Devon's prettiest homes: Secluded Ellesmera Mill in the Blackpool Valley
PUBLISHED: 09:56 08 January 2019
When your house is your sanctuary, it pays to get the details right. CHRISSY HARRIS visits a perfectly finished holiday home | Photos: Rob Coombe
Spending time at Ellesmera Mill, nestled deep in the Blackpool Valley, is pure escapism. Down here you are completely cut off from the hustle and bustle of the outside world – and free to lap up some incredibly beautiful interior design.
For an hour or two, I was completely at one with reclaimed and reupholstered furniture, locally made cushions and rugs picked up during a trip to Morocco.
All thoughts of my own house’s slightly faded 1980s-style MDF kitchen and inherited Artex ceilings vanished as I was led from one achingly stylish room to another.
As she shows me her favourite fabrics and vintage tiles foraged from antique markets, owner Tanya Bird looks just as delighted as I am with the results of a renovation project that has transformed a house she already loved. She and her family bought Ellesmera Mill back in 2002 after being bowled over by its location and ‘charming’ feel.
“It had originally been renovated about nine years before we bought it and I loved what the previous owners had done so we didn’t need to do anything,” says Tanya, who moved in with her sons, Rory, Jamie and Guy, then aged seven, three and one.
“It was just the most fantastic base for wonderful holidays and exploring beach life, outdoor life and the peace you get in this valley is just magical.
“We could just plonk ourselves down and enjoy it.”
That’s exactly what they did for 16 years but then the typical signs of wear and tear you get from three growing lads and having many friends to stay began to show.
“It got to the stage where it had had 25 years of family life inside without being touched,” says Tanya, laughing at the fact that her youngest son was not even one when they moved in and he’s now six feet tall.
“The house had gone from shabby chic to just, well, sad really,” she adds. “It needed refurbishing and some ground works had to be done.”
Teenaged sons and increasing work commitments also meant that London-based Tanya was struggling to find the time to spend at her much-loved South Devon getaway.
And so it was decided that Ellesmera Mill needed a makeover and a new phase as a high-end holiday let.
“As the boys get older and have their families, I really hope that they can come down and enjoy it as much as we have,” says Tanya (well out of the teenagers’ earshot) as we sit outside by the babbling stream in the garden.
“I see this as a phase, just while we are not using the house as much. It means the building is still being lived in and enjoyed.”
Renovating such a deceptively big, complex, 400-year-old house must have seemed like a daunting task. I ask Tanya if she had a clear idea of what she wanted.
“Totally,” says Tanya, without a moment’s hesitation. “That will surprise you, won’t it, Richard?” Neighbour Richard Cranfield, who maintains the house, has just been mowing the lawn and lets out a laugh. “She absolutely did have a clear idea, no doubt about it!”
“Yes, I knew what I wanted it to be like,” adds Tanya, admitting she had some strong objectives but knew she needed some guidance. She enlisted the help of local interior designer, Siobhan Hayles.
“The amazing thing about Siobhan is that she brought all her own ideas and talent but she listened to what I was looking for,” says Tanya. “When she first put the sitting room together, I remember just looking at it, thinking, this is just what I imagined – but better.”
The colours, the wooden shelving, plus those all-important finishing touches have made this particular room pretty special. The antique French confit jars, two marble urns made into lamps and the bespoke coffee table come together to give a seriously stylish but homely look.
“I wanted it to feel rustic but comfortable,” says Tanya, a strategic advisor to private businesses. “It’s got to be lived in and be practical. It’s got to work.”
In the kitchen – a winning combination of modern fitted and eclectic vintage freestanding furniture – some teenagers are gathered, making coffee and chatting before they head out to the beach.
“It’s a very easy house to live in and have people to stay in which is what I enjoy,” says Tanya, adding that being part of the local community here is also important and partly why she was reluctant to change Ellesmera Mill too dramatically.
“People who have known the house a long time really like it because they say it still feels that same,” she says.
“That’s what I’m most pleased with. I wanted it to look lovely but I didn’t want to lose its essence because that’s what we loved. It just needed an injection.”
Meeting the brief: interior designer Siobhan Hayles
Siobhan says she loved working on this project: “The location of the house is so special, in a beautiful tranquil valley so close to the sea,” she says.
“Tanya has a keen interest in nature and the garden we were both influenced by the location and using natural fabrics and prints.
“Tanya had so much energy and enthusiasm for the task in hand and was always keen to get involved in choosing special items.”