Thatched cottage in the New Forest
Grand Designs Dairy Cottage, Hampshire

Rebuilding a thatched cottage in the New Forest

When their thatched cottage burnt down, the Robsons were determined to rebuild their dream home

By Sarah Baldwin |

When their thatched cottage burnt down and they discovered they weren’t insured, Alex Reay and Cheryl Robson didn’t lose heart. Instead, they rebuilt their dream dairy cottage in the New Forest.

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.

The Dairy Cottage from Grand Designs now has a holiday home annex you can book to stay in

The couple rebuilt Dairy Cottage with green oak frames and expansive modern glazing for views over the nearby bird sanctuary. Photo: Emma Lee

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 farmhouse-style dining table in the Hampshire Dairy Cottage from Grand Designs

A farmhouse-style table with traditional chairs is the centrepiece of the dining area. Photo: Emma Lee

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.

Copper freestanding bath in the Hampshire Dairy Cottage from Grand Designs

The copper bath in the master bedroom en-suite is the perfect place to unwind. Photo: Emma Lee

As part of their project, Alex and Cheryl built a contemporary extension on to the cottage, which they rent out as family oriented, self-catered accommodation. The two-storey annex houses a kitchen and living/dining room with wood-burning stove, with two bedrooms nestled under its eaves.

The Reays provide breakfast and babysitting, and can even organise your day trips into the New Forest, so it ’s ideal for families looking for a rural getaway (see

TV House Hampshire Dairy Cottage4

The original cottage has been restored to its former glory, while the annexe to the right is a self-contained holiday home. Photo: Sean Myers