Jun 24, 2022
When it comes to ambitious property projects, it’s fair to say that Claire Segeren and Callum Hunter certainly know a thing or two after somewhat unexpectedly finding themselves with a huge and dilapidated Victorian villa on their hands.
Sometimes, however, unforeseen situations can yield the biggest rewards, and for Claire and Callum, what started out as a full-on property shock has fast become a fantastic opportunity to create something truly remarkable – complete with Bert & May tiles.
We spoke to the couple about the renovation project of a lifetime…
Full names: Claire Segeren and Callum Hunter
Occupations: Jameswood Villa is our full-time job, but Cal is also a carpenter, and I have worked as a carpenter’s mate on some of Cal’s contracts. We often pick up part-time jobs in the summer as well.
Style and location of your property:
Jameswood is a Victorian red sandstone, situated on the edge of Dunoon, a Scottish seaside town nestled amongst the hills of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Who lives there:
Cal and I are living in our tiny touring caravan, in the backyard, as we restore Jameswood Villa. Jameswood is also host to a nomadic community of volunteers who set up camp in our garden during the milder months of the year.
How did you end up ‘accidentally’ buying a derelict Victorian villa?
Cal went to a property auction hoping to bid on a two-bedroom apartment in Glasgow. It was the sought-after property that several developers and investors had come to the auction in pursuit of winning. Jameswood was the lot number just ahead of the Glasgow apartment, but what Cal didn’t know is that the auction house had added a second apartment from the building to the auction at the last minute. Cal was following along using the printed booklet that was handed out on the day of the auction, and the last-minute addition had not been included in this catalogue. After the first of Jameswood’s apartments was sold, Cal raised his hand to bid on the next lot - and soon discovered he had bid on the wrong property by mistake.
Though the property had been described as needing “upgrades throughout”, what we found when we turned up at the address was an overgrown site with a Victorian villa that had been abandoned for nearly 30 years. The roof was caving in and resembled a colander, the red sandstone wall and bay window were partially collapsed, the plaster was crumbling, and floors and structural timbers were rotten. It was all a bit shocking.
Turning the property into a liveable space must have been a fairly daunting task… Where did you even begin?!
Taking on this restoration was immensely overwhelming to begin with, but Cal kept reminding me (potentially rather naively) that it was just sticks and stones.
We began with a thorough structural report, which put rumours of subsidence and failing gable end walls at bay, but also confirmed that there were serious structural issues that would need addressing. The engineer recommended demolition (on numerous occasions), but also recommended a solution to every problem listed in our report.
We then started work remedying this list of structural problems, and since then, we have taken the approach of breaking up the project step by step. It’s a lot less overwhelming when you focus on one task at a time.
And what’s your overall vision?
Our goals for this project have been to restore Jameswood Villa in as sustainable a way as possible, using building materials and techniques that are compatible with a traditionally built building. We have tried to bring back the original character of the building, while adding contemporary touches - both in the building’s fabric, for efficiency, and in its interiors. We have also had to adhere to an incredibly tight budget.
What have you learnt along the way (so far)?
I have truly been learning on a daily basis as we have taken on this project. Though Cal, a carpenter himself, knew quite a bit about the trades, I knew nothing about buildings. I didn’t know what a gable end wall or dormer window were when we started this project, and though I had helped my dad with a few home improvement projects over the years, I was not at all proficient with using (or even naming) tools. I have had a crash course in nearly every trade involved in the project - from roofing and stone masonry to framing, flooring, plastering, and tiling. For each phase of the project, I have not only had to quickly learn these new skills for myself but teach these skills to volunteers with no background in building, who had come to help us restore our home.
With no budget for professional help, we ploughed into textbooks - from The Builder’s Bible to guides on sustainable building and how to take care of old, traditionally built homes. I also learned how to navigate a boatload of complicated, tedious bureaucracies involved in building a house, including dreaded building control applications. I even learned how to use AutoCAD to produce architectural renderings for our structural engineer to annotate.
Importantly, Cal and I have also learned an incredible amount about each other - how to work as a team, and how to navigate a romantic relationship while living in tight quarters and working on an often-stressful project together.
Sustainability is a big part of the project… How are you making it as sustainable as possible?
For us, building sustainably has meant choosing building materials and techniques that are compatible with a 120-year-old property.
We needed to maintain the breathability of the home, while also making it efficient enough for the 21st century, so we took off the old concrete that enveloped the building and replaced it with breathable and sustainable lime. Insulation was also key, and we have used sheep’s wool to insulate all our external walls. This is a natural material that also helps manage moisture and will maintain a healthy living environment while protecting structural timbers for the longevity of our building.
We chose recycled (and recyclable) materials for our roof, and many reclaimed materials in our interiors which have minimised the carbon footprint of the project, while also adding character to the building.
As we start to focus on interior design, we are choosing robust, high-quality products that will last, and timeless designs that won’t require intense renovation over the years.
Our budget hasn’t extended to including renewables (yet!), so for now we are focusing on the basics, such as creating a dry and efficient envelope, and a durable, timelessly designed home. We will incorporate new technologies as part of our longer-term plan and have already put the wiring in for solar PV panels, which we will install once we have an income from opening our holiday rentals.
Which Bert & May products have you used?
Why did you choose them?
We wanted to steer clear of overly trendy finishes that would look dated in years to come, and stick to simple, beautiful design and lasting quality of finish.
I firstly fell in love with the Inverse Grey Salon design as it really ticked all the boxes for our interior goals. The contemporary colour and material added a fun and modern feel which helped create the perfect balance of tradition and modern design that I was looking for. I also love the robust, high-quality nature of an encaustic tile.
Having chosen a pattern for the floor tile, we wanted a simple wall tile for the shower area. The perfectly imperfect finish of the Stubby Glazed wall tile gives it a beautiful character of its own - simple, and anything but boring. This bathroom gets flooded with indirect, warm afternoon sun, and I always envisioned it as being a bright, airy space, which is why we chose Brighton Stone as a colour.
What led you to use Bert & May?
We visited our good friends at Kilmartin Castle in the Spring before I started choosing tiles. I absolutely loved all their bathrooms - especially their beautifully chosen tiles. They had incorporated Bert & May’s encaustic tiles into several their spaces, and the quality and lovely feel underfoot was memorable. From there, I checked out Bert & May’s collection, and fell in love with the Inverse Salon tile! We designed the bathroom from there!
Would you ever do anything like this again?
We would love to do another project one day. I think we’ve learned so much from restoring Jameswood, it would be a shame to not apply this to another renovation or build in the future! For a long time, I said we would definitely do something like this again, but not as gigantic a project as this one, however - as we near the end of restoring Jameswood, I have found myself eyeing up and dreaming about bigger projects for the future!