Suffolk's prettiest homes: 18th century converted barns near Aldeburgh
PUBLISHED: 17:27 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 17:27 10 August 2018
When Jan Packard and Mark Haines were looking for somewhere to share their love of boats they couldn't resist the unspoilt charms of the Alde and Ore | Words and Photos: Tony Hall
A mutual love of boats, rivers and life afloat brought Jan Packard and Mark Haines to set up a home in Suffolk, two converted 18th century barns, hidden down a rural farm track between Knodishall and Aldeburgh, in the grounds of Billeaford Hall.
“The location is close to excellent rivers, the Alde/Ore and the Deben for sailing,” says Jan. Brought up on the Isle of Man in a sailing family, Jan studied secretarial French when she finished school, before joining her family, by that time sailing in the Caribbean.
“I took a cook’s job on a sailing yacht, skippered by my late husband, Chris. I quickly realised the high standard of cooking required and went to Paris to learn cordon bleu cookery at La Varenne. I fell in love with the Caribbean islands and their colours, especially Antigua, St Barts and Martinique where my French came in most useful.”
Years later, the couple returned to England and were both employed by Oyster Marine, on the River Orwell, before having their children, Ben and Georgina.
“My love of boats,” explains Mark, “came from living on the Thames at Marlow where, after a year in Australia, I and my late wife, Alison, returned and had our children, Luke and Dominic.”
After the premature deaths of their respective partners 12 years ago, a mutual friend introduced Jan and Chris to each other. The quest for a home together brought them to Suffolk.
Mark spent his later career in London as a project manager with institutions such as Lloyds, AXA and IBM, but originally started out as a draftsman for a lighting design company, while studying electrical engineering. He then opened his own wine bar, before working for chartered surveyors as a residential agent.
“To be honest, when Jan introduced me to the local rivers, I was a bit nonplussed,” he says. “But I now fully understand and appreciate their sheer beauty, and I’m ultra enthusiastic. At present we have a rib (rigid-inflatable boat) that we tow, but the decision is coming up as to a sailing boat or a fishing boat.”
Their two-year property search began in 2013. They wanted an attractive period home, with separate holiday accommodation to earn a crust, in a rural location close to the sailing rivers.
“We moved in April 2013,” explains Jan. “I turned to Simon and Angela James, who specialise in interior design for holiday homes. With the East Barn, my only request was to introduce the Caribbean colours of the islands I so love.” The aim was to have the barns ready in July, and Jan says the James’ knowledge and speed of execution was fantastic.
“I love the sharp greens they have used downstairs, the chairs, the sofas, followed throughout with vibrant splashes of other colours. It’s all worked so well. We’re fortunate to have a tennis court here that visitors can use, plus, as Mark is a keen cyclist, we also provide cycles to enjoy the local countryside.
“This is the best part of Suffolk, with walks from here straight to North Warren and Aldeburgh beach. The surrounding countryside remains unspoilt as it is owned by the Blackheath Estate, the house being a super example of Georgian architecture.”
Both barns are quite different. The East Barn – featured here – appeals to a younger generation, says Jan, while West Barn, which is slightly more traditional, appeals to more mature guests. Both can be rented together, so sometimes whole families stay, gathering around the East Barn’s dining table, which can be made to accommodate 12 people.
In fact, Jan and Mark love the openness of the main living/dining space in the East Barn, with its doors onto the enclosed terrace. “It’s all so versatile and the favourite item has to be the wood-burner.
“While I left the furnishings here to Angela and Simon, next door I sourced several items from Snape Maltings Home, a favourite shop. Another great place is Karen Lear’s flower shop in Leiston. We always buy our flowers there to decorate both the barns and the house.”
With both the house and the barns up and running, Jan says she and Mark get more time for their favourite pastimes. “Besides the sailing, I try and run every day to get in training for the Royal Parks half marathon, while Mark enjoys a 20-mile round cycle ride to Southwold, or playing golf at Ufford.
“We both like the walk directly from here to Aldeburgh beach, about three miles, possibly a diversion to the Dolphin pub at Thorpeness, or the White Hart at Aldeburgh, with fish and chips on the beach afterwards.”
“Another thing that attracted us to this location,” says Mark, “was that, for Suffolk, we are on high ground, 15 metres above sea level. It may not seem much, but it affords us fantastic sunrises and sunsets.
“Every one is quite magical, with those famous Suffolk skies. As we have no passing traffic, it’s very quiet, good for guests’ kids, plus the walks and cycle rides.”
East Barn Cottage can be booked through holiday lettings agency Suffolk Secrets 01502 722717 suffolk-secrets.co.uk
Owners: Mark Haines, Jan Packard
Property: Converted c18th barn
Previous home: Henley on Thames
Room: Main living/dining/kitchen
Item: Wood burner in the living room
Interiors shop: Snape Maltings home & garde
Day out: Sailing on the River Alde.
Local shop: Karen Lear flowers, Leiston
Part of the county: the rivers Alde/Ore, and Deben.
Waste of time: Watching lambs in spring in farmer’s field adjacent
Walk: to Warren Heath and the beach just between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness.
Pub: The Dolphin, Thorpeness, The White Hart in Aldeburgh
Most magical moment in Suffolk: Every sunset – magical.