When photographer Laura Jenkinson and her husband Colin realised they’d been priced out of East Sussex, they headed north, and found the home they’d always wanted for their family. By Jessica Jonzen
THE HALLWAY AT THE HAYLOFT. IMAGE: LAURA JENKINSON / TICKING STRIPE PHOTOGRAPHY
While we all want to feel the elusive sensation that a house is “the one”, there is often a compromise when it comes to finding a home. Whether it’s choosing a bigger garden over period features, an open-plan kitchen over a spare bedroom, or location over square footage, there’s usually a trade-off. But what if the compromises you made when you were younger become stifling?
For Laura and Colin Jenkinson, a photographer and graphic designer respectively, their tipping point came in 2017. After 18 years living in Hove and Lewes in East Sussex, their choice of location over space saw them sleeping in the living room of a damp cottage so that their two children, Kitty and Joe – now 14 and 10 – could have their own bedrooms. “We suddenly came to our senses: we were in our forties, sleeping by a damp fireplace in the lounge and thought ‘what are we doing?’” says Laura.
“We suddenly came to our senses: we were in our forties, sleeping by a damp fireplace in the lounge and thought ‘what are we doing?’”
As is often the case, a number of factors collided to force them to make a decision about the sort of lives they wanted to live. “Kitty had recently started at secondary school and wasn’t enjoying it, and my dad wasn’t very well. I’d always wanted to move closer to my parents in Worcestershire and we thought ‘we could afford a really different house, the kids could go to different schools – this is the next chapter of their lives,” says Laura. “We realised that although we had lovely friends in East Sussex and it’s an area we really like, the prices of family homes there were just crazy. It wasn’t working for us any more – we couldn’t go beyond that point.”
Laura and Colin put their terraced house in Hove on the market and it sold within a week. The family moved in with Laura’s parents, ostensibly for a few months while they looked for a house to buy. “The whole thing took almost a year, so that was challenging – probably more so for my parents,” says Laura.
LAURA AND COLIN PAINTED OVER THE YELLOW MAGNOLIA WALLS WITH WHITE PAINT, CREATED A SENSE OF LIGHT AND SPACE. IMAGES: LAURA JENKINSON / TICKING STRIPE PHOTOGRAPHY
After a lengthy search, Laura and Colin found a listed house requiring a lot of work, but the sale fell through a week before completion. Shortly afterwards, Laura found herself unenthusiastically going to view the converted barn which would become her home. “I didn’t even want to go and see it,” Laura admits. “It looked really dark and it was in an area we hadn’t considered,” she says. “We came to view it after a house I thought I’d like more, and as soon as we got in and went upstairs I had that feeling. I’m not really a soppy person, but I saw the bedroom which the couple had set up for their grandchildren, there was such a happy vibe to the house that I just loved it and my husband felt the same.”
Set in the grounds of a large farmhouse, The Hayloft, a characterful 100-year-old converted barn a 20-minute drive from Worcester, is a huge leap from the family’s previous home. For starters, Laura and Colin now have a proper bedroom – complete with en suite bathroom.
There was such a happy vibe to the house that I just loved it, and my husband felt the same.”
Having gone to the top of their budget buying the house, they knew that the work they wanted to do to bring it up to date would have to be done in stages. “We decided to do the cheapest things first, like painting. It was painted yellow magnolia everywhere which I think the previous owners thought went with the beams. The beams had all had this thick varnish on them so the effect when you came in to the house with the quarry tiles, brick and varnished beams was a bit too dark and warm for us.” The couple set to work painting everything white: “it’s amazing how much it’s lifted it and made the light better everywhere.” Tackling the thick varnish encasing every wooden surface will be an on-going project. “Colin’s had that task, but it’s very satisfying to see the lovely natural patina of the wood coming out.”
Laura’s work as a natural light photographer has certainly influenced her approach to how she wants her home to look. “I think that both the house and my work are about light and vintage. I’m drawn to times gone by and that’s why I like this property because it’s already got a story, a history and past. I don’t want to take the nails out from where the hay bales were, I love all of that – I want to celebrate all of those things. With photography, I’m very drawn to the vintage, classic-looking images and clothing. Mainly the independent brands that contact me have a very similar vibe anyway so it works well.”
LAURA WITH HER CHILDREN, KITTY, 14, AND JOE, 10. IMAGES: LAURA JENKINSON / TICKING STRIPE PHOTOGRAPHY
Laura found that many of the things they had in their last home didn’t suit The Hayloft. “Some of the stuff we had before – if it’s Ikea or Made, or our bright old prints – it just doesn’t really work in this house. The longer we live here, I feel much more aware of what the house needs. I want it to look homely, rustic and in keeping with the property – I want it to have a slow story. The next project is to tackle the lighting, which is diabolical at the moment!”
After so long in buzzy Hove and Lewes moving to a new and rural area took some adjustment. “We were worried about how the children would adjust but I think it was easier for them because they started immediately at their new schools and were really welcomed.” The sale of the house meant that Laura and Colin could keep the same mortgage and still afford to send Kitty to an independent grammar school, where she’d won a scholarship.
FLEA MARKET FINDS SIT EASILY WITH THE HAYLOFT’S AESTHETIC. “I WANT THINGS TO LOOK HOMELY, RUSTIC AND IN KEEPING WITH THE PROPERTY.” SAYS LAURA. IMAGES: LAURA JENKINSON / TICKING STRIPE PHOTOGRAPHY
“I feel like we struggled because suddenly we weren’t with any of our friends,” says Laura. “I think we just expected to meet friends in the way you do when your children are little. We’d built up friendships in East Sussex over 15 or so years and that doesn’t happen instantly. We drop Kitty off near the school and we don’t see any of the parents so it was a bit tricky.”
They also missed the creative scene they’d enjoyed in East Sussex, and the chain stores of Worcester high street were a far cry from the buzzy independent stores they’d taken for granted. But two years after making the move, they’ve settled in. “Colin has converted the garage into a studio and has a printing press and he’s found some more creative places in Malvern,” says Laura. “As we’ve explored, we’ve found gorgeous places like Ludlow and Hay-on-Wye. You can get to South Wales in an hour. The more we explore it, the more we like it.” The family can often be found looking for vintage treasures at Malvern flea market, or at 55 Mill Street in Ludlow, or Bailey’s home store in Ross-on-Wye.
LEFT: LAURA HAS GRADUALLY SWAPPED THE BRIGHT PRINTS OF HER FORMER HOME FOR MONOCHROME DRAWINGS AND PRINTS WHICH FEEL MORE SUITED TO THE HOUSE. RIGHT: JOE’S BEDROOM. IMAGES: LAURA JENKINSON / TICKING STRIPE PHOTOGRAPHY
There’s been another unexpected benefit to the move, too: “the really refreshing thing here is that nobody really cares about houses,” says Laura. “All the conversations in Sussex were about the next property and what you were doing to it and how much someone’s house cost, and it becomes a bit stifling and a bit dull. Here, nobody’s bothered. They come round but they don’t want to know what you paid for it and how much it’s gone up by because nothing does go up rapidly here. People here buy their houses to live in, not for the investment opportunity.”
It comes to a point where for most us, we’ll need to make a choice. What is more important: the home in which we will live, or the area in which we’ll create a life? For Laura, it was an easy decision. “You spend so much time in your home – having the right house for us was the driving factor. If we’d stayed in Lewes, we could only have afforded a very small ex council house with a tiny garden and while it was lovely there, I don’t want to live that sort of lifestyle. I’m really happy now that we’ve done it and it’s all settling in. It feels like it was the right thing for all of us.”
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