Cal and Claire accidentally bought a century-old mansion at an auction. Then they learned the place was completely falling apart. And so the hands-on duo decided to transform the dilapidated property into their ideal home...
Meet the Couple
Meet the young couple who - very accidentally - embarked on a huge DIY. 28-year-old Cal and 26-year-old Claire first met when they both worked the French Alps' ski season. The lovebirds soon realized they were a perfect match.
The couple spent a few months getting to know each other as they went on off-grid adventures and enjoyed spring BBQs with other ski-loving friends. "The Alps have a special place in our heart," they shared. But soon, Cal and Claire would call another place home.
While these travel buddies met on the French Alps, this DIY story actually began at an auction. After Claire declined an acceptance to medical school, she and Cal searched for their next big adventure and landed on house flipping. But things didn't go as planned...
The couple researched and visited a few auction properties before choosing a specific home to bid on. The photo above shows the auction catalog from that fateful day. On the right is the Glasgow flat that Cal, who attended the event alone, was supposed to buy.
Making the Best Of a BIG Mistake
But there was a big problem: two more properties had been added to the auction but were not featured in the catalog. So when a confused Cal thought he was bidding on the Glasgow house, the young man was actually fighting for a totally different property.
"When he thought he was bidding on a 2 bedroom flat in East Pollokshields, Glasgow, he was actually bidding on the 2nd unit up for sale at Jameswood Villa, in Sandbank, Dunoon," Claire explained. But the go-getters decided to make the best of it. Little did they know they were in over their heads.
The Old Mansion in All Its Glory
So Claire and Cal accidentally became the owners of Jameswood Villa. Instead of buying a house in the city, the lovebirds ended up in a village on Scotland's Cowal peninsula. But not just any home - the Villa was practically a mansion and was over a century old.
"This amazing photo was taken in 1910 and shows Jameswood Villa in all its former glory," the couple shared, adding that their new home was the "leftmost building, with the car parked outside." The DIYers soon started planning for their new property - only to find out it was crumbling to the ground.
The two-story mansion was previously used as four separate apartments, so Claire and Cal had plenty of blueprints to figure out for the home's interior. But the DIYers were just as excited for the huge backyard where they intended to make all of their outdoor living dreams come true.
The couple planned a driveway, a shed, various patios, hammocks in the gorgeous trees, and a patio at the garden's top that would include a barbeque and a fire pit with plenty of seating. But it didn't take long to figure out that this project would take quite a bit of time to complete...
The Property Was in Shambles
When the duo realized Cal purchased the wrong home and read that Jameswood Villa needed "upgrading throughout," they thought it would be manageable. But it turned out that, as the DIYers said, the property "needed a little more than just upgrading." And that's putting it lightly.
Seeing the house for the first time, it looked like it was located in the middle of a jungle. The shot above captured their first week at the crumbling mansion when the garden was "so overgrown it was hard to get to the front door." It was certainly not what the young duo expected.
Jameswood Villa From the Back
And the back wasn't much better, to say the least. The picture below shows the Jameswood Villa's rear after Claire and Cal spent six weeks clearing out the front and back yards to enter their new home comfortably. How had things gone so horribly wrong?
Well, for starters, the couple learned that the photo used to advertise Jameswood Villa was eight years old - not exactly an accurate representation of its current state. And the picture omitted some of the, shall we say, cracks in the mansion's structure.
A Closer Look
Not only was the shot used for the auction advertisement old, but it was also sneaky. The picture didn't show the mansion's disintegrating front wall and other severe issues. The DIYers said the house had "a partially collapsed front wall, bay window, and roof."
"Jameswood had been condemned for serious structural problems," Claire and Cal explained. With boarded-up windows and a cracking exterior, the place was not a sight for sore eyes. And unfortunately, the interior wasn't much better. Let's take a look inside.
Aside from the adorable pup, it's safe to say the picture below isn't a pretty one. The home's interior proved to need just as much work - if not more - than its exterior. And considering the property previously housed four different apartments, Cal and Claire had a sizeable journey ahead.
The inside of the 120-year-old mansion was filled with old furniture that had fallen apart, crumbling walls and ceilings, dust, crows' nests (yes - you read that right), and more. But the duo's names were already on the contract, so it was onwards and upwards.
The old mansion's interior was arguably frightening (and a health hazard). "The apartments had been left fully furnished... with soggy, moldy couches and mattresses, broken furniture, and decades-old appliances," the new owners shared. Claire and Cal couldn't believe their eyes.
So the couple began the house flipping by getting rid of all of the old furniture, and it was no easy task. Cal and Claire had to do endless deliveries to the local dump, with their big van filled to the top every single time. And they soon figured out why everything was so damp...
Gaping Holes Everywhere
The old mansion wasn't just dirty and falling apart - it was also extremely wet inside, from the furniture to the walls. And the DIYers soon realized exactly why: there were holes all over the ceilings and floors of the abandoned property. At least it would make hearing each other in the large home easier?
Maybe, but it also put them in life-threatening danger. The mansion was certainly not liveable, so Cal and Claire pulled up a caravan into the backyard where they planned to live during the renovation process. They got nice and comfy in their temporary home since the project would surely take a while.
A Filled-up Tub
Thanks to the huge holes all over the place, the century-old home had a bathtub filled and ready for the young couple to enjoy (jokes). It seemed that in each room Claire and Cal stepped in, things only looked worse. The space was unhealthy and filled with mold.
But it turned out the holes weren't the only issues causing dampness. Much to Claire and Cal's disappointment, the property's drainage system had at some point stopped working effectively and caused a water log on the land. Could things get anymore worrisome?
Why Didn't They Tear It Down?
So why did Cal and Claire decide to take on this massive renovation on their own? Simply put, that was the only way the young couple could afford it. But while they were set on transforming the mansion, others suggested the pair just tear their new-but-old house down.
Their structural engineer advised them to start from scratch, and the town's council echoed that sentiment. But the adventurers didn't listen. "[It] isn't the quick flip we imagined our first building project to be together, but it is a challenge we are excited to undertake," Claire and Cal said.
Their Renovation Goals
But Claire and Cal didn't just want to renovate on a budget - they also wanted to make their home and the entire flipping process as eco-friendly as possible. "This would mean thoughtfully choosing materials while thinking about where they came from," the couple explained.
"We would also have to choose quality products that stood the test of time," they added. "We wanted to keep, and reinstate the original beauty and character of our 120-year-old Victorian Villa, while also making this energy-hungry building more energy-efficient, and equipped for modern living." Could the homeowners do it?
Clearing Out the House
Claire and Cal might've been in over their heads, but they were also in it to win it. And so the determined couple got to work, sometimes with friends and family coming by to generously help out. After clearing the overgrown land, they focused on the inside.
But that wasn't limited to truck-loads of moldy furniture. Cal and Claire also filled countless buckets with broken wall pieces and debris laying all over the house. And as the DIYers cleaned up, they simultaneously made everything messier in prep for the renovation.
For every bucket of debris Cal and Claire collected, there was soon twice the amount to clean up again. And that's because while the couple didn't want to tear down the house completely, they partially needed to in order to make the property structurally safe.
"We have to replace nearly all of the timbers in our home, but it's not an easy task," the DIYers shared. "We can't pull it out all at once, because it might disturb the already partially collapsed structure! Bit by bit, we're planning on replacing timbers - from the ground up!"
Slow & Steady
As the old proverb goes, "Slow and steady wins the race." And that was Cal and Claire's motto: move too fast and the whole mansion could collapse. "The floorboards in the top floor living room were so rotten they could crumble in your hands," the duo said.
And so the to-do list grew longer as they added removing all of the floorboards and rotten joists to their tasks. Once the downstairs was finally cleared out, the brave renovators dug a trench for the new walls. They also shoveled down the ground level to provide better ventilation for the future floor.
Working on the Plumbing
The DIYers also dug plenty outside of the house. They had to create a trench on the property grounds to divert water seeping inside off their land. And after finding the mansion's water supply, Claire and Cal got to work on plumbing in the wastewater pipes.
Getting electricity was a whole other ordeal. The pair searched for the live end of the home's electricity, which was a tiny little wire somewhere in the yard, for months on end. "If we hadn't have come across [it], we were going to have to pay for the road to be dug up, so they could connect our site to the mains," they explained.
Cleaning the Sandstone
Needless to say, there was plenty of work to be done on the home's exterior. One of the more time-consuming tasks was cleaning the mansion's front stones. The beautiful sandstone walls were wet and filled with dirt, "a great spot for moss and lichen to grow," as the DIYers said.
"Red sandstone is a very fragile stone, so cleaning with harsh chemicals or tools would ruin them," they added. So Cal and Claire used water and a natural bristle brush as they patiently cleaned off the old material. They then repaired the mortar between the stones.
The Problematic Bay Window
But the problems weren't limited to dirt and moss. As mentioned before, the 120-year-old property had endless structural issues. One of them being a bay window that could practically fall apart at any given moment - hence the homeowner's temporary fix with a yellow band.
"We have a cracked lintel between the ground floor and top floor and two cracked mullions (upright stones) at the bottom left corner. They need to be replaced," the couple shared. So Claire and Cal had to carefully remove the broken parts and replace them one by one.
Bye, Bye Roof & Chimney
And while the mansion's backside didn't involve sandstone, it had plenty of issues of its own, from broken windows to rotting stairs. But first, the roof needed major help. Cal and Claire removed all of the old slates and put a plastic covering in its place.
Then they had to take the old chimney down in preparation for putting on the roof. "We're taking it down carefully, brick by brick, sending the bricks down in our handy dandy pulley, and we'll be salvaging the unbroken bricks to use in other areas of the house and garden," said the couple.
Rebuilding the Roof, Walls, & Windows
After a careful - and scary - roof raise, the DIYers prepared for around seven weeks before finally getting started on the new roof installation. Cal and Claire measured and calculated everything "countless times" until they felt ready to put the slates in.
During this time, they also did repairs on the back exterior wall - although likely nothing as nitty-gritty as the red sandstone on the other side. Claire and Cal then fixed the brickwork surrounded the collapsing windows to salvage the home's original apertures.
Back to the Inside
With exterior structural problems well underway to being fixed, the couple continued work on the home's interior. Now that the mansion had a functional roof, Cal and Claire could make progress without getting rained on by Scottish showers just a few hours later.
There was still much to gut before actual construction could start. But after weeks of meticulous dedication, they finally completed that task. "We've just gotten rid of the very last bits of lath and plaster in our house," the lovebirds shared. Let the building begin!
Framing the Walls
With the house finally cleared out, the hands-on duo finally began rebuilding. The shot below shows them putting up a wall frame. While Claire and Cal adored the exposed stone, they covered it to make their home as "sustainable" and "efficient" as possible.
"One of the most important ways of doing this is by robustly insulating the building, and leaving no gaps," the DIYers explained. "So we are framing out the perimeter walls of the building and putting a sustainably sourced insulation in!" Meanwhile, other parts of the mansion were still under de-construction.
Deconstructing Some More
After getting as clean as possible, the mansion already looked a lot better. But there was still a long way to go. While walls were going up in some places, the floor was still being torn down in other parts of the house to assure the residents' future safety.
With the help of their friends, Cal and Claire slowly lowered each of the big (and old) beams pictured above. "The building feels so large now that it's being opened up and you can see ground-floor to roof, unobstructed," they excitedly shared. Next, it was time to put the new and improved boards in.
Hello, New Floors (Almost)
Once the rotting beams were gone, the DIYers installed the fresh ones. "It still needs some final level checks, squaring and noggins," they clarified. "But, she's in! This is particularly exciting for us because this upstairs floor will be our home!"
The savvy couple decided to keep Jameswood Villa as separate flats. "The upstairs will be our apartment, and we welcome guests into the two downstairs apartments as holiday rentals," they said. "This way we can recuperate some of the costs of restoring the building!"
The Future Living Room & Kitchen
With the floor's skeleton good to go, Claire and Cal started adding walls to separate the different rooms and apartments. Below, Claire stood proudly in the couple's future living room and kitchen area. They had a long way to go, but the DIYers had made great progress.
"I can finally see this space in real life, instead of trying to imagine it, or stand in the imaginary corner of the room to picture the space," Claire happily said. "I can't wait for us to entertain friends and family in this room, cook lovely meals in our kitchen and have a cup of coffee."
Two Guest Rooms
With the kitchen/living room wall up, Claire and Cal moved on to separating the future bedrooms and bathrooms. While the homeowners initially planned on having a full-sized guest room and a smaller office with a pull-out couch, they changed their minds last minute.
"We have so many friends and family we'd love to come stay, so making this a proper bedroom just made sense," they explained. And so the duo moved the wall by just 1 foot and made enough space for both rooms to house a proper double bed. And wait till you see how that bay window turned out...
A Gorgeous Transformation
The house might still have needed lots of work, but the bay window was looking good as new. Cal and Claire did an impressive job fixing the previously dilapidated structure and gave the old mansion a fresh and homey feel. But getting this look was, as expected, not easy.
The couple propped, braced, and stabilized the crumbling fixture before "slowly and carefully" taking out the broken parts and replacing them one by one. "A very risky [task] that could cause the whole bay to fall on us," they said before execution. But the risk was well worth it - look at that bay window!
To Be Continued...
It has been over two years since this adventurous couple accidentally bought an old mansion, and the work continues. Cal and Claire are dedicated to making their home as efficient and durable as possible, which means they're taking things slow and leaving no stone unturned.
It's difficult work, but for them, it's a labor of love. "We couldn't be happier with Cal's purchase," the DIYers shared. "This really was the happiest mistake we've ever made!" Stay tuned for more progress on this soon-to-be stunning century-old mansion.