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Wales Online
Wales Online
Joanne Ridout

Wales' Home of the Year: Winning property owner didn't know if he'd live to see it finished

Sometimes a property and a person are destined to meet and form a winning and successful partnership, both supporting the other through stressful moments; a home cocooning its owner and an owner lavishing love and care on the home.

This is the story of how Luke Thomas fell in love with a house and brought it back to life, via a complete renovation project, to be totally loved once again, and in return Luke feels like the house 'kept him alive' through a devastating stage 4 melanoma cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

Luke says: "The house wasn't finished and I was getting quite poorly as well, so I wasn't sure if I'd actually live to get to see it completed. But during that time, thinking about the home, doing research and buying furniture and things like that, and the passion, it kept me alive and my mind stimulated."

READ MORE: The house transformation on Cardiff's Cathedral Road that's so stunning the developers decided to live in it

The cottage before Luke and co got their hands on it (BBC Cymru Wales)
Three years later the cottage is a winner (BBC Cymru Wales)

Luke says: "I wanted to see it finished - it's part of my journey. I am currently responding very well to treatment, two and a half years in and I'm still responding, although I do get very bad side effects but it is my baby so it's something I wanted to see finished." Find out more about Luke's story here.

The result of Luke continuing the project despite all that he was going through, supported by family and friends, is that now this perfect property partnership has led to Little Castle Cottage in Kidwelly being crowned Wales' Home of the Year, with owner Luke proudly standing by as a proud parent to witness his 'baby' being fussed over.

It was a difficult birth from the very beginning of their relationship even prior to Luke's illness, with finance and timescale the initial challenges at the Carmarthenshire cottage.

Luke says: "Because the cottage was uninhabitable I couldn't get a traditional High Street mortgage so I had to get a bridging loan and the terms were I had to get it finished within a year. It had to be deemed habitable so that I could then get a High Street mortgage to then pay off the bridging loan."

At the time, 37-year-old Luke was working in London as an architectural designer and catching the Megabus every weekend back to Kidwelly to join his parents on the cottage renovation project, being driven by the knowledge that they had a fixed timescale.

Located between an ancient castle and a graveyard, Luke was rather worried his new home might be haunted (BBC Cymru Wales)
Outline of the centuries old original cottage still visible adds to the charm (BBC Cymru Wales)

And they did it, with time to spare. Hard work meant Little Castle Cottage was habitable within 10 months - a bathroom, kitchen, heating and a new roof.

Luke estimates about 80% of the work to complete the cottage to its award-winning standard was done by family and friends, and in total cost around £65,000 from start to finish and includes everything - only the rafters and the four walls were left once the family got going on the renovation.

The cottage is now due to be Luke's full-time home once he has sold his London flat and he is looking forward to a full-time relationship with the the property that he fell in love with as soon as he saw it despite its rundown state.

The cottage had him at 'hello', or maybe more appropriately at 'Bore Da'. See what the cottage looked like when Luke bought it here.

Luke has done the whole house and garden with the help of family and friends (BBC Cymru Wales)
Luke on the programme chatting about his cottage (BBC Cymru Wales)

Luke says: "When I first saw the house in its derelict state I still felt that nice feeling, that homely feel, it had such a calming vibe - I really think the house had that feeling, even in its sorry state.

"I thought of what the cottage could be with love and care, that this could be a beautiful home and I got that feeling from the very beginning, and I think I've just enhanced that.

"It's in-between a castle and a graveyard so you'd think it would be full of ghosts but no, it's got such a calming vibe.

"Saying that, the first night I stayed here I was thinking 'I'll be gutted if I've spent all this time and effort renovating it and it's completely haunted!'"

But Luke also soon realised it was a responsibility to almost demolish the house and carefully rebuild it, as the cottage is well-known and well-loved by the local community.

Stunning kitchen diner impressed the judges (BBC Cymru Wales)
The bold choice to paint the steel beam a bold pink was noticed by the judges (BBC Cymru Wales)

It was not just a random house that had become somewhat rundown but a house that has so many memories for local people who, over the decades, had visited it regularly.

Luke says: "It was owned by the village doctor - everybody knew Dr Boyns - and many have had a relationship with the house, coming here for a quick emergency, and he was a very kind doctor.

Making it more personal with wall artwork (BBC Cymru Wales)
A sociable space that has direct connection to the garden too (BBC Cymru Wales)

"Everyone was invested in the house, loved it, and was keen to see what was happening to it and we would stop work to do tours around it.

"I might do an open house soon because everyone has been so supportive of me doing the house, and then everyone can come and have a look."

It can be quite a daunting suggestion to put your house forward to be judged on television, but Luke feels as though it's part of his life journey, which has included walking the entire coast of Wales to raise £60,000 for Melonoma Focus, find out more about Luke's walk for charity here.

Luke loves people's shock when they get to the first floor - no-one expects such an open space (BBC Cymru Wales)
Lounge zone at one end, dining zone at the other (BBC Cymru Wales)

But overall he thought it would be great fun and a way of saying thank you to everyone who helped him achieve his cottage renovation dream and a way of local people seeing what they have done to the doc's house; but that doesn't mean he wasn't nervous.

Luke was tagged in a social media post about the BBC Cymru Wales property programme but was initially hesitant about putting the cottage forward.

Upside down layout means the two bedrooms on the ground floor (BBC Cymru Wales)
Deep blue restful colour adds to the room's atmosphere (BBC Cymru Wales)

He says: "If it was like a Grand Designs type show then I thought obviously the one with the biggest budget is going to win this type of competition, so there's no point in entering. But when I watched the Scottish series it wasn't about that, it was actually all about the home, and that's what I thought was very interesting.

"I was quite nervous to find out what people thought of my home, will they criticise it, will they like it, will they love it? But each house that was on the show and in the final were all very different and all very beautiful."

Second bedroom is a bonus double (BBC Cymru Wales)
Bathroom has classic style but contemporary convenience (BBC Cymru Wales)

On the day of filming the regional heat Luke did his interview and then left the site before the judges arrived. He found out via a phone call later from the producer that evening that his cottage had won the regional heat and was told to keep the news a secret.

The five homeowners of the five regional heats then came to the grand final, held in the Great Hall of Tudor mansion house Llancaiach Fawr, near Treharris. They were all unware of the houses that their home was pitched against, with the only hint of their competition being display boards of photos of each regional winner.

Pops of colour add internal visual interest against the castle view backdrop (BBC Cymru Wales)
Timeless style throughout, mixed with contemporary shades is obviously a winning combination (BBC Cymru Wales)

Luke says: "All the home owners were so nice, we just had a good, fun day, and it was very enjoyable to be a part of it. I thought it was a good competition looking at the other photos. The Holt blew my mind but the other ones were beautiful as well. I loved the black and white terrace in north Wales, such good style.

"To have won is really amazing, it was a lot of hard work and for it to be recognised that people like what we've done is incredible, it's a really nice feeling.

The surprise 'flamingo' cloakroom (BBC Cymru Wales)
Luke has not been afraid to mix string colours, but in a measured and thoughtful way (BBC Cymru Wales)

"I am over the moon, it's a great feeling to have that title, Wales Home of the Year - it's crazy! And I just wanted to share it with my friends and family, especially my mum and dad, who all worked hard on the home and it's like a thank you - it's been recognised as a beautiful home.

"The last two years have been bonkers, with cancer, the charity walk, the home, winning this and I also won a campervan in a Howdens kitchen competition, I feel I've had a run of good luck. It's a nice warm feeling that people like what we've done."

Property and person in perfect harmony (BBC Cymru Wales)

But there's one last thing Luke has to decide about his home now, one last DIY job - where to put the winner's plaque. He says: "I think it would be quite cool to put the plaque outside, but I'm really not sure"

Surely the whole of Kidwelly, and Wales, who have viewed the show and fallen in love with Luke's cottage would tell him to proudly display the plaque outside for all to see as a celebration of the special bond between him and his home that helped them both through some of their darkest days.

BBC Cymru Wales' series Wales' Home of the Year is currently available to view on BBC iPlayer. And don't miss the best dream homes in Wales, auction properties, renovation stories, and interiors - join the Amazing Welsh Homes newsletter, sent to your inbox twice a week.


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