■ Embarrassing Bodies star Dr Dawn harper tells us how she transformed a leaky barn conversion into a stylish country residence
GP Dawn Harper, 55, star of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, was looking for a renovation project — but turning a dilapidated barn conversion in the Cotswolds into a swish modern home proved to be a major operation.
‘The barn had been converted into a house in the 1980s but hadn’t been touched since,’ says Dawn. ‘It had been empty for two years by the time we bought it. There were buckets everywhere. One room was like a waterfall when it rained.’
Fortunately, Dawn found a team of expert builders — recommended by her partner Jack’s work colleague. They were able to repair the roof without entirely replacing it. ‘The day the house was watertight was a major landmark,’ says Dawn.
The house had several small downstairs rooms which she wanted to change to create a more spacious environment. The local planning department were fully supportive. ‘They were keen to get it back to that open feeling of a barn,’ she says. The only change they didn’t allow was Dawn’s plan to replace the original beams in the kitchen.
Removing a hallway, study and downstairs toilet freed up space to create a large, bright, south-facing kitchen. Jack, a keen cook, wanted something functional with two ovens, a microwave and a vent which rises up from the central island. Dawn’s favourite kitchen feature is the wine fridge. ‘I can sit at the island and reach down and have a glass of sauvignon blanc while I watch him do the work,’ she laughs.
Another change saw them turn a dishevelled conservatory into Dawn’s office. ‘Originally we were going to turn it into a room for our two Labradors — but the view over the fields and woods is so stunning it became my office instead.’
Dawn’s favourite room is the dining room. Removing an upstairs bedroom allowed them to create a double height room with views of the roof beams. The upstairs landing has a glass wall — affording views of the large vaulted space. ‘It’s easy to have a dining room you only use when you have people round,’ says Dawn. ‘So it’s lovely to see the room every day.’
Dawn’s also thrilled with her dining room furniture. Her brother makes furniture and made the dining table for a client, who eventually cancelled the order — so Dawn ended up receiving it as a gift. ‘It’s lovely old oak and extends to sit 14. It looks like it was especially made for the room.’
One setback came when fire inspectors visited the house when the build was almost completed and told Dawn she needed to install a sprinkler system. ‘I automatically assumed it meant we’d have to rip the kitchen out and start again. But the builders were unbelievable — they had to chip bits out of the ceiling but they worked around it and there was hardly any disruption.’
Dawn is full of praise for her builders — and it’s unusual there weren’t more problems on a renovation project of this extent. ‘They told us it would take nine months and that’s exactly how long it took. They were so on it and told us the dates by which we’d have to choose the kitchen and bathroom things. It meant everything ran to schedule and nothing was delayed. You hear so many horror stories of people falling out with their builders but at the end of the project we still think our builders are top drawer.’
Dawn describes her taste in interiors as ‘classic contemporary.’
‘I like interiors to be tranquil — stone floors, wooden floorboards, leather sofas.’ She has decorated the walls in shades of grey from Farrow And Ball.
Her flamboyant friend Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen — renowned Changing Rooms makeover guru — isn’t hugely impressed with Dawn’s taste. ‘We were renting a property before we moved here,’ says Dawn.
‘We had a party and asked if he wanted red or white wine. He said, “Beige — in case I spill any”. He’s hilarious.’
He helped the couple pick the colour for the outside of the house but hasn’t seen the property since it’s been fully completed. ‘I hope he’ll be pleased it’s not all magnolia. We’ve painted the snug a dark green but the rest of the house has very easy tones to live with.’
Dawn and Jack still have the garden to complete. ‘We ran out of money,’ she says. So friends and family have been helping out in exchange for a barbecue dinner. Maybe Laurence can roll up a ruffle and lend a hand?
Dr Dawn Harper’s Live Well to 101: A Practical Guide to Achieving a Long and Healthy Life (£15.28, amazon.co.uk)
The Barn, Leat Farm, Launceston, Cornwall
£875,000. Six bedrooms, 26ft-long living room, east and west balconies to catch sunset and sunrise, savills.com
Woodham Hall Barns, Chelmsford, £999,950
OK, so it doesn’t look much now but this nearly three-acre plot has planning permission for three residential units, barnsetc.co.uk
Serenity Barn, Maesyronnen near Hay-on-Wye, £749,000
With views across to the Black Mountain and five bedrooms — the master with an ensuite and walk-in wardrobe, barnsetc.co.uk
Broxton, Chester, £550,000
An unusual terraced barn conversion with three bedrooms and the most glorious views across the Cheshire Plain. Ten miles from Chester, rightmove.co.uk