An Architectural Evolution
PUBLISHED: 12:23 18 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 20 February 2013
This dilapidated farmhouse, which started life as a granary, has been transformed thanks to the special skills of its owner. Photos by Nicholas Yarsley
After nearly three years of hard labour rescuing their newly bought 17th-century farmhouse, Ken and Jane Ellis celebrated in style - by holding their wedding reception there. "As Ken and I had both been married before and had all the household things we needed, we asked for plants and trees as gifts," says Jane. "When we bought the farmhouse the back garden didn't exist - there was just a field that sloped down to the back walls. But by the time of the wedding we had had the land levelled, landscaped and turned into a sunny walled garden, which was in serious need of some planting."
Eight hundred years ago it began as part of a granary to Witham Friary at Frome, then in the 1600s a farmhouse was added. But when Jane and Ken saw it, the property had become overgrown and dilapidated, while the interior was dark and dated. "The roof leaked like a sieve and there was a huge cast-iron boiler in the barn, which like a sort of monster had to be fed an endless supply of railway sleepers," says Jane. "I couldn't even lift one sleeper but apparently this boiler had to be given 40 to get it through a weekend!"
The farmhouse came with a barn (which was refurbished and now houses their cinema and gym), and stables which have since been demolished, and new ones built in their place.
"I could see you could do a lot with the property, and as I was born and bred in the area and knew the owners I asked them if they would like to sell," says Jane. As it happened the owners did want to sell, so in 2004 Ken bought it. As an architectural builder whose work included restoring the roof of Dunster Castle for the National Trust and re-roofing Longleat House, as well as other major conservation projects, he could see what needed to be done.
"We remained in our previous homes and only moved in in April 2007," says Jane. "In the interim Ken and his team had done a mountain of work, from putting on a new insulated roof of Welsh slate to moving the position of the kitchen and totally refurbishing it."
One of the major jobs was to build a three-storey extension (turning the L-shaped house into a rectangle) so that the couple can now circumnavigate their house. "Our first impression was that there were corridors everywhere and several smallish rooms," says Jane. "A lot of space was being wasted so we knocked down all the stud walls and redesigned the layout. Fortunately the house - despite its age - isn't listed."
When they bought it, the place had three big bedrooms and two bathrooms. Now there are five bedrooms, four with en-suite bathrooms and one family bathroom plus a downstairs shower and cloakroom. This gives plenty of space for Jane's grown-up children Josephine (20) and Henry (22), and Ken's children, Helen (27) and Matthew (25) (who is one of Ken's team) plus their dogs Buddy, a show springer and Holly a border terrier.
The other animals in the family are equally well accommodated. Jane shows horses and her prize steed, Haddon Hurricane, won at the Horse of the Year show in 2004. The four horses owned by the family have their own specially designed stables which resemble an architect-built house, complete with dovecote.
Meanwhile, the renovation of the original farmhouse was far from simple. "Every floor came up and every window in the original farmhouse came out and the frames were replaced, while those upstairs were made wider," says Jane. "These were made of a mixture of cement and concrete and Ken's team made new mullions from stone and put in new leaded lights with frosted bronze frames. We also unblocked quite a few ancient windows and fireplaces too."
The team also made all the oak doors and installed underfloor heating throughout the ground and first floor. A new limestone floor was laid in the entrance hall, kitchen, garden room (part of the new-build) and utility room. New local polished blue lias tiles were laid in the inner hall as the old Doulting stone was rotten.
After the extension, the biggest transformation has been to the kitchen-dining room. "The original kitchen was in 1950s melamine with sliding doors and a blue and white decor," says Jane. "We have turned it into our sitting room. Then we turned the old sitting room into our kitchen-dining room. Oddly enough we found bread ovens in there near the fireplace recess so I think this must have been the kitchen once before, many years ago."
The new kitchen-dining room is enormous. A new Aga has been placed within the old inglenook fireplace and Oakleaf of Keynsham built the units and Aga housing. Ken's team built a larder cupboard from offcuts of oak and covered the ceiling beams with more oak as they had been restored with metal 'shoes' at each end. The units are painted in Farrow & Ball's Cream and White Linen, with black granite and beechwood worktops. There is also a very big island which houses two wine stores, a wine cooler, an AEG dishwasher, an AEG induction hob, a sink and a breakfast bar as well as the usual storage drawers and cupboards. Jane also has two AEG ovens (one steam, one microwave) and a Maytag stainless-steel fridge-freezer.
"And because of Ken's job everything went totally smoothly," smiles Jane. "Except when we went on holiday and the underfloor heating leaked from our bedroom into the sitting room below. Luckily Henry was at home at the time. Oh yes, and the thermostat on the fridge went and we came back one day to find a flooded floor." There is also a slight risk of flooding if the 'swallit hole' gets filled. This pothole is on their ten acres of land and drains a proportion of the rainfall from the Mendips. If it ever gets blocked the water would back up onto the land; but hopefully that is a big 'if'!
Looking back on the project Jane says: "There were times when you felt you were going backwards before you could go forwards but now that it's over I think Ken and I have the most fantastic home."
You can contact Ken on firstname.lastname@example.org;