Leave behind your urban pretentions at this quiet hideaway, a mix of modern and rural that’s a great stay for larger groups
The phrase ‘rolling countryside’ has such resonance in the South Hams of Devon: here, the hills and valleys dip and rise like a rollercoaster, sheep clinging to them like they were attached with Velcro. This is exactly the view you’ll get from the kitchen/dining area at Thorn Barn, and in summer you can push back the folding doors and almost feel a part of the landscape.
The barn was just a shell when owners Shelley Palmer and James Sawyer converted it into a five-bedroom holiday home (they live next door in the farmhouse), and the renovation has preserved some of its rusticity, with rugged grey stonework occasionally peeping out from freshly plastered walls, and sand-blasted timber columns holding the place up. When the original roof trusses had to be sacrificed to make enough head height for a second storey, they asked their carpenter to make the pleasingly chunky table and benches that dominate the kitchen area.
The decor forges a marriage between mid-20th-century vintage – a battered leather chair slung on a tubular-steel frame, and a teak sideboard, for example – feminine floral textiles, and contemporary bits and bobs like the cascade of Plumen bulbs dropping down from the double-height ceiling in the kitchen. Shelley made some of the lampshades and painted the vintage furniture, much of which was inexpensively picked up at the local Saturday market in Totnes (a must) or on eBay; the couple have splashed out where it matters though, on chic modern bathrooms – one of the bedrooms is complemented by a rolltop bath at one end of the room – and comfy leather sofas. Much of the distinctive art on the wall has been loaned by local artists (such as Graham Fish) and is for sale, a good reason to go back every year and see what’s new.
Thorn Barn is properly rural, with the nearest shops and pubs a good ten-minute drive away via hair-raising single-track roads. Its isolation is also its greatest asset though, and when it’s filled up with people enjoying themselves, who needs to leave anyway?
Nearby: Totnes is a 15-minute drive away – it’s pretty but not twee, with ancient buildings, independent shops and a Saturday bric-a-brac market; miles and miles of English Riviera beaches, from traditional Paignton to surf- and swim-friendly South Milton Sands and picture-postcard Blackpool Sands; the Deco splendour of Burgh Island Hotel; seafaring Dartmouth and all things Agatha Christie, including her home, Greenway
Photos via Thorn Barn and Emily