Through the keyhole: Living the dream

PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 June 2014

Broad Downs Barn has been transformed into a luxury six-bedroom holiday home

Broad Downs Barn has been transformed into a luxury six-bedroom holiday home


Creating something magical from a ruined barn, KATE WILLIAMS discovers how one couple’s Devon pipedream became a reality

Photography by Matt Austin

Details of the design

•Lesley’s favourite room: “The upstairs space. I’m really pleased with how it flows”

•Paint choices: Fired Earth for walls and woodwork; hand painted bespoke furniture, Fired Earth Sienna Earth. Bespoke shutters, Dulux Heritage range Green Slate.

•Stephen and Lesley’s design style: “Country house comfort fused with modern style”

After many years of holidaying in the South Hams, Kent couple Stephen and Lesley Galvin dreamed of escaping to the country — but only Salcombe would do.

Now celebrating their ‘decade in Devon’, the pair’s change of lifestyle pipedream is their happy reality.

Interiors expert Stephen and corporate lawyer Lesley searched for the perfect country property until they found exactly what they were looking for at Broad Downs, enabling them to ditch the rat race for the Devon lifestyle they craved.

Not every house buyer’s idyll, this property offered everything they wanted — a rambling old, country farmhouse and an enormous dilapidated barn...and perched just on the edge of their beloved Salcombe to boot. “With my career as a lawyer, it worked all right when the children were small, but when they started to get a bit older they needed me at home,” explains Lesley. “So, we needed to make this big change.”

"It was literally just an empty old barn. It had a roof but that was shot. It used to be stables so there were old horseshoes strewn about it"

The farmhouse was to be home to the couple and their three daughters, Georgina, Harriet and Roberta, but the ruin of a barn was the real project and key to the success of the huge lifestyle change. The Galvins’ big idea was to take this wreck of a building and transform it into a sizeable holiday home with the feel of a boutique hotel.

Having holidayed in Salcombe for many years with their extended family, relations and friends, Stephen and Lesley were aware that there was a niche in the market for large, well-appointed holiday accommodation and their aim was to fill this gap with Broad Downs Barn.

Lesley continues: “We thought there was a lack of properties available for families with different generations or big groups of friends in the area, and we had learned this from experience, having searched for such places for our own holidays.”

Gaining some sound business advice from the Coast and Country Cottages 
team, Andrew and Karen Jones, the Galvins’ project to rejuvenate and revitalise this falling-down Devon building began to take shape.

Lesley has sourced some beautiful items from local shops and artistsLesley has sourced some beautiful items from local shops and artists

“Andrew and Karen have been there right from the start,” smiles Lesley. “We have known them from when they first took over the business and have watched them build it up. They have been a huge help and support to us from the start of our venture and still are today.”

Stephen brought Lesley to Salcombe for the first time when the pair had only known each other a short while and Lesley fell in love with it immediately. From then on, they came every year on holidays with their respected families until they decided to take the plunge and move there full-time.

Situated just a few miles from Salcombe, Broad Downs Barn, an old wreck of a building, was transformed into a beautifully unique home for guests in a relatively short space of time. With Lesley acting as project manager, the building work was carried out swiftly and efficiently, leaving the pair to concentrate on the all-important interiors themselves.

“It was literally just an old barn,” says Lesley. “It had a roof but that was shot. It used to be stables so there were old horseshoes strewn about. It was where the previous owner kept his tractor and there was an old Land Rover in there too.

A beautiful lawned area looks out over the Devon countrysideA beautiful lawned area looks out over the Devon countryside

“We wanted it to be more than just a holiday cottage to rent. What we wanted to offer people was the opportunity to rent almost your own little bijou hotel. So when you walk in, you get the feeling of a hotel space that’s quite anonymous but lovely, and when you’re here it is yours with your things in it and you get the feel that it is your home for the week.”

Much thought went into the layout and decor of the barn to encourage guests with large parties to really enjoy the space and the time they spend in Salcombe.

The vast kitchen area, with doors looking out onto the lawn and Devon countryside beyond, is the hub of the property with the enormous French oak table as the centre-piece of the room, creating a welcoming, homely atmosphere.

Black high-gloss units and granite worktops are fused with stone flooring, wooden shutters and handmade painted wood cabinets and dressers, forging an astute mix of old and new.

Steps flow easily down into the lounge allowing an open-plan style but which is clearly separate as a place to relax encouraged by the log burner, two large sofas and wall-mounted television. Overhead, the timber beams remind guests of the origins of the property which are inventively illustrated by three framed prints, photographs taken by the couple’s eldest daughter when the project commenced.

Neutrals are used as a base throughout but warm textiles in the form of cushions and blankets create the cosy, comfortable feel, and Lesley has included a splash of lime green colour which adds another dimension.

To create that specific hotel feel that the couple aimed for originally, all of the six bedrooms are furnished similarly with handmade timber bed frames, painted wooden furniture and chic boudoir lighting which Lesley tirelessly sourced.

But to link in that personal touch, Lesley has thrown in just the right amount of enhancement in the way of cushions and ornamentation, mostly bought in Salcombe, and garnished the property with subtle finishing touches.

“I didn’t want it to be full of stuff from John Lewis and Ikea that you see everywhere,” explains Lesley. “I wanted to have things that are quite different, that people say, ‘Ooh, that’s lovely, where can I get that?’

“And for that reason, I try to source as much as I can locally, including the wall art which is by Salcombe artists.”

Each of the bathrooms are of the same high ‘hotel’ standards as the rest of Broad Downs Barn, with dark neutral tiles and quality chinaware and plumbing ware.

The hallways upstairs offer more history of the building in way of photography and prints as well as some beautiful bespoke ironware, designed between Lesley and a local blacksmith which shows off the traditions of the barn’s existence as well as creating essential practicalities for everyday living.

Set within 22 acres of rolling Devon land, the barn is a haven for families and friends to really ‘own’ the place and enjoy their well-earned breaks with its outdoor heated swimming pool and climbing apparatus on the fenced lawn.

Stephen and Lesley’s country dream to create an exquisite bijou hotel-style barn conversion enabling them to provide guests with all the luxuries they craved has come true with fortitude. And now they are able to offer the romance of their ‘dream house’ as a wedding venue too.

For further information or to book a stay at Broad Downs Barn, visit

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