■ The Olympic skeleton racing champion talks about swapping her five-storey Georgian townhouse for a bungalow in the country
DESPITE her love of Georgian architecture, Olympic champion Amy Williams left her five-storey Georgian townhouse in Bath behind for a 1970s bungalow.
‘I’d had several knee operations and joked to a friend in America I should move into a bungalow — she said she’d just done the same thing and she loved it,’ says Amy.
‘After my second knee operation, I had to bump my way up and down stairs on my bottom. The kitchen was in the basement and the living room was on the first floor — so I’d pack a rucksack with things I’d need in the day and do a flask of tea, just so I wouldn’t have to spend so long going up and down the stairs.’
Amy won the gold medal for the skeleton at the 2010 Winter Olympics but retired in 2012 due to injury.
‘I’ve been training since I was 13, so the injuries are from overuse. We’ve all got something that might be prone to injury in our bodies, but you’d never know about it until you start training seriously every day. And I had a few knocks on the sled when I was competing, so it’s a combination of that. After the last operation, they said I needed knee replacements but I’m too young.’
So when Amy married her solider husband Craig in 2015 and was planning on starting a family, she decided to buy a bungalow. ‘With a small child you’re up and down stairs all the time, so it was just a way of eliminating that.’
The added bonus is that her new home, in a village outside Bath, is near to where she grew up as a child and has sentimental value. She was also immediately bowled over by views of fields and a valley from the house.
‘All our visitors remark what a beautiful view it is,’ says Amy. She was so impressed she decided to add an extension with a huge picture window to get the most from the panorama.
Unfortunately, the work didn’t go smoothly. ‘They told us it would take three months — but I’d got pregnant and had our son Oscar by the time they finished,’ she laughs.
Problems included the builders discovering the bungalow’s foundations were deeper than expected, adding a few weeks onto the project, then there was a shortage of Bath stone required for the build.
When all that was finished there was an unexpected problem with the window. ‘They came to fit it and said they’d have to do it again because the wind over the valley would be too strong for the glass,’ says Amy.
‘It added another month on as they made the replacement with stronger glass.’
Despite the setbacks, she’s happy with how it’s turned out. ‘My husband wasn’t convinced about the window at first, but I’m really glad we did it.’
The new room features a chandelier from Amy’s old house.
‘It has that nice rainbow effect when the sun hits it,’ she says.
‘My aim is to create a bit of a Georgian Bath feeling in a 1970s bungalow — I’m not sure how possible that is but I’m giving it a go.’
Other pieces from Amy’s previous home include a large mirror and a Georgian chair, both from a local antiques shop.
Amy’s Olympic past is reflected in an artistic poster in the living room, which is from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. ‘The medals at the Vancouver Games had different designs but when they are put together they form a beautiful aboriginal pattern.
But if you didn’t know that was from the Olympics it wouldn’t be immediately obvious.’
Amy prefers to keep her sporting memorabilia in a corridor. ‘I don’t want it all on display in the living room. When you’re a couple it’s not all about you.’
But she has on show her MBE certificate, photos from the Olympics and the torches she carried at the London 2012 Olympics, and in PyeongChang at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. As well as being one of the torch carriers at PyeongChang, Amy was part of the BBC’s team of commentators. Now the work on the home is completed and the family have settled in, would she have done anything differently?
‘No. We still need to do the garden but we’re lucky, there’s nothing we’d change.
‘People often want bigger and better and push themselves to the limit with mortgages but by moving here we’ve done the opposite.
‘We’re happy with we’ve got. My dream home would probably still be a Georgian country house,’ she laughs, ‘But my heart is here. Moving back here to raise a family means a lot to me and we love having a family home with room for visitors who want to stay. That’s more important to us.’
Words from the wise…. extensions
BEFORE you take the plunge and extend your property, Alex Depledge MBE (pictured), an expert in home improvement planning has some words of wisdom:
■ Some areas can suffer from ‘ceiling prices’, meaning a property won’t sell for more than those around it. So, if you’re extending to see the value of your home increase, make sure your time isn’t being wasted due to your location.
■ Understand your style. Go on Pinterest and create boards of what you do like and what you don’t. This is going to really help your architect when it comes to designing your home and saves them time as they’ll know from the off what you’re all about.
■ Get snooping! Seriously, stick your head over the fence and see what other people on your street have done. Not only will this give you ideas, it’ll demonstrate what the council is willing to give approval for. You may even find a neighbour willing to recommend local professionals or advise on the budget you’ll need.
■ Know what you can get away with. Providing you don’t live in a flat or maisonette, a lot of homes have permitted development rights. It’s a scheme introduced by the government that allows you to build on your home without needing planning permission. The rules of this can be a little confusing, so have an architect talk you through them.
■ Look out for the warning signs. There are certain red flags that you can scope out beforehand that will let you know how difficult your build might be. For instance, have you got a large tree in your garden that may require tree officer guidance (yes, that’s a thing!)? Is your house listed?
Are you near a main road? All of these can throw a spanner in the works…
■ Be realistic with your budget. A lot of people plan for an extension by looking at all the fittings they want to install, like a bespoke kitchen from Germany. Chances are, this isn’t where your money will be going and nor should it. Kitchens depreciate in value over time, but a well-made extension that adds on more footage? Doing that well is where the value lies.
■ Don’t think everything will run to your schedule — it won’t. Getting approval alone from the council takes between eight to ten weeks. If you’re building and you share walls with your neighbour, getting an agreement in place with them can take three months!
Alex Depledge is co-founder of resi.co.uk an architecture service that helps homeowners. Design packages start from £250