The Mulberry Cottage Fairy Tale

The renovation story of a delightful stone and timber clad cottage in idyllic South Oxfordshire.

A client with a clear vision, combined with a construction company with the desire and skills to make it happen. The perfect blend for a design and build match made in heaven.

Nearly two decades ago, our clients bought a stone and timber clad cottage in idyllic South Oxfordshire. Dating from the 1700s and complete with exposed beams and old timber features, an original stone bread oven and splendid open-fireplaces at either end, the property forms a delightful L-shaped suntrap.

Situated within easy striking distance of Oxford, in a village in the middle of open countryside our clients Ken and Tracy "never fell completely in love with it" because the space was poorly configured. With one eye always on the property market, “if the right house had come along we would have snapped it up”, they finally gave up the search and decided to turn their focus on making the house into the home they wanted.

Architect’s plans were drawn up but the cost of the proposed works was significantly more than had been anticipated so things were put on hold. In the meantime, our clients had seen Barr Group signs outside local build projects and, happily, everyone they asked had something positive to say. They got in touch and Construction Director, Chris Noonan, popped over to take a look, run through their wish list and made a few suggestions as to how the renovation works could go ahead in the most practical, efficient and streamlined way.

Chris, Barr Build DTC Construction Director: “As a Direct to Client project, with no ongoing architect involvement, we started by assessing the whole renovation, looking for the most efficient way to tackle each section. We costed absolutely everything so that we had a start point from which Ken and Tracy could prioritise and make decisions. The fundamental structural elements, for example taking down load-bearing walls in the kitchen area and reconfiguring the staircase, were essential to the scheme and required a sensible but expert approach. An important factor for Ken was to make the house sustainable with renewable energy: the addition of a ground source heat pump has been left until a future build stage - but with the infrastructure and a high standard of insulation now in place".

“We love some of the unintended benefits of the build, things we hadn’t really planned but which have made such a big difference to the enjoyment of our home.”

Tracy: “As we had proceeded without an architect, most of the design elements came from us in the end. Our daughter Elizabeth is very creative and contributed enormously to the project. Together we had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve. The Barr Group team (we used Barr Build, Barr Joinery and Barr Kitchens) were very able to understand and interpret our ideas. The process was very intense but not stressful. Each evening I would work on the design and sourcing, then Sal (Barr Build Site Manager) would arrive early the next morning and we would discuss any developments before I left for work. Sal appreciated that every creative decision and detail of the build really mattered to me - so he patiently checked in with me each day and on every decision". There was a real meeting of minds.

Tracy’s confidence in the team to translate her ideas into reality grew as the project progressed and she went on to commission more of her and Elizabeth’s own designs. Clever storage solutions, unique glazed cabinets and a panelled secret staircase (Ken’s inspired contribution) to name but a few.

Tracy’s favourite finished element of the project; “definitely the bespoke cabinetry and joinery; the panelled shutters had to be made to a specific design and could not be sourced as made-to-measure items. Barr Joinery also did a brilliant job interpreting my blueprint for the cabinetry in the sitting room, cleverly concealing the television and Elizabeth’s design for the gin cabinet in the kitchen. We are absolutely thrilled with the end result. Now I know what is possible I am looking forward to commissioning even more made-to-measure cabinetry!"

Tracy: “We are delighted with the kitchen, especially the bespoke draw-filled island and, of course, the AGA! We are really pleased with the reconfigured, concealed second stairway – it has totally changed the feel of the house. I love the glass light-reflecting mosaic tiles and the marble in the cloakroom, and the dining room in its new incarnation, with the crittall style doors which were definitely worth the months of trawling to source them and with space for a table and chairs for ten… we can finally entertain again".

Tracy: “We also love some of the unintended benefits of the build, things we hadn’t really planned but which have made such a big difference to the enjoyment of our home; especially the fact that we can be in the kitchen and feel connected with the rear garden due to the tailor-made half-glazed doors at the front and back. Since the renovation the house has become our sanctuary, now we can definitely imagine staying here until we retire”.

Elizabeth: “My favourite space is my bedroom which I designed with style and comfort in mind and I also love the social aspect of the kitchen where we all gather around the island”.

A Direct to Client project will always be an involved process in which trust, communication and teamwork between builder and client are key. In Tracy and Ken’s words “The works went really smoothly. We were living in a sectioned off part of the house throughout the project, so it was really important that we appointed builders we got on well with. It turned out that everyone who worked on the job was amazing”.

"Even though we have been in for a little while now, we still appreciate how functional the space is due to the renovation; accentuated by the three lockdowns due to the Covid pandemic. The design, especially the secret staircase, opened up the space with a better flow between rooms and the French doors in the kitchen, dining and sitting rooms have brought the outside in, filling the space with light. It also meant that we had room to accommodate home working for the four of us in a lovely environment for which we felt very grateful."

View the full project

Mulberry Cottage