Suffolk’s prettiest homes: A stylish barn conversion near Wickham Market
PUBLISHED: 15:27 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:27 10 March 2020
Neil Longdin - Iceni Imaging. Licensed to Client only
A stylish barn conversion makes a delightful rural retreat off the beaten track near Wickham Market | Words: Jayne Lindill - Photos: Suffolk Hideaways
When Sarah and Stephen Leach bought a Suffolk farmhouse on the fringes of Hacheston, near Wickham Market, more than 30 years ago, creating a stylish holiday let on the site was far from their minds.
The couple's priorities were firmly on creating a comfortable home for their young family. The lovely rambling house, which dates from the 16th century and is set in six acres, provided all the space they needed to settle down, grow and enjoy their rural life together.
The collection of outbuildings that they'd acquired with the property had bags of potential, but could wait until time and funds became available.
That time came about 15 years later, when Sarah and Stephen enlisted architects and local builders to embark on a stylish conversion of one of the buildings, a former granary.
Step inside the mellow Suffolk red brick and timber building today and it's as though the last lick of paint was applied only yesterday. Their insistence on using high quality materials and finishes, and their attention to detail, has ensured the work has stood the test of time.
The Granary is a light-filled, spacious holiday home from home, as fresh as the day it was created.
'The builders said we'd gone over the top by making everything such high quality,' says Sarah, 'but we wanted to do it properly and make it the best it could be.'
Hence the solid hardwood doors and surrounds - ditto the staircase - the substantial oak posts that support and supplement the warm, honey coloured original oak timbers, the terracotta tiled floors with underfloor heating gently warming the downstairs living spaces, the traditional, shaker style fitted kitchen with big range cooker, the well equipped laundry - somewhere to park muddy boots - and spacious bathrooms.
The building dates from 1850 and, as Sarah explains, was a traditional three-bay granary, which becomes obvious when you study the layout of the timber frame and the positioning of the supporting timber posts.
'We tried to preserve some of its working heritage,' she says, showing me the original trap door in what is now the kitchen ceiling.
'This was where the sacks would have been hauled up and stored on the upper floor.' She leads me to corner of the living area where some writing scrawled on the original plaster walls has been left exposed. Sack weights, maybe? Delivery dates?
An extension housing the laundry and a plant room for the ground source heat pump have been fashioned in the stile of a traditional piggery - single storey, red brick, utilitarian with those familiar diamond shaped vents in the brick work above the doors.
The exterior of the main building is partly clad in grey timber, reflecting its former agricultural use. The overall effect is modest and restrained. Very Suffolk.
As we pause in one of the bedrooms and admire the view - rich, chocolate brown fields under a wide, winter sky, perfectly framed by the picture window - Sarah muses on how at one point the Granary saw service as a base for packing up boxes of clothes for children in Romanian orphanages who were discovered largely abandoned after the fall of Ceaucescu's regime in 1989.
You may also want to watch:
'It was something we did through the local church,' she recalls. 'We wanted to help. So, there were people here, packing all day. It was just full of boxes.'
There are other traces of Stephen's and Sarah's life together in the artwork on the walls of the Granary. As we descend the stairs Sarah points out an aboriginal bark painting, a memento of trips to Australia where she and Stephen travelled in their early days together.
They worked their way around the continent, Stephen practising as a lawyer, Sarah using the Cordon Bleu cookery skills and qualifications she had acquired after school.
(Later, back in her farmhouse kitchen, she digs out a well preserved exercise book recording the menus from all the dinner parties she gave in earlier days.) They made friends easily and still return to visit them, as well as their daughter who now lives in Adelaide.
'The children were brought up with our Australian connections very much in their lives,' says Sarah, 'so it's not surprising one of them should decide to live there. We visit regularly and they love to come back to Suffolk, of course.'
Alongside the aboriginal art are paintings by local artists. Karen Keable is a favourite, as is Jane Hewlett, and the internationally famous Chinwe Ifeoma Chukwuogo-Roy, who lived in nearby Glevering at the time of her death in 2012 and was a personal friend.
'I like to put local artists' work on the walls,' says Sarah, 'we have so much talent here in Suffolk. A lot of it is about the coast but we're not far from it.'
Indeed, the Granary is delightfully off the beaten track, but only half an hour's drive from the beaches of Thorpeness and Aldeburgh, and ten minutes from Framlingham.
It sleeps six people and has plenty of room to chill on the days when you don't want to go anywhere.
The open-plan living space has full height tri-folding doors on two sides which open onto a large terrace, where people can relax when they're not making use of the tennis court, croquet lawn and table tennis table available to them.
In cooler months guests can snuggle in front the wood burning stove, set in its lovely brick fireplace.
Sarah has furnished the Granary with generous sofas and armchairs, mid-century dining table and chairs and a minimum of simple, pine occasional pieces.
It's stylish, yet comfortable and relaxed. The perfect rural retreat, any time of the year.
The Granary is available through suffolkhideaways.co.uk