Shout it from the rooftops!
PUBLISHED: 14:26 07 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013
Kirstie Allsopp thinks Devon is an amazing place. We look inside her holiday home in Welcombe near Hartland and see how she has made it unique by using local artisans.
Kirstie Allsopp describes her holiday house, Meadowgate, in North Devon as her pride and joy and says it is perhaps the house that has most of her in it. This is no surprise to those who watched the recent TV series, Kirstie's Homemade Home, in which the seasoned presenter and property expert dropped her guard and threw herself into learning the rudiments of 18 different crafts.
These skills ranged from printing her own wallpaper and forging a fire poker to mastering pearl stitch and quilting, and now the quilt, the rug, the knitted door stop, the wallpaper and the fire poker are among the pieces to have found their place in this distinctive and very welcoming North Devon holiday home, all painstakingly sourced and partly made by Kirstie who proved to be an excellent apprentice. Even when she was struggling with unruly knitting needles, she took an almost childlike delight in learning new skills.
The renovation of the house proved so costly that only a shoestring budget was left for decorating and furnishing, so Kirstie swung into make-do-and-mend mode and sourced items from skips, reclamation yards and second-hand shops, which, after the 'Kirstie treatment', found their place in the bright and homely rooms at Meadowgate.
The wooden floor was reclaimed from a school gym, and wooden counters from the science lab were used as worktops. A workbench at her brother's art gallery was sawn about a bit to become the kitchen table.
The secluded family house is tucked into the side of a hill close to Welcombe Mouth beach, near Hartland. It is surrounded by meadows and woods, and stands in its own large garden. Opposite the front gate is a footpath through National Trust woods down to the rocky beach between spectacular cliffs and sand at low tide. From the house there are miles of walks along the South West Coast Path. Hartland Abbey is nearby and on a clear day you can see Lundy Island.
Why I love Devon...
Kirstie has chosen to divide her time between Devon and London. Jane Fitzgerald asked her what it was about the county that first brought her here.
"When I first met my boyfriend, Ben, he'd been living in Broadhembury. That was five years ago. As small children we had holidays in Cornwall, then, because my mother loved the sun, we usually went abroad, but I love English holidays."
Why did you choose this particular area of North Devon to have a home?
"We have great friends in North Devon, near Hartland, so we visited them quite a bit, and we love the area. Then Ben saw Meadowgate advertised in the local paper and he said "That's it!" Then, when his bid was the highest, that was it. He bought it before I had even seen it!"
Do you consider buying in this area of the county a good investment, or did you simply fall in love with the house?
"I tend to buy with the heart (unless it is in an urban environment) and this was most certainly a heart purchase. I never intend to sell it, so it's irrelevant whether it has proved to be an investment, but I would say it is worth quite a bit more than we paid for it.
"It was in a terrible state when we bought it - you have never seen such a mess in your life. It was so dark you could barely see the house. It was still standing, but only just. Seeing what the house could be required a lot of vision.
"The auction was last June and we completed in August. I was heavily pregnant with my little boy at the time. Then the possibility of the series came up and when the programme makers came to look at it they said: "Are you sure?" and I said "Look, we wouldn't have bought it if I didn't think it could be wonderful!"
"The builders, Dev Build from Honiton, were phenomenal. They had their timeframe reduced once the TV programme was given the go-ahead. Most builders go over time - they pulled it together."
When you are at Meadowgate, how do you like to spend your time? Are there any particular places you like to go?
"Beach, pub, beach, pub, beach, pub...! We love to go to the Old Smithy Inn in Welcombe, and then there are lots of attractions around us to take the children to.
They love the epic Milky Way Adventure Park with its birds of prey, a roller coaster, scary slides, indoor adventure play area, and it's all set around an old milking parlour. Then there's Clovelly and Hartland Abbey. There is so much going on in this neck of the woods that if you come for two weeks you can do a different thing morning, afternoon and evening. It's teeming with stuff. I am asking guests staying in the house to collect leaflets; there are so many of them I am going to have something made to hold them all!"
How are you involved in community life?
"There has been some criticism about me owning a holiday home, but I live in Devon and I am completely committed to Devon. The house had been empty for 37 years when we bought it. And it was a former B&B. We believe passionately you have to commit yourself to a place and we are very involved in Broadhembury. Ben hunts with the Mid-Devon and we are involved in the church - don't go as much as I would like to but my son was christened there, and my second son will be. And should I be lucky enough to get married, I'd love to be married at Broadhembury church.
"We support the pub. When it was struggling and had its electricity cut off, Ben turned up with his generator. It re-opened on Boxing Day, and now it's doing food again. We shop in Honiton, and in the village shop whenever we can - we get our papers there. You have to make some effort.
"Devon is an amazing place, but I just don't think it markets itself well. I spend time in Scotland and it's interesting to see how well it is marketed: every attraction is carefully signposted and there is uniformity on those signs. Fly into Exeter Airport and there is nothing to say 'This is Devon. You're here!' I love Exeter airport and the staff are terribly friendly.
"Businesses shouldn't be failing. Devon is an amazing place. It is the only county in the country with two shores and two moors, and everyone should know this. Devon needs to shout itself from the rooftops!"
Two Devon artisans
Wallpaper printer Emma Molony and blacksmith Dean Aggett helped Kirstie produce an item for her home
Dean Aggett comes from a long line of Devon blacksmiths and runs courses at Meadow Forge in Cadeleigh, near Exeter.
"I have been commissioned by a variety of people," Dean says. "My work has found its way all over Europe and even to America, New Zealand and Japan. My family have been blacksmiths in Devon since at least 1550, and possibly 1332.
"As for working with Kirstie Allsopp, only ever knowing her as a TV presenter, I didn't know how she would be as a student. She turned out to be a very good student! She listened to everything and followed all instructions to the letter. At the end of a very cold day, she had made a poker for her house. The experience of this moved her. I found her a very genuine, down-to-earth woman with lots of good humour, very committed to her role in the house and property market."
Dean adds: "The first episode of Homemade had three million viewers. After the third episode, in which I was featured, my website had 3,000 hits!"
Emma Molony works as Outreach Co-ordinator at Double Elephant Print Workshop in Exeter, where she runs workshops, residencies and projects and makes her own work - wallpaper and wall hangings.
Emma was delighted to be offered the chance to be involved with Kirstie. She says: "I really valued the opportunity of working with Kirstie and the production team. It was a brilliant experience. I suppose I was nervous about trying to do quite a complicated screenprinting process while filming: the lights drying out the ink on the screen and needing to keep repeating the filming to get different angles and close-ups of the printing. Plus it's quite a small studio to be negotiating 10m rolls of wallpaper covered in wet ink in, plus a film crew and equipment!
"It was also quite hard explaining a process that I usually do on my own. I didn't always know how to articulate why I was printing a certain way - it was just how it worked for me. But it was lovely printing with Kirstie and talking to her about the design - she knew the stories and recognised all the characters and scenes in them.
"She has lots of ideas and I really enjoyed her enthusiasm for crafts, and making Meadowgate unique by using lots of local artisans."