When their thatched house burnt down and they discovered they weren’t insured, Alex Reay and Cheryl Robson didn’t lose heart. Instead, they rebuilt their dream home - a dairy cottage in Hampshire.
The couple rebuilt Dairy Cottage with green oak frames and expansive modern glazing to provide views over the nearby bird sanctuary
The kitchen features Corian and wood units plus a grey water recycling system linked to the washing machine
Cheryl Robson and Alex Reay are survivors. Once, they seemed to have it all, with successful careers in the music business, a newly renovated thatched cottage in Hampshire and a baby on the way. Then Cheryl’s record label folded and Alex was made redundant. Things couldn’t get worse, surely – but then chimney sparks set fire to the thatch and their cottage burnt down. The final blow came with news that their insurance policy had lapsed. Cheryl promptly went into labour.
Thankfully, the picture is very different these days. After the fire, the £400,000 debt the couple was up against made getting a loan and rebuilding the only real choice. ‘I just went on to autopilot and coped,’ Alex recalls. Their optimism won admiration from Grand Designs’ viewers. ‘We could either look at this as a half-burnt home, or a half-built home,’ said Alex philosophically. ‘We chose the latter.’
A sturdy farmhouse-style table with traditional chairs is the centrepiece of the dining area
Set on a raised plinth, the copper bath in the master bedroom en-suite is the perfect place to unwind
The silver lining in all this was that the poky, low-ceilinged rooms of old could be redesigned. Within the original footprint they have created light, open spaces and added a double-height extension. But what about a new thatched roof? Alex was worried about putting it to Cheryl, but she didn’t hesitate. ‘It’s the reason we bought the house in the first place,’ she insisted. The new roof is gorgeous: thick, bushy Norfolk reed cut with swirls inspired by the Biba logo, fitting as it’s the name of their daughter. The reborn Dairy Cottage is a testament to this family’s triumph over adversity.
The original cottage has been restored to its former glory, while the annexe to the right is now a self-contained holiday home
Photography: Emma Lee; Sean Myers