A Cleaned-Up Cornwall Cottage Maintains Its Funky Maritime Charm

A Cleaned-Up Cornwall Cottage Maintains Its Funky Maritime Charm

By Caitlin Wheeler / Photos by James Brittain
A sensitive renovation by Jonathan Tuckey Design celebrates the history, setting, and imperfections of a 400-year-old cottage in Cornwall.

In a tiny village in Cornwall, this idyllic cottage is surrounded by expanses of fields that roll gently down toward the sea, and lush vegetation and gardens that grow wildly. The cottage itself was also a bit unruly, with its undulating ceiling, walls of varying heights that didn’t always match the roofline, and a warren of smaller rooms. Even so, the clients, and the Jonathan Tuckey Design team, loved it all. 

"We cherished the deformed yet beautiful shape," says the project’s lead architect, Ryuta Hirayama. Rather than smooth away the imperfections, the team embraced them, striving for "a theatricality" that would emphasize the home’s long history. 

Since the cottage was built with very few rectilinear lines, adjustments would require some creativity. For example, the tall stable door to the office was originally misaligned, leaving a gap between it and the wall. Instead of straightening the wall to fit the door, Hirayama inserted an acrylic panel to allow light to pour through the top, accentuating the distinctive play of light and shadow along the uneven ceiling. 

The cottage sits on a hilly landscape and works its way down to the shore, so the architects wanted to make a clearer route through the house. In the center hallway, they inserted small steps and clever door jambs between rooms to promote a more natural flow. 

With the damp and chilly maritime climate, the team knew they would have to modernize the home’s insulation. "The entire house received a full thermal upgrade, including underfloor and roof insulation, and spray insulation to the inner face of the walls," says Hirayama. Without marring the historic appearance of the cottage, the architects replaced the whole roof membrane and installed a ground source heat pump in the garden that operates the heating system in the house.

During the renovation, the team discovered a fascinating structural design element: The roof had long ago been disassembled and remodeled in the mode of an ancient Cornish boat. Typically built on a keel with a spine and a series of ribs to form the main structure, these boats had timber boards fixed onto the structure to fill out the body. Similarly, the cottage’s roof had a primary beam, and trusses for structure that were overlaid with wooden panels "like an upside-down boat," says Hirayama. 

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Adjacent to the cottage, the architects designed a brand new addition that comprises guest bedrooms, bunk bedrooms, and showers. The team implemented locally sourced slate to visually differentiate the new building from the original stucco finish of the old cottage. Most striking  is a cantilevered guest bedroom with a large window that provides views over the sea. 

"We feel proud to have reinstated the character of the original cottage," says Hirayama, who appreciated the home’s billowing forms and their connection to the rolling hills, uneven coastline, and the rise and fall of the waves. "We retained those elements that would enrich modern, everyday life," explains Hiramaya, "and we rather enjoy the imperfections of the gaps between old and new.

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