Jacqueline Bolt returned to the Cornish village of her childhood to salvage a cottage on the brink of collapse.
Trelash, north Cornwall, was artist Jacqueline Bolt’s childhood home, and she has never lost her love for the quaint hamlet. Her mother, brother and sister all remained in the area, so when she heard that a very familiar cottage had come on to the market seven years ago, everything slotted into place.
‘I’ve known this house all my life because as a girl I was friends with the three sisters who lived there back then,’ recalls Jacqueline. ‘The timing was perfect; I was looking for a home nearer my family and I’d always loved how quintessentially Cornish the property is. When I spotted that it was for sale I could hardly believe my luck.’
The cottage was built in cob – a traditional material made from earth and straw – and stone, and although pretty was unhabitable due to years of neglect. It was so bad, in fact, that a surveyor advised Jacqueline to knock it down. The news was like a red rag to a bull. ‘Demolition wasn’t an option,’ she insists. ‘I was determined to retain as much of the original cottage as possible, because if I lost the integrity of the building, I was worried I wouldn’t love it any more.’
Jacqueline has a good eye for design and felt confident enough to scratch out a new layout for the three-bedroom property herself, which she passed to her architect. One of the biggest changes was replacing the early-1900s lean-to with a two-storey extension, widening the footprint of the cottage and creating space for a kitchen-diner with a new utility area and pantry downstairs, plus a master bedroom, en suite and dressing room upstairs. She also moved the staircase from the living room, which had cut the space in half, into the new kitchen-diner to give the zone a more sociable, relaxing feel.
With planning consent under her belt, the building work began – literally with a bang – when the cob-west gable collapsed during the demolition of the old lean-to. Not long afterwards, an internal wall fell down and more structural problems were uncovered, meaning the walls had to be stripped back to the bare bones and the roof completely removed. Undeterred and as passionate as the day she started, Jacqueline stayed true to the fabric of the building. ‘We rebuilt the walls in the original materials,’ she explains, ‘and reappropriated as many of the old roof slates, which came from the nearby Delabole quarry, as we could.’
Jacqueline was just as careful with the finishes inside the house. ‘I wanted to hold on to the rustic feel of the cottage,’ she says. ‘I reused the flagstone flooring in the kitchen and porch, and recycled a small window we’d taken out and installed it above the sink.’ The old floorboards were put to good use too, after Jacqueline removed countless years of paint. ‘I used a hand-scraper and whatever didn’t come off stayed on – I didn’t want them to look perfect,’ she adds. ‘Then my carpenter made features from the boards, such as the window seat in the living room, and cladding to hide things like the extractor fan and the pillar in the kitchen.’
The heavy investment that had to be made in rebuilding the shell of the cottage forced Jacqueline to be inventive and creative when it came to her interiors. Much of her furniture is sourced from auctions and antique shops or has been donated by friends, and she has kept the walls neutral with just splashes of colour from her nature-inspired window fabrics or photographic art. ‘I’ve always liked living in a home that reflects a naturally relaxing environment,’ she says. ‘So my artwork and botanical-print blinds are a feature in every room.’
Three years on, Jacqueline is thrilled with how the cottage has turned out and has decided to rent it out for part of the year, making the time she spends there even more special. ‘Being here brings me the type of happiness that one can only feel when they’re near their closest family,’ she says. ‘But best of all, the three sisters who lived in the house when I was growing up have all given me their blessing. They love it now just as much as we all did back then.’
Photography: James French