Devon’s prettiest homes: A formerly crumbling converted barn near Dartmouth
PUBLISHED: 12:54 28 August 2018
Converting a crumbling barn into a luxury bolthole takes some doing. Chrissy Harris went to see the results of an ambitious family project | Photos: Rob Coombe
Philip Bond is a Devon farmer, born and bred. His wife Gail is a retired police officer, having completed 30 years’ full time service with Devon and Cornwall Police.
It’s fair to say that these two don’t shy away from hard graft, so taking on a complex barn conversion in the middle of a working farm was a challenge they were willing to step up to.
“I’ve been waiting to convert this barn ever since I met Philip 30-plus years ago,” says Gail, serving up a cream tea in the modern kitchen that now sits above what was once the barn’s cooling room for butter and milk.
The building has stood on this spot on Browns Norton Farm, near Dartmouth since the 1800s when it was used to house cattle, horses and to store hay bales.
Philip’s father Lionel and mother Joyce were given tenancy of the farm in 1959 before Philip and Gail took over in 2000.
By this time, the barn was already in a serious state of disrepair and any plans to restore it were shelved as Philip and Gail’s busy careers and young family dominated day-to-day life.
“When I retired from the police, I knew it was time to do something about it,” says Gail, who left the force in 2009. “That’s when we first started seriously considering what we could do.”
A tin roof had protected some of the outbuilding’s structure from the elements but the couple found the back wall was caving in and there was water running through the door of this traditional Victorian bank barn, so called because it was built into a hillside.
Philip and Gail had their work cut out if they were going to create a luxury holiday home and new business from this ruin.
Luckily – and unusually – Gail’s police career had allowed her to build up a good barn-converting skills base.
She was an architectural liason officer, working with housing and commercial property development teams to help crime-proof new buildings.
“I had lots of good contacts in the building trade and I was able to apply that knowledge here,” says Gail. “When it came to things like what sort of trusses we wanted, I was quite sure what we needed.
“This sort of traditional barn would normally have been a scissor truss but I knew it was going to be a big ceiling, so I wanted a statement.
“We have king-post trusses and they arrived in pieces from Poland during lambing about two or three years ago.”
Not many project managers have to contend with delivering newborn lambs while accepting delivery of giant wooden beams, but that’s the lot of a farmer’s wife. Life must go on.
“It was very tiring at times,” says Gail. “I was out in the shed at night with the sander, applying the Danish oil to the wood and I tell you, it was a struggle.”
Gail and Philip worked with architects in the initial stages of the conversion but then took on the project themselves, including ordering and sourcing of materials. They even did their own measurements.
“That was the most stressful part,” says Philip. “I was here with a tape measure, getting all the measurements ready to send to Poland so they could make the trusses fit.
“I’ve got a couple of mates in the building trade and they said to me, ‘if I were you, Phil, I’d get someone in and ask them to do it for you.’
“But, you stand and fall by your own decisions. I’d measure it, go away for two days, come back and measure it again and do the same.” The couple didn’t give themselves the pressure of a deadline but it’s meant they’ve lived and breathed this barn conversion for four years straight.
“Gail and I haven’t really had much of a life,” says Philip. “We’ve put holidays on the back burner and thought right, let’s get this done. Let’s knuckle down and do it.
“Every evening we would be trawling through and pricing things, researching to get things right.”
Butterwell Barn has been a labour of love but it shows. The beautiful timber-frame hangs majestically over a living area you just want to run up and down.
And yet this huge space has been made to feel like home, with local artwork, statement lighting and even a sofa for the dog.
The kitchen is bright and colourful and Gail has cleverly used the aqua-coloured floor to inspire other fixtures and fittings throughout the barn, which is now a successful holiday let.
Downstairs, where the horses and cattle once bedded down, there are four bedrooms, each with en-suite (I bet the cows never had that).
A high-tech heat and recovery ventilation system keeps the building fresh and features such as the random patterned floor tiles downstairs make this place feel very on-trend.
At the same time, sheepskin rugs from the couples’ own flock and Whiteface Dartmoor wool doorstops let you know that Butterwell Barn will always be part of this area’s rich farming history.
“We didn’t want to ruin the character of the place,” says Gail. “We still wanted a nod to the old use of the building.
“I hope we’ve done it justice. I think we have.”
Butterwell Barn is let through Coast & Country Cottages. To find out more, see coastandcountry.co.uk/cottage-details/bwellb/
Butterwell Barn has recently been announced as a shortlisted finalist in the LABC South West Building Excellence Awards 2018. The building has also won silver in the Green Tourism Awards and been entered into the Devon Tourism Awards.
One of Butterwell Barn’s most striking features was the result of a slight readjustment.
When a window came out smaller than expected, Gail called on the help of her cousin’s wife Nita Goffron, a stained glass artist.
She created the Butterwell Barn feature window.
“The stained glass wasn’t supposed to be there but if things alter, then you need to work with it!” says Gail.
A special family connection:
Philip’s father and mother moved to Browns Norton in 1959 to start their married life.
The couple were determined to enjoy their time here. Lionel had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was just 15 and was not expected to survive beyond the age of 30.
“Dad lived life to the full because he wasn’t expecting to live,” says Philip.
In the end, Lionel lived to be 79-years-old and watched his son take over the farm. He even oversaw some of the barn conversion building work. He passed away in 2017.