When we refurbished the barn and built the guest wing seven years ago, in keeping with all ‘Grand Designs’ – type projects we ended up way over budget. We just about managed to get it finished and roughly furbished, but we didn’t even have enough cash to build decks for the guest rooms let alone spend any money on our personal area. So our space remained pretty much as we found it when we arrived.
We live at the far end of the barn and we always make sure that the door to it from the ‘Insta side’ of things remains firmly closed so that no one can see inside. Part of the problem is a lack of space – no storage and only one bedroom. Embarrassingly when friends have come to stay, they have taken a room at the B&B and paid for the privilege. We have also been super anti -social with no space in which to entertain friends and family. Bruce and I have been together for seventeen years and given that we spent seven years renovating our house in Peckham, we have only spent one year of our time living like ‘grown ups’. We are a bit bored of living like this to be honest.
So about a year ago we sat down with our architect friend John, and started to map out a fairly modest extension to give us a little more space and a generally nicer environment in which to live. There is a strange little patch of ground that separates the barn from the drive (some distance from the guest areas you will be pleased to know) and the challenge was to create a space that made the most of the area.
The result will be quite an unusual building. In the middle will sit a conventional double height volume with a pitched roof and around it angular flat roofed spaces will take the build to the very edge of the plot. Everything will be wrapped in black corrugated iron. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste but we’ve seen a similar finish on John’s home – it looks great!
Before we could start building we had to clear the area including our neighbour’s Leylandii hedge. Having done this it is strangely open and we can more clearly seen how close the barn is to next door (which would have been the farmhouse). Fortunately we have very supportive neighbours and they quite enjoy our builds (well that’s what they tell us anyway).
Once the land is cleared you have to start digging to create the footings, add drainage, insulation etc … That said we hadn’t quite realized just deep we would have to dig as there is quite a difference in height between the drive and the back door. After all the digging it does look more like we are building a swimming pool than a set of footings.
Fortunately the land is very sandy with no clay to worry the builder (the story about never build your house on sand turns out not to be quite true). In fact when you get down a few feet the sand is bright yellow as if it’s straight from the beach. Then once you have spent days digging the hole you start to fill it (in the case of the sand it’s the same sand that we dug up in the first place!).
That’s as far as we have got. ….
The whole build is set to take five to six months – though some of this will be refurbishing the existing barn. If you have any questions or concerns please do just ask!
Honesty is the best policy
Some of our favourite hotels and B&Bs, run honesty bars – you fix yourself a drink as if you were at home, jot it down and settle up when you check out. Very ‘grown up’ and civilised we think.
However before we could put the honesty bar in place we needed to secure a premise license (Bruce already has a personal license). This turned out to be a little more convoluted – some might say archaic – than you might imagine. We needed to display notices at the end of the drive using light blue paper (not too light it turns out – we were asked to go a shade or too darker) and advertise in a local paper within ten days of submitting the application. Fortunately the ladies of Suffolk Coastal’s licensing team were gems and made sure we hit every mark.
The real fun began once we received our license – stocking the bar!! Wherever possible we have ‘gone local’ – there are so many great producers in Suffolk, it would be crazy not to.
In the summer we visited the amazing Flint Vineyard (www.flintvineyard.com) just outside Bungay on the Norfolk border (about 40 mins away in the car). It’s hard to believe that they have only been going a few years and what they don’t know about wine isn’t worth knowing. It is no surprise that they have already won prizes. Although they have limited amounts at the moment we hope to stock their red, white and fizz. We will also be adding some other interesting (reasonably priced) wines based on some tastings from local wine merchants.
Choosing a beer was pretty straightforward as our next door neighbour has just started a micro brewery in Leiston (which you can tour if you wish) and one of their limited edition beers even has hops from their garden. Can you get more local than that?. We currently have four different types and all have been brewed in a German style. As they conform to the German purity law (‘Reinheitsgebot’ in case you are wondering) it means that they shouldn’t leave you with a hangover – unless you really go hell for leather of course.
We also hope to add vodka and gin from Suffolk distillers Flint & Hardings (www.flintandhardings.co.uk).
We haven’t forgotten the non drinkers too and hope to stock LA Brewery’s Kombucha (as well as all the usual soft drink suspects). This naturally effervescent living tea full of friendly bacteria might be a tradition of Korea but it is brewed right here in Suffolk.
For those spirits that require us to go further afield we have sought some advice and bought a varied selection of single malt and blended whiskies, rum, sherry and port. We are pretty open to adding in some other drinks so that everyone will find their favourite tipple…. within reason. We quite like the idea of a ‘cocktail of day’ – we will see if we have any takers.
Now we don’t pretend that the North Sea Coast owes much to the Mediterranean of Ibiza or the Greek Islands …. but that’s not to say that it isn’t a great place to hang out and with the Suffolk Coast’s Area of Outstanding Beauty as a backdrop – it can be staggeringly beautiful. Here are some of our favourites:
- Aldeburgh – a long expanse of shingle and take the obligatory photo by Maggi Hambling’s fabulous Scallop. No access for dogs in the summer months
- Sizewell – yes it’s next to a nuclear power station but it’s beautiful and dog friendly all year round. Here’s Bruce with Ruby and next door’s border terrier Seve (yes as in the golfer).
- Shingle Street – remote like Dungeness but with huge pebble dunes. Beautiful and desolate!
- Southwold – a gentile seaside town. Apparently some of the candy coloured seaside beach huts can sell for up to £100k. Crazy!
- Walberswick – shallow and shandy and they like dogs! You can also go crab fishing in the inland shallows – probably not enough for a sandwich these are just tiddlers after a piece of bacon.
- Covehithe – a bit off the beaten track and no tourist facilities but the Times rated this amongst its top 30 secret beaches – a quiet, sandy beach running alongside a bird reserve.
During the building of our new guest wing, it was a pretty much impossible to develop the garden. Any gardener that has ‘had the builders in’ knows that they have big boots and are not averse to running over plants every now and again. As the build drew to a close towards the end of 2016, we started the ‘white garden’ in front of the Barn. It probably seems a bit pretentious (we have just stolen the idea from Sissinghurst in Kent to be honest) but we figured that it would look great against the black decking.
Having just criticised our builders (!) they were great at landscaping the ground, shifting soil around to even out the lumps and bumps. However by the end it was a bit of a quagmire with bricks and nettles not far below the surface. Just to complicate things further there is a network of pipes carrying waste out to mains sewerage (not a lovely thought but can’t be avoided!) so plants should be shallowly rooted to avoid causing any potential problems. Oh and three manhole covers….
The result is a roughly triangular patch with a gravel path dividing the garden into two beds – one of which is partly north facing and the rest baked in the sun. So all in all a bit of a challenging patch of ground.
Eighteen months later we thinking it’s looking ok. The bareroot yew plants lining the path, planted in the middle of winter (not a fun task) have, by and large survived. The beds have been planted with lots of delphinium, peonies, roses, lavender, wallflowers, salvia, nicotiana, alliums, ferns, hostas, hellebores, astrantia, valerian …… all white of course.