Home of the month: A labour of love

PUBLISHED: 08:12 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:53 20 February 2013

Rear view of the house from the garden

Rear view of the house from the garden

If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well, as Noel and Melanie Jolly explain to Pat Bramley...

IT has taken aircraft engineer Noel Jolly and his wife Melanie almost ten years to transform a tired five bedroom 1920s house into a home incorporating everything theyve always wanted.

They bought it in 2002 for 395,000, have done 300,000 of work and now have a property worth seven figures.

The local builders merchants thought I was a builder because I was always down there buying bits and pieces, laughs 58-year-old Noel who helps to maintain the EasyJet fleet at Luton.

Both Melanie and Noel have always been interested in restoration projects and interior design. They extended their previous house from a three-bedroom into a five-bed.

When we finished that, we started to look for an older house because we like the old features in period houses, says Melanie.

We spent ages searching for something with potential. We scoured the market in Hertfordshire and surrounding counties but couldnt find anything, then came back home and Noel saw this house advertised in an agents window. It was in a village three miles from where we lived in Welwyn.

Noel explains, It had been on the market some time because it needed work so the price was reasonable. As soon as we stepped inside we both agreed we wanted to buy it. Straightaway we could see the potential.

Its been a long haul and at times it has been stressful to say the least.
The transformation included restoring the fabric of the existing house, building a two-storey extension to increase the living area by 64 sq metres almost the equivalent of the average space in a new three bedroom house and remodelling the first floor to end up with five bigger bedrooms, a new bathroom and two en suite shower rooms.

The delays were due partly to their determination not to compromise on quality and also to build up capital for the next stage.

Originally they intended to hand over the project to a builder. Twice they found a company to take it on and each time had to dispense with their services. The first was a large concern with other work on the go so progress on the Jollys house was unsatisfactory. The second contractor had his own idea about how the work should be done and it didnt match theirs. We insisted on staying true to the age of the house but he wanted to do it his way.

After the second firm failed to match their expectations, Noel decided to project manage the work himself and employ local craftsmen.

Melanie says, We took a conscious decision that Noel should move away from working days to working nights so he could spend more daylight hours working on the house. It gave him a shift pattern of four nights on, five days off.

In the first year, they concentrated all their energies on what the aircraft engineer calls tidying up before they embarked on the main task of creating more space. One persons tidying up is anothers total overhaul.

Top of the list after moving in was to replaster the ceilings; only problem was the operator couldnt make a start until hed taught himself how to do it.

Melanie, who works in the financial services industry, explains that Noel will never put up with anything that isnt spot on hes too much of a perfectionist. The enthusiast wouldnt have it any other way. When you build and maintain aircraft for a living you cant be anything but a perfectionist but we dont do plastering on planes.

He admits it would have been easier for him as a learner to replaster the walls first but hed decided to do the ceilings.

The memory of the dust cloud that filled the house while old plaster was taken off will stay with them forever. For months we went to work with our clothes filled with dust, you couldnt get rid of it, recalls Noel. At one stage it was like a fog had descended inside the house, Melanie says.

It was a year before they made a start on the actual extension. Its always a wise move for new owners to get to know a place before embarking on a major refit. The Jollys believe it is essential. Its only after youve lived somewhere for a while that you know from experience what improvements will really make a difference.

The Jollys main objective downstairs was to rebuild and triple the size of the kitchen. Upstairs they planned to build a five-star new master bedroom with vaulted ceiling, walk-in wardrobe and en suite shower room.

They also turned the smallest of the original five bedrooms into the main bathroom. They now have a master suite, guest suite, three more double bedrooms and a swanky family bathroom.

Throughout their endeavours they went to endless trouble to restore existing original features such as old floorboards which had been hidden under carpet and to find new or reclaimed materials that fit well with the style of the house. We wanted everything we did to be in keeping with the look of the house but all the amenities and services are up to date.

Noel was adamant their new farmhouse style kitchen should have an Aga even though it meant building an extra chimney at the back of the house. I wasnt sure at first, his wife reveals, but now I think the Agas fantastic although I also have an induction hob and another oven otherwise wed swelter in summer.

The new layout has become the hub of the house. Melanie explains, The original one was tiny and very much a muddle. It had an outside toilet. We have a utility area and a family area with a modular sofa so we can rearrange the seats and I can put my feet up when I watch TV.

The old timbers for the beamed ceiling in the new kitchen were bought through friends or relatives of friends who had been restoring old buildings. The small stained glass panes in the cream painted beech wall units were found on one of their frequent treasure hunts at reclamation yards.

The French armoire in the hall is there because it wouldnt go up the stairs. It was originally bought as a set with a 5ft four-poster bed to go in the new master suite. Most of the old furniture came with us from the previous house but we bought new furniture for our new bedroom. We did all the measurements to make sure they fitted the room but unfortunately when it was delivered we had to saw the posts off the bed to get it up the stairs but we couldnt dismantle the armoire so we put it in the hall.

Noel and Melanie can laugh now at the moments of crisis such as when he was removing the old hand basins in the bedrooms and suddenly realised they could see daylight through the hole in the wall because there was no cavity. That led to them having to create a double skinned wall with a layer of Kingspan insulation in between to keep out the draughts.

On one fateful day Noel wrongly accused a dumbfounded contractor of bringing down part of the dining room ceiling. The owner had forgotten hed taken up the floorboards in the bedroom above so actually he was to blame. It wasnt until he was ranting about the latest calamity later that day that Melanie sheepishly admitted shed put her foot through the ceiling not realising the boards were up. I hadnt had time to tell you earlier, she retorts indignantly.

Noel says the message hed like to pass on to others planning a similar project is how much money is spent on jobs you dont bargain for and you dont see.

The small firms were all brilliant, Noel emphasises. Each one of them was genuinely interested in doing a good job. I cant thank them enough. Id like them to know how much I appreciated everything they did.

But now after ten long years of slog and the project finally finished, Melanie and Noel have decided to put the house on the market. Why? Both of us have lost friends who have died recently. It makes you think.

Were taking stock of our lives. Perhaps well do another project like this or there could be other things we might want to do. You never know whats ahead.

*Noel and Melanie Jollys house is for sale through Bryan Bishop at Welwyn for 1.25m.

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