Sue Davenport and her Newnham-on-Severn home
PUBLISHED: 16:22 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013
A jog around the village led Sue Davenport to discover the home of her dreams
Sue Davenport found her future home quite by accident when she and the ladies jogging team were running round the village cricket pitch in Newnham-on-Severn one evening.
"I looked over the hedge and thought - those dilapidated barns would make a great conversion. My husband Martyn and I had been looking for a building project for some years and suddenly I realised these two old brick and timber-framed barns right on the banks of the River Severn fitted the bill."
As it happened the two barns were up for sale by auction along with a cottage and an assortment of modern Dutch barns on a 30 acre site. The two Sue wanted were joined together to form an L-shape. Sheep were still wandering in and out of one of them, which still had a dirt floor, while the other had been used for storing farm equipment and had a hayloft above. There was no lighting, heating - in fact no electricity or gas - and just one tap.
Sue managed to persuade Martyn and their children Richard (24) and Laura (20) that it was just what they wanted but as they couldn't afford to buy the whole lot they approached Barry Boseley, a building friend. The deal was that he would buy it all, convert the two barns to the Davenports specifications and then they would buy them from him as a completed home.
"The costs were all worked out beforehand and we signed a document saying we were committed to the project," says Sue. "And that's exactly how it went. Barry made the successful bid without even seeking planning consent."
Planning permission was granted within a couple of months with the stipulation that part of the conversion had to be given over to a business but that suited Sue as she runs her office from home.
"I am a Regional Fundraising manager for Guide Dogs for the Blind while Martyn at the time was business director of a medical market research company," she says. "The planners wanted us to keep the barns looking like barns as recorded in 1760 but they aren't listed; in fact the farmer told me he thought they could be 17th century as the oak beams were pegged, not nailed. We have been told that these beams probably came from nearby Broadoak where ships were once built."
The planners also wanted them to demolish an unsafe cowshed which the couple wanted to do anyway as it blocked their view of the Severn and to get rid of the ugly Dutch barns which were built of iron frames with corrugated roofs. But the Davenports wanted to do that too!
Both barns were built mainly of brick with some old local stone and had an impressive array of oak beams and rafters. The barn they think is the older measures some 46 ft long and 17 ft wide and is called the Long Barn. It has an outside brick-built staircase in the bend of the L-shape which the Davenports restored as it leads down to our courtyard garden. The floor in here was earth but unusually there was an upper floor which they have replaced with old English oak floorboards.
The other barn is 36 ft long and 18 ft wide and had two 12 ft wide openings opposite each other where the horses and carts used to enter and depart. One has become the Davenports' big glazed front door and the other a huge window. The floor in here was of old damaged flagstones which they have lifted and relaid as a patio in the courtyard garden.
The first thing the builder did was to remove the single Roman terracotta roof tiles from both barns to look at the roof timbers. Fortunately most were sound and only needed treating against infestation and he had to replace only two. The structural engineer advised that they should put in two metal horizontal cross members against one of the walls of the smaller barn for support and the whole ground floor of this section had to be lowered nine inches to accommodate the new stone floor.
All the bespoke hardwood window frames and external doors were made by Ellwood Windows of Cheltenham as the openings were all of different sizes while all the internal doors and the internal staircase were made by a carpenter.
"We wanted to keep the ground floor as open plan as possible which meant we disagreed with the architect who was busily planning lots of little rooms with lots of interior doors and two interior staircases," says Sue. "This is because we had to use the existing openings to create our windows and doors so didn't want walls and doors blocking off what light there was. Upstairs where four bedrooms had to be created we managed to design the layout so that every bedroom had a window even if the family bathroom and two en suites did not. To maximise the light we created a mezzanine floor instead of a fifth bedroom. This was deliberately done so that when you walked into the barn from the front door you had a full view of the barn through to the top floor roof and the magnificent beams above. "
The couple decided against underfloor heating because they wanted to lay a beautiful fossilised stone-flagged floor from India which was of uneven thickness so they felt that underfloor heating would not work efficiently. They did not want open hearths or woodburners either as that would have meant building flues and chimneys so they chose gas-fired central heating with radiators. As Barry the builder had laid gas and electricity to the cottage that he was restoring just 15 metres away they were able to tap into them as well.
"Work began in September 2004 and we moved into our lovely new home Pavilion End Barn in April 2005 with everything in place," says Sue. "We chose our contemporary kitchen from B & Q with oak units, a black range cooker and inset lighting. Now when you walk in you find yourself in a hall with formal sitting and dining areas linked at right angles to the other barn where the kitchen-breakfast room, cloakroom and utility room are sited.. It's all open-plan with just double glass doors separating the two barns. We spend much of our time in the back barn and whilst cooking we are able to chat to guests who are either at the kitchen table or relaxing in the sitting area."
Upstairs are four bedrooms (two with en suite shower rooms) with a family bathroom and a mezzanine sitting room and office.
"We love our home," says Sue. "The whole building is always flooded with light thanks to the floor to ceiling windows. We have also painted the exterior woodwork in light grey as opposed to the rather heavy unattractive brown stain that most converted barns seem to end up with and it really blends in with the countryside."