Devon's prettiest homes: A formerly derelict North Devon farmhouse
PUBLISHED: 12:34 26 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:34 26 June 2018
A creative couple with a passion for nature took on a derelict farmhouse in North Devon and used it to inspire their life's work. CHRISSY HARRIS went to find out more | Photos: Matt Austin
Little Dinworthy has a slightly misleading name. This spacious L-shaped farmhouse sits at the centre of 42 acres of woodland and garden, overlooking some 13 barns and other outbuildings.
Size matters here and taking on such an enormous plot was a dream come true for owners Melanie and Simon Osborne.
The couple have been able to create their very own creative retreat, building studios where they host craft workshops and art exhibitions while outside they regularly invite friends and those on their e-mail blog to take part in logging weekends.
Schoolchildren also come to enjoy nature trails around the specially dug lake.
As well as all this, Melanie, a potter and Simon, a builder and carpenter, run a successful property renovation business from their home office, specialising in barn conversions, barn conversions, old country buildings as well as new homes.
There’s certainly a lot going on both inside and outside this fascinating place, tucked away in the rolling countryside near the village of Bradworthy, North Devon.
“We wanted somewhere to live where we couldn’t reach the limits,” says Melanie, who moved here 15 years ago with Simon and children Ellie and Rue (now aged 28 and 26).
“We drove down the lane and before we’d even seen the house, I just thought, wow, this feels like home.”
It was just as well the sentiment was there because there was a lot of work to do before Little Dinworthy could actually be a home.
Neglected for years, the main building was in dire need of repair and the layout needed some serious attention. The barns outside were also falling down.
“But what appealed to us was that the house was right in the middle of its 42 acres,” says Bideford-raised Melanie. “We could plant a woodland around and it could become this kind of wildlife sanctuary.
“When you have a vision, it just carries you through and we did have that…we still do.”
Determination, plus buckets of positivity, helped the family through a pretty monstrous-sounding building project, which began when the couple suddenly decided to knock through the living room wall one Christmas Eve.
“I can remember we were so desperate to do it, we just thought, go on then, let’s go. The mess in our sitting room, well...”, says Melanie. “But it was just wonderful because we realised that one section of the house went into the other.
“We thought: we’ll live in one end of the house while we do the other end.”
And so began nearly four years of living in cramped quarters, putting on hats and coats and climbing over rubble to the kitchen, freezing bedrooms – all the exciting things that go with a major renovation.
“One piece of advice I’ll give you,” says Melanie, as it all comes flooding back, “Never, ever live in the house when you’re doing it up!
“I have a vivid memory of Ellie coming downstairs in her May Ball outfit, this beautiful pink gown, and us, sweeping aside the rubble as she came down.
“That’s just how we lived for so long.” Melanie insists her house is still a work in progress, with plans for a wrap-around conservatory outside and a major redesign of the garden.
She apologises for the mess and the clutter as we work our way through but all I can see is a family home that has been made to feel completely welcoming.
One section of the house is devoted to hosting craft workshops and other events with a fabulously high-roofed purpose-built studio, as well as a cosy guest bedroom and dining room, painted in a peaceful green shade of clay paint, mixed by Melanie using her pottery glaze oxides.
The other parts of the house are for sitting, working, cooking and contemplating, with a proper farmhouse family kitchen, cosy living room and an office overlooking the garden.
So much love and care has gone into each room, with finishing touches provided either by Simon or Melanie, each using their different talents.
“Simon and I started building the moment we met,” says Melanie, suddenly remembering that it’s the couple’s 33-year wedding anniversary the following day.
“Simon bought this tiny little two up, two down place when he was 22. The first day I met him, we started digging out the footings of an extension and we’ve been building every day since.”
The couple’s business and home are very much intertwined, with their passion for heritage crafts evident around every softly rounded corner of Little Dinworthy.
“Even when we build new properties, we always put rounded walls in,” says Melanie, as I stroke the plasterwork. “We feel that nothing in nature is really square. It’s much more comfortable to live with softness.”
It looks great but more importantly, rounded walls means everything blends in. You can’t tell where the 200-year-old house ends and the modern extension begins. The whole place is put together like a work of art and continues to inspire its owners.
“You just find somewhere, don’t you, and then that’s it,” says Melanie, looking out over her very own woodland. “This will always be an on-going thing for us, a lifetime’s project. We’re very lucky.”
See wrenwood.org.uk; wrenwood.replynow.ontraport.net/FollowBarnProject