As the owners and directors of an architectural practice in Falmouth, Cornwall, the highs and lows of a home renovation scheme are familiar to Adam Laskey and Daisy Sawle.
In the summer of 2015, with the couple’s first baby on the way, they decided the time was right to switch to a larger property to accommodate their growing family. They also wanted to find an abode that was closer to the office, in order to be able to cut down on their daily commuting time.
The pair had their eyes peeled for a project house, with the scope to adapt and create a bespoke home. However, this wasn’t the first time they had tackled a major build.
“The first house we bought together was in a terrible state when we purchased it,” says Adam,
an architectural technician. “We fell through the floor when we surveyed it because chronic woodworm had set in. We ripped the ground floors and structural walls out, rewired, replumbed and extended to the rear.”
So it’s fair to say that the couple weren’t put off by the prospect of buying a house that would present them with a few challenges on the road to refurbishing it.
While Adam and Daisy were flexible in terms of the kind of house they wanted, tracking down a suitable property to renovate was no mean feat. On various occasions, the legal process for buying a new home had gotten well underway, only to fall through later on.
“We looked at such a variety of places,” says Daisy. “We found this lovely 1930s bungalow in a village near where we both grew up, which seemed to be a promising opportunity at first.”
However, the couple were aware that the dwelling had been tested for mundic in the past. This construction issue is common in the south west, and refers to where structures built of poor-quality aggregate leftover from mining waste start to experience degradation.
“The bungalow went onto the market with a cleared mundic report, but by the time we looked at the property the time frame for that clearance had lapsed,” says Adam. “Our mortgage advisor said we needed to retest it, and the results came back positive for this issue.”
While this blow did mean that the couple were set back in their search, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and they continued their hunt for a suitable opportunity.
Learn more: Top 10 Plot Pitfalls for Self Builders
Another property the pair were close to buying was situated next to an empty plot, with scenic views of the countryside beyond. However, for Adam, the site raised some concerns.
“At that stage, we’d been told the land was used to maintain the trainline, which was quite close,” he says. “But when the solicitor was going through all the paperwork, it turned out that there was a dispute on the boundary. The site was actually owned by a neighbour who had planning permission for a three-storey house.”
Knowing that a new dwelling would block out the views from the home they were keen
to buy, the couple decided to keep looking for other opportunities.
After a couple of hiccups in the journey to selling their current home – including the fact that their original buyers fell through – Adam and Daisy sold up at the beginning of April 2016. “By that point we were desperate.
We needed to find somewhere!” says Daisy. The pair – and newborn baby Alfie – moved in with a kind friend while they continued their search. “Adam always keeps an eye on the market and checks out what’s on Rightmove,” says Daisy.
It was at this point he noticed a Victorian terraced property overlooking the waterfront in Falmouth that didn’t seem to be selling.
Although Daisy wasn’t keen on the abode, the pair decided to go for a viewing. “I figured, what’s the worst that could happen?” says Adam. “I thought that going to visit might be enough to spark an idea, and it did.”
Although the house was not in a poor state of repair in terms of its structural condition, it was clear from the outset that the ill-conceived layout was not going to suit family life.
The Victorian terraced structure at the front of the property was connected to an old sail loft at the back, with an internal courtyard situated in between.
“The kitchen was located right at the rear. It was so dark,” says Daisy. “I really wasn’t feeling it. However, the home’s major draw was that when you went upstairs, the sea view from the bedrooms at the front was just stunning.”
The downstairs layout was also difficult for Adam, who is 6’1″, to navigate. “I had to duck twice to walk from the front of the property to the back – that had to be resolved,” he says.
With ideas already beginning to form, Adam carried out various feasibility studies to see if the property could be adapted to suit the couple’s goals.
“I took the plans and went straight into the modelling software we use at work,” says Adam. The pair also called on a professional contact of theirs, a builder, to see if their vision for reconfiguring the downstairs layout could be achieved. “
We had a budget of £50,000 for the work. We believed the structural changes we wanted to make could be completed for £40,000.” Once they had confirmation from the contractor their proposal was realistic, it was full steam ahead, and the pair went ahead with the purchase.
The family continued to stay with their friend, and later moved into Adam’s parents’ home, while construction work was carried out.
As few changes were being made to the exterior of the property, aside from the installation of new windows and an access door at the back, the scheme fell under permitted development.
The plan was to reconfigure the ground floor layout by fitting a roof lantern over the internal courtyard, which would become the dining room. “We also punched through two of the small windows that overlooked the courtyard, and made those into structural openings,” says Adam.
This allowed the couple to establish an open kitchen-dining-living area at the back of the house, connected to a playroom for Alfie at the heart of the floorplan.
A new WC was also put in under the stairs. The lounge at the front would remain untouched.
“We had this idea that we could be in the kitchen, while Alfie was doing something at the dining table, but could still be part of that,” says Daisy. “We also wanted a space where he could play and a zone that’d be large enough for us to be able to use for entertaining friends and family.”
In addition to the structural changes, the couple also reinsulated the loft to boost the thermal performance of the house. Acoustic insulation was added to the party wall that separated the dwelling from next door. However, as with the renovation of any period property, unexpected challenges arose along the way.
“A lot of things cropped up throughout the build, especially regarding the plumbing and electrics,” says Adam. “It turned out that the lighting circuit was run on power cables, and that some of the power circuit was on lighting wires. It was a fire waiting to happen.”
Updating the property’s drainage system also proved to be a significant headache.
“It wasn’t as clear cut as we thought it was going to be – we had to divert rainwater into the property to then dispatch it,” says Adam. “Because we were changing the layout and putting in a new WC, there wasn’t a huge amount of fall within the drains. We had to move the soil pipe around to make it work.”
The couple’s builder, Marc, was particularly helpful in coming up with potential solutions. “He is incredibly knowledgeable,” says Adam. “We were scratching our heads as to what we could do and he came up with some amazing solutions. We worked our way around the issues – including the drainage. His help was invaluable.”
When it came to specifying products and finishes for the interiors, Daisy and Adam did plenty of research. In terms of floor finishes, the pair knew they wanted a low-maintenance, easy-to-clean surface that’d be practical for living with young children.
“We went for Amtico luxury vinyl tiles, and it really helped that we were able to get them at a discounted trade price,” says Daisy.
The couple also worked closely with a professional kitchen designer to put together a configuration of units that suited the space perfectly. “Because we put a larder in, we were able to cut down on overhead cabinets that would have made the space feel too heavy,” says Adam.
“In the end, we went for high level units with an integrated open shelf underneath. It’s great, because it adds a bit of interest to the kitchen.”
Slim Dekton worktops were chosen to complement the sleek, handleless cabinetry.
The dining room is flooded with light thanks to the new roof lantern overhead. “It took us a long time to find the right glazing solution, but we knew we wanted something we’d be totally happy with, as that’s one of the elements you can’t change,” says Daisy. “Furniture and stuff like that can be upgraded later on.”
Now the building work is complete, the couple are delighted with the results. “The kitchen-dining space works so well,” says Daisy. “We’ve had two Christmases in the house. Adam and I were cooking while my dad was playing with Alfie in the other room. It was amazing, and exactly the kind of space we wanted to be in.”
Being so close to the heart of Falmouth, the spectacular sea views from the upstairs bedroom are another highlight of the property. “In the summer months we get woken up by the most beautiful sunrises over the water,” says Adam. “Alfie comes to join Daisy and I, and we all have breakfast in bed.”
Despite how far the pair have come in their improvement of the property, they both believe there’s still scope to accomplish more.
“We never stop thinking about what we can do,” says Adam, who has considered linking the back of the terrace with the first floor of the sail loft that sits above the kitchen. This space currently acts as a cosy entertaining space at the back of the dwelling, with a sofa bed for when guests come to stay.
“We could have turned it into a four-bedroom property when we did the work, but we were more focused on creating a space that complemented our family and our lifestyle,” says Adam. “We built it especially for us.”
The couple haven’t ruled out renovating again in the future, either. “Although we love it, we know this isn’t our forever home,” says Daisy. “But we’re never going to find a property we wouldn’t want to do work to. Why pay money for a house that’s finished, when we can add a lot of value by doing the work ourselves?”
For now, however, the couple are content to live in a place with marvellous sea views that has enhanced their family life more than they ever imagined.