Epic renovation of historic mansion that had owner saying 'I was tempted to move into the stable with my horse'

Christine Tallon and Adrian Cole in 2017 on day one of their epic mansion renovation
-Credit: (Image: Adrian Cole / Christine Tallon)


There's always a point during a major property renovation that the situation sinks to a new low, when the struggle seems overwhelming or there's a whole chapter of problems and challenges, but at least from that moment on for most people the only way is then up.

For couple Christine Tallon and Adrian Cole that moment was when they were taking their newly purchased mansion 'back-to-brick' and renovating it back to life. At one point it had no heating, was damp, and you could see upper storeys through holes in the ceilings. To add extra excitement the building seemed to regularly tease them with new leaks springing up here, there, and almost everywhere.

Christine says: "I was tempted to move into the stable with my horse because basically it was warmer in there than it was in the house. It was 2018, the year when we had quite a lot of snow, and it was a winter when we had no heating because we had started the renovation work, we had taken the central heating system out."

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Y Fan how it looks in 2024 after an epic renovation by Christine and Adrian
Y Fan how it looks in 2024 after an epic renovation by Christine and Adrian -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

Christine continues: "It was freezing cold and damp, everything felt damp, and we only had one functioning shower which was downstairs at the time, and the ceiling had fallen in on that as well. So I literally had to run downstairs, have the hottest shower that I could, and run back upstairs before I froze and then threw myself into a damp bed."

The incredible manor house that the couple fell for is Y Fan on the edge of Caerphilly. They eventually purchased it after eight viewings and despite receiving the comprehensive survey report that said at the end 'this is not a project for the fainthearted'. But that had the opposite affect on this resourceful, calm and truly unflappable couple - it was the challenge they needed to put the final push on purchasing Y Fan.

Taken back to brick and brought back to life
Taken back to brick and brought back to life -Credit:Adrian Cole / Christine Tallon
At one point Adrian could see through the floors to the ground floor
At one point Adrian could see through the floors to the ground floor -Credit:Adrian Cole / Christine Tallon

Keeping a much-loved home this big and historic maintained is hard work, not to mention expensive, so over the years the building had become a little tired. But the couple could see what it could become, they had a vision of a combined home and a business and approached the proposition with care and due diligence, even with the surveyor's final comment still ringing in their ears.

Christine says: "The house exudes history and character and we had a vision, we knew that we could turn it into what we wanted. We had a meeting with the planning department of Caerphilly County Council to make sure that we could get pre-planning approval for a bed-and-breakfast as well as a home because we wouldn't have bought it otherwise.

Sweeping views across the Caerphilly landscape
Sweeping views across the Caerphilly landscape -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
Although it's on the edge of a town it feels semi-rural
Although it's on the edge of a town it feels semi-rural -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

"But we certainly weren't daunted because we wouldn't have done it if we were, so we mostly felt excitement and had a constant stream of ideas. We were full of enthusiasm for ripping out all the things that were wrong with it and weren't historical anyway, and putting it right."

The couple admit that the vast majority of their friends and family, although supportive throughout the process and who now think the job they have done is astonishing, at the time of purchase thought the couple were 'completely bonkers' to take on such a substantial and complex renovation.

The couple have created a more intimate space for alfresco dining
The couple have created a more intimate space for alfresco dining -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
There's now ample, designated parking too
There's now ample, designated parking too -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

Adrian says: "None of it put us off at all; it was a gauntlet thrown down. Of course, it was all very challenging, including having the right people on site at the right time, but once you've got your plan you just stick to it, don't you?"

Christine says at some stage of the phased renovation and restoration project it felt like they were taking one step forward followed in quick succession by three steps back. She says: "For example, we would rip out an old shower and discover that the joists underneath were rotten and so we'd have to deal with that too; add it to the list."

Amazing views from the inside too via the 132 windows the couple had restored
Amazing views from the inside too via the 132 windows the couple had restored -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
A warm welcome to slice of Welsh property history
A warm welcome to slice of Welsh property history -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

And that list of the major works needed to be tackled soon became a long one and, as Adrian mentions some of them, it seems there's very little in Y Fan that didn't get the couple's full attention.

He says: "It included new electrics, plumbing, heating, floors, ceilings, plastering, carpets, bedrooms, showers, new car parking - plus work to bring character back, like the radiators and taking the render off the outside and repointing it; we have literally done everything.

"We also took out every single one of the 132 windows and their frames and sent them off for refurbishment and then put them all back in. Personally I think we were incredibly lucky that most of what we did worked first time from our point of view, it was like 'phew!' It was stressful but once you've started something like this you simply cannot stop, you have to finish it, and we had a lot invested in it so that helped to push us forward."

The inviting and comfortable lounge
The inviting and comfortable lounge -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
The lounge includes a log burner plus reclaimed items such as the bar
The lounge includes a log burner plus reclaimed items such as the bar -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

Christine adds that one of the methods they used to keep the project on track and to not feel overwhelmed was to do it in phases. She says: "If we had looked at the whole project and dipped in here, there, and everywhere rather than being systematic about it I expect it would have been far more stressful, but we did one side whilst we lived in the other and then swapped over and so that worked well, and if it hadn't been for Covid we would have opened the B&B in the summer of 2020."

The dining room is sun-drenched
The dining room is sun-drenched -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
Kitchen blends modern with character
Kitchen blends modern with character -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

But this resourceful and focused couple did not stay idle during the pandemic. Adrian says during the lockdown times he rebuilt the 38 metre dry stone wall and re-pointed the front of the house, and they also tackled all of the internal decorating themselves using mineral paint. Many of the standout visual character found inside the mansion now, such as the bar in the saloon which was a pulpit taken out of a Wesleyan Church in Crewe, is historic and reclaimed, bringing as much charm from the past to the empty spaces as possible.

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This epic renovation project that the couple methodically and calmly rolled out at one of Wales' most important historic houses has taught them a few aspects of working on such a special building. As neither of them had ever tackled a project this big, this old, and Cadw listed before they decided to educate themselves on some of the traditional restoration methods required to do the project correctly, including attending a dry stone wall building course and a lime plastering course, both at Ty-Mawr Lime in Brecon.

The lounge in the farmhouse wing at the rear is super welcoming and cosy
The lounge in the farmhouse wing at the rear is super welcoming and cosy -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
Every grand house deserves a grand staircase
Every grand house deserves a grand staircase -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

Even though this humble couple are rather shy at advising anyone else about their renovation project, when pushed, Christine says doing as much of the work using traditional methods and materials has been a key aspect to their project and a point of advice to pass on.

She says: "This type of building is very different so firstly whatever your budget is triple it, especially if you are going to do things properly, and you should, because there's no point in cutting corners I think because in the end, five years down the line, you will end up having to redo it.

The couple sourced reclaimed items to bring in character such as these beautiful doors
The couple sourced reclaimed items to bring in character such as these beautiful doors -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

"I'd also say live in the building for a while. We lived in this building for the best part of a year before we started the actual work on it, so don't rush at it, take time to get to know the building and get a feel for it and a feel for how the flow works before you start ripping things apart. I think that's why we feel like we don't think we've made any mistakes because we took that time to get to know it."

Adrian adds: "We also worked with a proper architect and it was a painful decision because they are expensive, but they bring so much value to the project."

The couple tried and failed to open the B&B business at Y Fan again in December 2020, just coinciding with the second Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in Wales, and so it was a momentous day for them when the doors were finally opened in May 2021.

Now Y Fan is a five-bedroom bed and breakfast, with a cosy lounge and bar with books and games for guests, an inviting dining room and the offer of pre-booked afternoon teas and cheese and meat board evenings, plus a two-bed owners' accommodation - inside the manor and definitely not in the horse's stable.

The house now has seven bathrooms
The house now has seven bathrooms -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
Many of the bathrooms have a traditional feel via roll-top baths and chandeliers
Many of the bathrooms have a traditional feel via roll-top baths and chandeliers -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

Guests staying in the rooms and visitors enjoying one of the couple's speciality afternoon teas usually comment on the ambience of the mansion - a sense of history and grandeur and yet a welcoming sensation that wafts around the rooms and spaces making the manor a most delightful place to spend time. And no, the couple are adamant there are no ghosts - the only spirits found at Y Fan are behind the licensed bar.

Y Fan has been welcoming and impressing visitors like this for centuries. Located on a ridge overlooking the town but tucked away and enveloped by rural fields, this historic and handsome house has been a landmark building in the landscape since at least 1529, when Y Fan gets its first documented mention when it was purchased by Edward Lewis, a sheriff of Glamorgan.

The manor house was listed by Cadw in 1952, amended in 1998, as being 'one of the most important Tudor mansions in Glamorgan, retaining early detail' and it is the listing details that provides some insight into the building's origins.

A four-poster bed is the ultimate addition to a historic mansion bedroom
A four-poster bed is the ultimate addition to a historic mansion bedroom -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

According to Cadw, in 1583 Edward Lewis' son Thomas obtained the lease of Caerphilly Castle and used dressed stone from there to rebuild the house with a new stair block on the east, rear side and a gatehouse and walled court to the west overlooking the valley and Caerphilly Castle. In the early 17th century the kitchen wing was extended and became a separate farmhouse and the remainder of the house may have been largely dismantled after 1736 when the Lewis estates were inherited by the Earl of Plymouth.

It's this remarkable and important history of the house, as well as the bricks and mortar themselves, that the couple were very aware of as they carefully renovated and restored the house. But now they have decided to retire and put Y Fan on the market. Adrian, now aged 66, is looking forward to full retirement and sitting on a sunny beach as soon possible and while Christine, aged 59, is excited for the beach break too, when they return to the UK she intends to continue working as a freelance legal risk and compliance consultant and auditor.

In total there are seven bedrooms, five for guests, two for owners
In total there are seven bedrooms, five for guests, two for owners -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
Every space has character to notice and adore
Every space has character to notice and adore -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

Christine says: "We have achieved what we set out to do and that's create and run a successful bed and breakfast, but if somebody wanted to do evening meals and Sunday lunches the property certainly has the capacity to do that."

Adrian adds: "Plus, there's the opportunity to create further accommodation because really we've only done phase one of what is probably a three-phase project because we've done the main house and the farmhouse part but there's still the barn and the attic, which is huge which has got fabulous views from its five windows over to Caerphilly Castle."

The couple will miss Y Fan when they hand over the keys to the new owner but they are happy that they have taken time, money and effort to revive the building, from the back-to-bricks stage to a point where it is basically offering new house standards wrapped in the most historic of walls.

Y Fan, also known locally as Van Mansion, still has potential to unlock
Y Fan, also known locally as Van Mansion, still has potential to unlock -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen
The main house is done so a new owner can start living comfortably instantly and enjoying the views
The main house is done so a new owner can start living comfortably instantly and enjoying the views -Credit:Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen

Christine says: "At the end of the day you are only ever a custodian of a building like this anyway, at some point we would have to hand it over to somebody else - to the next custodians, but what we think that what we have done to Y Fan will stand it in good stead for many, many years to come."

Y Fan is now on the market for £1,895,000 with Jeffrey Ross, Llanishen, call 029 2049 9680 to find out more. In the meantime, why not treat yourself to a yummy afternoon tea or a break away - check out Christine and Adrian's website here.

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