Through the keyhole: in Cranbrook

PUBLISHED: 18:27 05 September 2014 | UPDATED: 18:27 05 September 2014

The drawing room

The drawing room

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Sarah Orton and Steven Jones have spent eight years tirelessly restoring and finishing their family home, a former barn set in the rural outskirts of Cranbrook. The results are stunning

Sarah Orton was always considered ‘the arty child’ in a family of medics, orthodontists and mathematicians.

She can remember falling in love with a beautiful old farmhouse in Suffolk where she used to holiday with her best friend when she was just six years old and deciding there and then that she wanted to live in an old house with beams.

And even at that tender age she was equally in love with the sights, sounds 
and smells of the countryside and promised herself that when she grew 
up she would live in the countryside.

She got her wish – Sarah and her partner Steven Jones have now been in rural Kent for 22 years and raised a family of their own, Sophie, 22 and Harry, 20.

Steven was brought up in the East End by parents who always did up properties as well as managing full-time jobs. Valerie Jones was a gifted interior designer and gardener, with no formal training, and 
his father a brilliant cabinet maker.

The whole family was fascinated 
by antiques and both Steven and his 
dad had an antique stall at Portobello, while his brother was an antiques 
dealer as well as an electrician.

With this combination of varied 
interests and backgrounds, the couple 
were never going to live anywhere ‘ordinary’ and their rural Cranbrook home, a former barn built in 1650 as part of a bigger estate, is literally a labour of love.

The initial partial conversion was done by the previous owners in 2000, but there was still much work for Sarah and Steven when they bought the barn eight years on.

“Our window cleaner used to work on the barn when it was a farm in a big fruit and hop growing area. Back then it was used to store bales of hay, animal feed 
and agricultural machinery and he remembers restoring an old cart in 
what is now the kitchen,” says Sarah.

Not only have they created a home for themselves but they also knocked a hole through from the barn to the converted byre to the side of the house to make it into one property. A a large curved wrought iron and splendid oak ‘Cinderella’ staircase and door now join the two properties.

The Byre (Scottish for cow shed) has a new lease of life as a flourishing holiday home marketed via Owners Direct; the single-storey brick building was originally used to house pigs (not cows) and the couple’s office used to be the chicken shed.

A wonderful feature of the property is the English country garden that surrounds it, but when Steven and Sarah arrived there was no garden at all – just an unloved, untended rural wasteland.

There were also bats flying around 
the hallway, which had to be left until 
they decided to go of their own accord, as they are a protected species. Sarah used to squeal all the way to her bedroom each night, covered up completely in a big coat.

An endless stream of mice used to run through the un-grouted tiled floor and around the top beams in the drawing room. Fainter hearts would have given up by now.

“We had scaffolding put up around 
the whole barn and guttering put in 
and Steven and I stained the raw wood 
of the barn traditional black during that first summer,” recalls Sarah.

“We re-stained the outside for a second time last summer, but with the stain having the consistency of black water, you can’t help but look like you’ve been up a chimney by the end of the day!”

They spent the whole of their first summer here grouting and sealing the half-finished tiled floor downstairs (as the barn and byre total 4,500sqft-plus, this was quite a large surface area to deal with).

A laundry room was added in the barn and in the holiday cottage and a pantry created in the kitchen. Sarah – who clearly has a head for heights and a taste for danger – spent hours up ladders, towers and scaffolding resurfacing walls, stripping black beams back to their natural beauty and decorating the entire barn and The Byre over the course of several years, in between working and raising the family.

Steven has been chief grafter in the garden, creating a lawn from a muddy, uneven field, running their PR and art business and the holiday home, as well 
as being chief shopper (local farm shops mainly) and cook during the weekdays.

Another major interior project was deciding what to do with the fireplace in the drawing room, a monstrous, modern red-brick tower that went up to the ceiling.

The intrepid duo did contemplate knocking it down and starting again, then they had the idea to get a builder in to encase two thirds of it with plaster board, plastering and oak beams. Sarah set about aging the base brickwork and hacked and chiselled bits out of the bricks to make them look old before distressing them with a combination of soot and live yoghurt.

An oak floor was laid and Sarah used dozens of bags of insulating roll and plastering material to fill in all the gaps in the walls which the mice used to nest in. 
In places, she could poke her hand through to the outside. She spent two weeks in a plastic sheet tent resurfacing the upstairs landing walls, then decorating them.

Finally, they refitted the kitchens in 
the house and The Byre (both of which 
had been left half done), put in new 
carpets through The Byre and upstairs in the barn, new flooring in the upstairs bathroom and created a family shower room with a circular step-in shower.

Then came the fun bit, adding their 
own treasures which, given these avid collectors and frequenters of Portobello Market, Greenwich Market plus auctions and car boot fairs around Kent, are many and varied. From a collection of golliwogs 
and examples of their children’s youthful pottery to a chaise longue spotted in a hedgerow and rescued and restored by Sarah, this is a place that breathes life, colour and many, many stories. n


In her spare time, Sarah Orton has somehow managed to fit in writing a novel based in the Weald of Kent in the fictional village of Cranhurst.

Tummy Love is the gripping story of a successful couple whose perfect life is shattered when they return home after a book launch in London to discover their baby’s cot is empty and the babysitter has seemingly vanished into thin air...

Available from Amazon on Kindle or in paperback from Sarah Orton’s website, 
Tummy Love is also stocked at 
Sevenoaks Bookshop.

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