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Keeping it in the Family

PUBLISHED: 17:28 08 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013

The entrance hall/lobby with woodburning stove and old wooden settle

The entrance hall/lobby with woodburning stove and old wooden settle

Peter Booton learns how this superb house was passed on and restored, becoming home to another generation.

As a young girl, a career in agriculture was the last thing on Sarah Worrall's mind. In fact, she couldn't wait to move away from the farmhouse in which she'd been born at Tarrant Launceston in North Dorset. Sarah's parents had begun renting Launceston Farm in the late 1920s and later became its owners.

After pursuing a career in catering as a trained cordon bleu chef, Sarah returned to Tarrant Launceston shortly before her mother's death 18 years ago and moved into a cottage alongside the farm with her son, Jimi, and daughter, Eve. When Sarah's father died in 2005 she took over the running of the 800-acre arable and beef farm with the able assistance of Phil Carden and Mervyn Wills. However, she had to remain in her cottage as the old Georgian farmhouse, a Grade II Listed building, was in serious need of total renovation.

As well as a new roof, it required rewiring, replumbing and a host of other essential repairs. Sarah faced a stark choice: sell the farmhouse and leave its restoration to someone else, or finance the costly work involved herself. She had willingly accepted that Launceston Farm was now her life and to lose what had been her family's home for nearly 80 years seemed unthinkable.

The farmhouse had to be restored but in order to pay its way it would have to be run as a business while also being Sarah's new home. For many years she had provided B&B facilities in her cottage and to do the same in the farmhouse would be relatively straightforward because it could be fitted in with work on the farm. Furthermore, adjoining the farmhouse was the old cart shed, a spacious single-storey area which, when totally renovated, would make an ideal venue for small private parties and wedding receptions, as well as a convenient meeting place for the local business community. Also, with her culinary expertise, she could offer a varied and interesting menu using locally sourced produce, including the farm's organic beef!

While the necessary permissions were being obtained, the farmhouse stood empty for two years before building work could begin. This gave Sarah time to plan its interior, which she decided would be elegantly furnished in the style of a country house retreat and with a decor sympathetic to its Georgian character. She says: "I have no experience of interior design but one of my friends, Nicola Fish, has a real flair for it and helped me enormously.

"Nicola and I spent a long time looking around for fabrics and sourced just about everything locally," Sarah continues. "Some are expensive, and some not at all. It would be hard to tell the difference. Then we visited Eve Wilkinson at Carrieres Courtenay in Blandford. She has great ideas on fabrics, knows how to deal with tricky windows and how to make a curtain look expensive without it costing a lot. Eve did all the making up and fitting. Every room in the house is different. Sometimes the room determined the theme, and sometimes the fabrics came first."

Sarah had no fixed ideas regarding furniture, preferring to buy interesting items when she saw them. "I spent about 18 months going to auctions and became quite addicted to them. I'd often buy stuff that nobody else wanted, perhaps only because it wanted a bit of mending. Then I'd think where to put it," she admits. "Luckily, the rooms in the farmhouse are quite big so I was able to buy large pieces of 'brown' furniture which aren't that popular. Everything was stored in the stables for about a year. There was only one item I had trouble finding a home for later!"

After 12 months of building work the farmhouse was finished and, in October 2008, Sarah moved into her superb new home. Jimi, who had studied agricultural banking, returned to Launceston Farm in May of the same year to work there full-time. Eve, Sarah's daughter, had recently completed a horticultural course at Kingston Maurward and before taking up an RHS placement in Falmouth, designed the formal beds and flower borders in the newly landscaped farmhouse garden. Previously, the ground had gradually sloped down from the house to the meadow beyond and so this had been made level by the creation of a semicircular, low stone-walled 'ha ha' at the lower end and the whole area sown with grass.

A stone-columned porch designed by Sarah's architect, Richard Disbrow, is a newly added feature on the brick and flint-banded frontage of the farmhouse. It makes a suitably grand entrance for the hall, or lobby, at the far end of which is an iron spiral staircase believed to be about 100 years old, or more, as it already existed when Sarah's parents moved into the farmhouse. On either side of the staircase are hallways leading to the main ground-floor rooms; the dining room, drawing room, kitchen and former family sitting room. Sarah remembers this being used most of the time by her parents because the present drawing room was their 'front room', only used on special occasions such as Christmas. Also on the ground floor, and adjoining the oldest part of the house, is the completely restored Old Cart Shed. It now boasts a new stone-tiled floor, exposed beams and underfloor heating as well as large, glazed double doors which provide access to a stone-flagged terrace bounded by staddle stones and inset with gravelled feature beds planted with box - the design courtesy of Sarah's daughter, Eve.

The farmhouse's original wooden staircase offers a more direct route to the first floor than its circular counterpart. Sarah has cleverly given each of the six sizeable bedrooms a field name from the farm. "Scraggs," she explains, "is an old word meaning stumps of wood, Hungry Hill is a field without much depth to it, Penfolds relates to sheep, Parsonage may once have belonged to the local church, while Meadow and Orchard speak for themselves." Sarah was born in the Orchard room, which now benefits from a large and luxuriously appointed en-suite bathroom complete with freestanding roll-top bath and double washbasin stand that was made from part of an old table!

I asked Sarah how it felt to be living back in the home she grew up in. "Well, it's amazing really because I have so many great memories of my childhood in this house, particularly the really big parties mum and dad used to hold here. There might be as many as 100 guests of all ages, with lots of music and dancing. And now we're welcoming guests to the house again. I'm sure mum and dad would be thrilled!"

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