
While the original buildings were as run-down as their layout was confusing, the new single storey home boasts five bedrooms, All of it sits under a total of six roofs – one of the few remaining clues to the cluster of buildings that once occupied the site.
Configuring and renovating the building was a mammoth task. Decisions had to be taken on how to rip out the tawdry 1980s additions of cheap flooring and decor but save some of the old features – from the oak ceiling beams to the tack room nails which still hung on the backroom walls.
“I’d undertaken smaller renovation projects before and when I took this one on I knew it would be big and expensive, but I didn’t anticipate just how big and expensive,” she admits.
Acting as her own project manager meant endless trips from London to Cornwall to meet architects and suppliers while making decisions on how to turn these essentially still separate buildings into a home, while keeping its key historical features and then get it all approved by planners. “It was gruelling,” she concedes. As with most old farm buildings, head room was an issue. The architects dug down to create space above, rather than up. This meant preserving the circular roof and the ancient beams holding it all up in the living room, ceiling windows in the bedrooms allowed all the walls and beams to remain untouched.
SEEKING THE DREAM LOCATION
Finding projects in Cornwall is becoming increasingly rare as many seek to exchange their life and property in London for a coastal retreat. Finding the right spot is as important as finding the right property, says Salma. She spent regular childhood holidays in Cornwall and has plenty of links to the place: her great aunt lived in a house overlooking Fistral beach, while her great uncle is buried in the churchyard in nearby Crantock (her aunt also married in the church and baptised her children there).
“I had loved Crantock since I was a child, and the age and location of the property really appealed to me,” she says of the Roundhouse. However, when she approached the agents with an initial offer, she was told it was too low and wouldn’t be accepted. “By the time I had decided to revise my offer about four weeks later, it was already under offer.”
But that was far from the end of the story. In 2017 her mother died – on the same day that her flat (in Lake Como) came under offer. So armed with funds, she began to search again for her dream Cornwall home – and discovered the Roundhouse had come back on the market that same day. For Salma and her eight-year-old son Faris, it was the opportunity of a new life away from London.
KEEPING THE BEST BITS
The end result is a seamless blend of old and new. The beauty of the 250-year-old structure has been maintained while removing many of the cheap and nasty ‘improvements’ that ripped out some of those original features to create a thoroughly modern interior. Parquet flooring sits above underfloor heating, freestanding tubs sit beneath skylights, and a mezzanine floor floats above the children’s den.
She has many favourite areas in the finished home. “I am very fond of the mezzanine – not only because it is high and lets in a lot of light, and recreates the height of what would have been the old cottage, but also because it is cosy and I can relax on the gorgeous Cream of Cornwall floor cushions and play board games with my son.”
The converted hayloft, accessed by a stunning bespoke spiral staircase, is a highlight of the home. A high window seat has been installed to create a cosy den off the main sitting room. “The idea for a mezzanine came to me when I saw a very old photograph of the building, roughly from the late 1800s, and I could see a child’s head poking out of the upper cottage window,” she remembers. “I realised it must have had an upper floor. I got my builder to dig down so that we could have what I believed to be the original height. Salma adds a touching detail that her roofer “had even played in the hayloft as a child.”
She says she loves the Roundhouse itself “because it is architecturally breathtaking, and it always excites me to see people being so taken aback when they walk in there!” The living room takes up the whole of the original Roundhouse building and features exposed roof beams that radiate out from a central post in the middle of the room, made even more of a feature by circular, sheepskin-wrapped seating. The old beams found on ceilings throughout the house show centuries of use.
Old houses have a tendency to put cosiness above light; here the owner has added in Velux windows that allow light to come in while preserving the original features of the house – particularly in the former outbuildings where windows were particularly scarce.
The house is built over a single storey – steps up and down as you enter different parts of the restoration are the only real clue to the original configuration of the building. In the hall there are small nooks cut into the exterior wall, giving an indication of how thick the white washed walls of the cottage are.
The skill in renovating such an old project is finding the right modern products to complement the era of the house rather than fake it – but which also support the needs of modern living. The parquet flooring throughout the living area of the house came from ESB flooring, of London. “I wanted something that would work well with underfloor heating and which looked traditional and parquet-like, without the cost of real parquet,” she says.
The kitchen came from Howden’s and was designed by Salma, with a little help from the company’s CAD designer. “I had fallen in love with a deVOL kitchen and wanted the same feel and look without the price tag. The stone worktops are from Everything Stone in the Cornish village of Par. It is my dream kitchen,” she admits. “It is the perfect entertaining space, opening up onto the patio.”
This fabulous kitchen opens out via floor to ceiling and wall to wall windows onto a secluded garden – where a hot tub and outside shower awaits. The dining table, bench and chairs are made from reclaimed wood by furniture store Lee Longlands in Birmingham. “I chose them because I wanted to bring an industrial feel into the property, to reflect its history as a working building.” Dramatic steam bent wooden pendant lights from Tom Raffield provide a sculptural element here.
Sadly the floors had to be completely replaced – among other past architectural atrocities committed here, the original flagstones had been lost during its 1980s renovation and replaced with carpets, Lino and cheap laminate flooring. “Pretty grim,” admits Salma of the floors she inherited. “I wanted to give the building an old farmhouse feel to reflect its heritage as a working building.” She replaced the floors with farmhouse flagstones.
The original – slightly less than sophisticated agricultural origin of the bedrooms – is celebrated in the names of the rooms and reflected in the original curiosities that she has kept in each room. “I wanted the rooms to reflect their original use,” explains Salma. “The Tack Room is so named because it still has the original large nails in the wall, which would have been used to hang horse tack on.” Similarly, the Cow Shed refers to the fact the cows were milked in the outbuildings.
Names for additional rooms came from local anecdotes – her octogenarian neighbour remembered that the farm outbuildings were once called The Mowhay. The wonderfully named ‘Piggery’ is now her son’s room. Following housing pigs, it was later converted to a car port, says Salma, adding that she “built it up to form part of the main house.”
Throughout the house canvas photographs decorate the hall walls of beaches and surfboards, reminding you that you are only a few minutes from the Atlantic ocean. Aerial photographs also show the cottages before work began, offering a glimpse of the original buildings. Despite the difficulties completing the project, the travel, and the stress of building during the pandemic, Salma says it is worth it “a hundred times over”.
The Covid-19 lockdown has delayed her move to Cornwall, but with her son now enrolled in the local school, The Roundhouse is set to become their forever home by 2022.
“It is a very special place and I felt so drawn to it,” she says. “It called out to me and was meant to be. I will not deny that it has been hard – not least because of the massive life changes that have occurred during the period of renovation – but it has been such a great experience for me, and I have learned a lot and ended up with a very special home.”