Couple who bought derelict 120-year old mansion by mistake restore it to former glory

A young couple who bought a collapsing derelict mansion instead of the flat they thought they were bidding on have spent the past three years restoring it to its former glory.

Cal Hunter and girlfriend Claire Segeren paid £10,000 for the wrong property after a lot number mix-up at an auction, but decided to keep it and renovate it themselves.

Three years later they have almost finished the renovation work on the 120-year-old property in Dunoon in Argyll, Scotland and said they cannot believe what they have accomplished.

Cal, 30, from Hull, had to look Dunoon up on a map after he accidentally bought the house, the Daily Record reports. But he now said: “It’s all been a beautiful mistake.

“When we bought the villa, it was in a state of partial collapse, it was subsiding, there were gaping holes in the roof and walls, the timbers were rotten and the land was waterlogged. Derelict was too mild a word.

“Everyone told us we would be better off demolishing it but the house had so much character we felt it would be a sin to level it and start again and we made the momentous decision to give it a go.

“We are both so glad we took the risk. It’s been a huge journey with lots of tears along the way but it has been so rewarding.

“If we can tackle this, we can tackle anything – it’s taken three long and hard years but the life skills we have learned along the way have all been worth it. It’s the best wrong turn we could have taken.”

Beautiful Jameswood Villa on the Cowal peninsula is now worth about £500,000; a far cry from the two-bed flat in Glasgow they had originally intended to buy at auction.

Cal, 30, and Claire, 28 attracted 274,000 followers to their Instagram account – whathavewedunoon – and the project is now the focus of BBC1 Scotland documentary Accidental Renovators.

They have converted the villa, which has stunning views, into a top-floor apartment for themselves and two downstairs holiday-let apartments.

The couple, who crowdfunded £3,000 for a new roof, have spent the last three years living in a tiny caravan in the driveway as the house was too dangerous to live in.

Claire, originally from Toronto, said: “The bathrooms are in and the kitchens are going in as we speak. All that’s left to do is the finishing carpentry, some of the electrics and the decorating.

“The plan is to welcome our first paying guests in spring next year. The end is in sight and we can’t believe it.

“We’ve done it all on a very tight budget. We’ve managed to do most of the work ourselves and have sourced the materials, tools and equipment ourselves. We even bought our own second-hand scaffolding so we didn’t have to hire it.

“Thanks to the project, we’ve become experts in all aspects of home renovations as well as the paperwork and admin needed to complete the build.

“It has been both our full-time jobs for the past three years. Cal goes off for a few months a year to do carpentry projects with his dad and I occasionally help him on more local projects.

“We have also worked part-time in bars and restaurants in the summers to help with the costs. It’s been a labour of love.”

Over the past three years, the couple has welcomed more than 70 volunteers from all over the world who wanted to help with the project after seeing it on Instagram.

Cal, who met Claire while skiing in the French Alps, explained: “As well as becoming accidental renovators, we have become accidental social media stars and content creators.

“It was a bit overwhelming at first, especially when we hit 100,000 Instagram followers after a few months, but it quickly became an asset to the project.

“As well as generating some income, it has sent dozens of volunteers from all over the world our way. They have all been brilliant and made renovating lots of fun.

“As well as international volunteers, we have received no end of support from the wonderful community of Dunoon.

“We would not have been able to put our heart into a project like this if we didn’t feel grounded or part of the community. We feel incredibly lucky.

“We are still living in a caravan in the driveway and our patient neighbours Ann and Marie have been looking after us, giving us food and letting us use their water when we’ve needed to.”

Claire said: “It has not always been easy and it has tested our relationship at times but I think you learn a lot about each other by going through an experience like this.

“We have both grown so much.” The couple have just watched the first episode of Accidental Renovators, which goes out next Friday at 7.30pm, and admitted they were shocked at just how bad a state the house was in when they bought it.

Claire, whose family hasn’t seen the house since 2019, said: “It was funny to watch the first episode and realise just how bad it was and how far we have come. It was awful. We look really young and naive. We needed that naivety to take on the project.

“It’s brilliant to have the series to document our journey and hope viewers will enjoy it and be inspired to tackle the impossible.”

Now that the build is almost complete, Claire and Cal are on the lookout for their next madcap adventure.

Cal said: “When we get the house finished, we will have a good holiday. After a rest, we will start a new adventure. We want to do another building project as we have learned so much. We did this one the hard way whereas, if we did another one, we could be more efficient.”

Claire said: “Restoring an old building from 1900 has been so rewarding. Jameswood will be forever our home and base. I don’t think we’ll ever sell it.”