A converted cow barn in Cornwall

Jane and Steve Presland decided on a complete lifestyle change when they bought a converted cow barn close to a beach in north Cornwall. The couple have knocked through to create an open plan kitchen/dining/living space and completely redecorated the single storey property

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Six years ago, when Steve Presland was offered the chance to project-manage the building of a new apartment block in Newquay, both he and Jane jumped at the opportunity of a new adventure.

Steve had been working in London and lived in Bedfordshire with Jane, but the couple had always dreamt of living by the sea. On the moving day in August, the couple packed all their belongings into a rented truck and headed down to Polzeath in north Cornwall, where they would be living in a rent-free flat that came with Steve’s job.

Neither of them had visited the area before, but with the sun shining when they arrived, they knew they had made the right decision. ‘As we drove down into the bay, the view was breathtaking,’ says Jane. ‘I will never forget that moment.’

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The couple quickly took to their new life in Cornwall, getting married in the nearby St Enodoc church. Returning from honeymoon, they decided that they wanted to make the move to Cornwall more permanent, and started looking around the local area for a property to buy. ‘Even though Steve’s original contract was only for four years, we had fallen in love with life here and couldn’t imagine moving away,’ says Jane.

By this time, the couple had moved out of their rent-free flat and were living in another apartment in Wadebridge. Finding the perfect home didn’t turn out to be as straightforward as they first thought, however, with houses ranging from tiny run-down farm cottages to 1960s bungalows with no architectural merit, or new-build bungalows with little in the way of interesting features. ‘We definitely didn’t want to buy a new-build as we wanted something with more character,’ says Jane. ‘Steve was also keen to live in a house with a driveway and plenty of parking, which we’d definitely missed while we were living in the flat.’

After months of trawling the internet, Jane spotted a converted cow barn, which seemed to tick all the boxes. Surrounded by empty fields with the sound of the sea in the distance, it offered them the pretty, natural surroundings they were after. ‘It looked like a lovely property in a rural area with a good-size garden and three bedrooms, while the large drive was a winner for Steve,’ laughs Jane. ‘He loves surfing, too, so the fact that the beach was so close was also an obvious draw for him. Unfortunately, the asking price was too high for us at the time, as we knew from looking at the pictures on the internet that we would have to spend money on the house in order to make it work for us. Thankfully, the price dropped after six months, and we then jumped at the chance to go and view it.’

The cow barn forms part of a small development of farm buildings, converted around 10 years previously by the owners of the main farmhouse, which sits behind the couple’s home. The finished interior wasn’t at all to the couple’s taste, however. The walls had been rendered to look rustic and there was a deep-pile green carpet throughout. Painted designs of Bart Simpson and Superman featured on one bedroom wall, the bathroom was little more than a shower room, and the kitchen was dated and basic.

The couple could see past the interior, however, and were quick to spot that they could give the property a more modern makeover. ‘There was a separate utility area at one end of the kitchen, which could only be accessed from outside the property. By removing a wall between this area and the kitchen, we could see that it would be easy to create one large open-plan kitchen and living space, which we felt would be better suited to the house, too,’ says Jane.

Following a successful purchase, the couple moved into the house and continued to live there for the duration of the six-month project as they didn’t want to pay out for rent as well as their mortgage. Steve also decided to put his knowledge of the building trade to good use by managing the whole project himself, using his contacts to bring in electricians, plumbers and carpenters as and when required. ‘Anything labour-intensive, such as ripping out the old bathroom, Steve did himself as we didn’t need to spend money bringing in trades for this sort of thing,’ explains Jane.

The major work involved taking down the wall to open up the living spaces, ripping out the bathroom, rewiring the entire property, re-plastering walls and replacing all the floors throughout. ‘We were fortunate because we knew we could create the sort of space we wanted without having to do any expensive structural work,’ says Jane. ‘We also made sure that we didn’t scrimp on the fabric of building, choosing to spend most of our budget on the electrics, plumbing and quality floors because we didn’t want to have to change them at a later date. We also spent money on new downlighters throughout the property, as up-to-date lighting makes a huge difference to the overall finish of the space.’

The couple worked methodically through the house, room by room. ‘We started at one end of the house and lived in various rooms as and when they were completed,’ says Jane. ‘It’s not something I’d like to go through again. At one point we were living and sleeping in the main living area, which wasn’t ideal.’

Elsewhere in the house, Jane and Steve were able to make savings by re-using the existing kitchen units and simply painting the doors to freshen them up. ‘This was a great saving,’ says Jane. ‘We then added new worktops, a sink, range cooker and appliances to give it a more modern feel.’

The bathroom tiles were an expensive investment but Jane was able to offset this cost by buying the main fixtures and fittings for the bathroom in the sale. ‘The modern double-ended bath was a great buy at only £450, and looks fantastic in the new space,’ she says. ‘It’s always worth taking your time to look round the sales, as if you’re in a hurry to buy something you can end up missing a great bargain.’

A local carpenter and good friend of the couple, Joe Hodgkiss, made some key cosmetic improvements, cladding the concrete lintel above the wood-burning stove in oak to match the new floors. ‘There was also a slightly dated partition wall of tongue-and-groove boarding next to the front door, so we covered this in natural oak cladding instead to give the place more of a cutting-edge feel,’ says Jane. ‘Joe also made some great storage for us, such as the open shelving in the living room.’

Once the main building work had been completed, Steve finally had more free time to go surfing, while Jane enjoyed walking their Westie, Bobby, nearby, and came across some interesting home accessory shops not far from the beach. ‘You can’t live here and not hang up an “I do like to be bedside the seaside” print on your wall,’ she laughs. ‘But I drew the line at buying things such as boats and seashells. I wanted to create a modern beach style, but I didn’t want anything that was too predictable.’

Despite the Cornish storms and the quiet solitude of the winter months, Jane and Steve love their new life by the sea. ‘I love what we’ve been able to achieve here, and doing all the work in one go meant we were able to create exactly what we wanted,’ says Jane. ‘There’s also such a different pace of life in Cornwall. There is the space to really relax, and we hope it will be also be the ideal place for bringing up our first child, who is due this summer.’

The costs

Building work£25,000
Flooring£10,000
Kitchen£10,000
Rewiring and new lighting£10,000
Windows£5,000
Bathroom fittings£5,000
Bathroom tiles£5,000
Oak cladding£5,000
Furnishings£5,000
TOTAL£80,000